Three Weddings and a Funeral.9
knicq posted in Amigos, Jalali Baba, Knicqisms on August 22nd, 2007
It is, perhaps, a good thing – the fact that I have not written in a long time. But before you offer your consent, let me clarify that I have wanted to write, but have either been too exhausted to type out a few coherent lines, or too devoid of ideas. It was more of former and less of latter. There was also a lot lacking by way of motivation; not the kind of motivation one needs to start writing, but the kind necessary to finish what one has begun writing. No-one is more aware than I of how dismal it is when one has not written in weeks, even months. It is, therefore, perhaps a good thing that I sit here with the intention to complete not one post, but four. To ensure that I keep at it, and am able to follow up on this commitment I have decided to post all four under the same title. That the title is somewhat lacking in originality, and can hardly lay claim to greatness in improvising is something I am aware of, but shall choose to overlook. It is but a means to an end, the title is, and the end is entirely different from the source I accuse me of having borrowed the title from.
Perhaps, I should clarify at this point that there is little in what follows that will qualify to be called a wedding in the generally understood meaning of the word. It is more a metaphor than anything else, a metaphor for happiness; for what is a wedding but a celebration of and two hopes for eternal happiness. Sure, it is the coming together of two people, and the binding together of new ties between two families, but at the end of it all, a wedding is two people hoping to find happiness with each other. So, if you ask me, a wedding is one of the most apt metaphors for happiness – eternal or not.
Here are, then, the stories of three weddings and a funeral:
The First Wedding:
I got a call from SGR. He was coming to Dubai, he said, but he did not want anyone finding out this time. This was strange, because SGR lives and works in the neighboring GCC state of Qatar, and visits good old Dubai often for business. The business part he manages in the mornings, and the evenings we spend together talking of all things that friends talk about when they meet after a long time, and then some. Over the past few years, I have introduced SGR to my friends here, and now we all look forward collectively to his visits here. SGR has us all convinced that this looking forward is mutual.
I like doing that – introducing my friends to each other. There is a reason behind it, and a very selfish one at that. It has everything to do with making me look good. You see, when it comes to friends, I have always been blessed. Allah Almighty has, in His unbounded mercy, always blessed me with wonderful people for friends. It might have something to do with my own deficiencies, but they always seem to be more learned, more knowledgeable, and hence more impressive than I can ever hope to be. Invariably, they are better people than I am, but Jalali Baba believes that is easily accomplished since I present a meager challenge in that department; not that he has nice things to say about the challenges I might present in the knowledgeable/learned department. They, my friends, are my best possessions, and I like to show them off.
SGR and I go back to our college days, and that was a long time ago. We knew each other then too, but only in passing. I knew SGR because he was at the top of his class, and because he used to host this forum called “Cross-fire” where they used to have intellectually stimulating, grave discussions and ferocious debates about issues that have been having or could have lasting effects on the world. SGR knew me because I was not on top of my class, and because I used to bring comic relief to “Crossfire” by airing my opinion openly. SGR is too kind and generous, and it will be hard to get him to admit that what we had was less than mutual respect for each other – the deficiency being from his side. A few years after we had graduated, Fash, who was a class-fellow of SGR’s and a childhood friend of mine, called me up requesting me to show SGR around since he was tied down in his job at the Mall, and SGR was in town. I called SGR up, we agreed on the time and venue, and met up. We stayed up discussing God knows what till four in the morning, and we both had work to go to in the morning; the rest as they say is history.
SGR has been coming to the UAE very regularly ever since, and if he has committed the unpardonable sin of not letting me know, and not meeting up, he must be let off simply for doing a stupendous job of not letting it be known. Over time we established that SGR liked smoking Sheesha, and hated Dubai. We also established that we shared an unrivaled passion for good food. Our meeting points were thus defined: They must serve good sheesha, they must either not be in Dubai, or look nothing like being in Dubai, and they must serve great food. The quest to find such places took us around a bit, but eventually we did settle for a couple of places.
If we could help it, and if we had enough time on hand, which is to say if each of us could fold his official chores latest by 9:00 p.m. we would leave for Abu-Dhabi, so that we could be at Havana Cafe, Abu-Dhabi latest by 11:00 p.m. Havana Cafe is a lovely little spot at the tip of Abu-Dhabi city, located on what is a strip of reclaimed land protruding into the Arabian sea; it overlooks the magnificent Emirates Palace Hotel on the one side, and the lighted skyscrapers of the capital on the other; it is separated from both by what can best be described as a little bit of sea-water, which adds to the ambience of the place through the insulation it provides from the noise of the city, a few yachts and luxury boats moored by the side, and the shimmering reflections of both the Emirates Palace Hotel and the city bringing color to the dark canvas of semi-still water. The sheesha is great, even if it makes me cough after the third drag, dizzy by the fourth, and positively intoxicated by the fifth; and they make a great burger called Havana Special.
