Lifting Of The Fig Leaf
Zahir takes me by the hand.
‘Let me introduce you to some of the people here.’ I am one of the hundred some invited guests at Zahir and Bernadette Kazmi’s annual pre-Ramadan shenanigan at their spacious home in Chicago suburb of Oakbrook. Outside it’s raining cats and dogs and yet it has not deterred any of their friends and the families from showing up in droves. Only damper it has put on the event is that all of his beautiful oriental rugs are covered with large bed sheets and installed outside the house is a tent sized awning, shrouding the open sky.
The first person he introduces me is a tall and lanky Pakistani friend, whose name I promptly forget as soon as it is said.
‘Haresh used to be an editor at Playboy.’ Zahir can’t help but throw in. I think he gets a kick out of watching the reaction on the people’s faces. If not exactly ignoring, I try to slough it off with a hollow laugh.
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Lost In The Labyrinth
I am at Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport, temporarily delayed because of the cancellation of Alitalia to Frankfurt, which is where I was to connect with Lufthansa’s overnight Frankfurt-Johannesburg flight. They have re-routed me on British Airways to London and then connecting there to onward journey to South Africa. Suddenly I have a couple of hours to kill. I avail myself of the first class lounge, leave my belongings there and venture outside to check out the renovated expanse of the airport. As I am walking down the glass walled passage bridging two wings of the terminal, I hear a timid female voice trailing me.
‘Uncle, uncle. Please! Please!’
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Uncovering An Intimate Inheritance
I am in Bombay about a year after my Dad passed. Other than waiting for close friends and the family living within an hour or two’s distance, within the Indian tradition, the deceased is immediately cremated by the family members. So it wasn’t expected nor was it possible for me to be there for the cremation. There are some rituals that are performed within the first thirteen days of a person’s death, something akin to the wake, followed by a family feast to celebrate the person’s life. But the true tribute to honor my father’s memory was going to be Saptah. Saptah literally means a week, but it’s always understood as a weeklong reading of Shri Bhagwat by a scholar who most of the time is also an animated performer and the interpreter of the stories contained therein – the book by which the followers of Vaishnava faith are guided.
The reading happens all day long with appropriate breaks amidst a revolving crowd of attendees in an open house format. My brother Suresh and his wife Aruna are hosting the event and have set up a beautiful mandap in their backyard. It’s one of the most attended Saptahs, also because Shastriji, is not only a serious scholar and the interpreter of the holy book, but also because his crystal clear booming voice makes all those stories come alive in your imagination. He is a very close family friend and for him our Saptah is more than the ones he is hired to do. My father had always been one of this biggest fans and sponsors.
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Just One Last Time
I don’t remember anything at all of the wedding ceremony of Tina Chan – one of our freelance contributors at Playboy’s Chinese language edition in Hong Kong. Or even if I or anyone else sitting at the table was invited to attuned. Whether it was a church wedding or a traditional Chinese affair. What I do remember is; about a dozen of us editors and executives are seated at the table of the noisy and crowded banquet hall of the Hotel Royal Garden in the heart of Kowloon, waiting for the bride and the groom and the wedding party to arrive for the celebrations to begin. When they make their grand entrance, Christina is dressed in the western bridal dress with the veil lifted and the train trailing. She is not particularly what I would call pretty, but in her bridal finery, she looks as stunning, radiant and beautiful as a bride should. The happy smile on her face communicates the bliss she must feel. Her husband too is dressed as would a western groom – in a tuxedo, ruffled shirt with starched collar, shiny shoes and the bow tie. The just married couple and the wedding party enter the hall with a roar of applause and the cheers from the family and friends, following which they together go from table to table, their faces bursting with smiles and laughters, welcoming each and every guest and then finally sitting down at the bridal table for the banquet to commence.
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