If, however, due to any number of factors either of us cannot untangle himself from the daily chores by 9:00 p.m. we settle in favor of Dubai Heritage Village, which is situated on the Bur-Dubai side of the creek. There have some good restaurants there, and they have tables lining the pavement this side of the grill which serves to keep the sea at bay. Across the creek, downtown Dubai, Deira stands in all its splendor. No sky-scrapers, but enough high rise buildings and enough hoardings and neon-signs to present an agreeable sight, especially when reflected in the water. The place is insulated once again from the noise and hustle-bustle that has come to define Dubai, and is lent a degree of authenticity by the loud Arab (read Egyptian) Music blaring from the speakers, and the floating ‘Dhows’. Dhows are wooden boats and launches, some of which are decorated with lights and banners and you know those are the ones that carry tourists around, while others are not so decorated and are laden with cargoes of various kinds. These are part of a fleet that continues to ply the sea-routes to neighboring countries and helps keep the centuries old trade relations as well as traditions intact. These restaurants serve good sheesha, good food, and stay open till late.
Jalali Baba, Moderate Enlightenment and a couple of SGR’s friends have become a regular feature of these meetings, wherever they are held. More the merrier is the mantra. Once the sheesha is served, the conversation is given a few revs, and then put in ‘D’. The topics can range from Religion to Politics, to Land-Cruisers (SGR’s almost sole passion), to books, to airplanes (SGR’s almost other passion), to knicqisms, to JB-bashing, to knicq-bashing to any-one else bashing, to Dubai-bashing (SGR and JB’s joint passion – one being from Qatar and the other a resident of Abu-Dhabi), to Abu-Dhabi-bashing (JB’s sole right by virtue of him being an ex-citizen of the city), to food (a common passion, or assumed to be so, irrespective of who is in attendance), to extolling Qatar and all things Qatari (SGR again), to just about anything. Irrespective of what the topic is, good humor and laughter continue to define and defile the underlying mood, and JB invariably comes in for some flak, simply because none of us would dare disrespect him on his own, and because we all know there is security in numbers; but mostly because one way or the other he ends up being embroiled in all kinds of things that make it impossible for him to join us in these meetings, and when in a subsequent session he does join, he makes for a good target thanks to the trademark ridiculousness of his excuse for his absence from the previous meeting.
Most recently, we discovered another spot in the UAE, which provided us the necessary ingredients for our meeting i.e. good sheesha, not Dubai, good food, and insulation from city-noise. It is almost equi-distant from both Abu-Dhabi and Dubai, and makes it possible for STK to join us, since she lives in Al-Ain. I had known this spot for sometime, since it happens to be in my place of birth: Al-Ain; but SGR and I had never really been able to make that trip down to this little city often called the city of gardens. The spot is at the top of Jebel Hafeet, a 950m mountain billed as the highest point in the country. There is a modest hotel at the top of the mountain, and while the food is edible, and the sheesha is almost good, it is the location of the spot itself that stands out – almost literally. The sheesha place is built like a majlis tent, and is aptly called Khaimah; it is built deliberately in a dark corner just at the back of the Mercuree Hotel, and on most days the howling of the wind passing by the mountain can be heard. Visible below are the minuscule maps which the city lights draw on the sprawling desert that is the city of Al-Ain.
So SGR called, and said he needed to see me about something important, and he needed to discuss something most privately, and would therefore appreciate if I did not disclose his arrival to the other friends. He said he would be coming only for a few hours, and would be in the country just so the two of us could turn the idea over and perhaps arrive at a solution. He made some very formal requests, and I began to get worried. We have been good friends for years now, and when I was in trouble a couple of times, I had been able to just pick up the phone, and ask SGR for his help. It had never occurred to me to thank him before or after I had asked the favors. Here was SGR thanking me already for time and opinion, I was glad he had the trust and confidence to ask for, and neither of which he had yet taken. But then, I thought to myself, SGR has always been a very classy guy; someone for whom no detail is too small. My intrigue was heightened, my interest piqued, and my imagination was working overtime to decipher the mystery, but he refused to part with any details until he had arrived here. Left with little other option, I decided to wait, and assured him I would not be disclosing his imminent arrival to anyone.
After this, I waited.