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How we ran away from home yet we miss it so much

Updated July 27, 2013

On his first day as the village imam, Mullah Nasruddin climbed his elevated seat, looked at the congregation and asked: “Do you know what I am about to tell you today?”

“No, we do not,” the worshippers replied.

“If you don't know, then I have nothing to tell you,” said Mullah Nasruddin. He folded his sermon. Put it back in his pocket and walked away.

The next Friday, he asked the same question. This time the worshippers knew not to say no.

“Yes, Haji Saheb, we do know,” they said.

“OK, then I do not need to tell you what you already know,” said Mullah Nasruddin and walked out of the mosque.

On the third Friday, Mullah Nasruddin repeated his question.

This time, the worshippers thought they had learned his trick. So some said, “Yes, we do know.” Others said, ”No, we do not.”

“In that case, those who know should tell those who do not,” he said and slipped out of the mosque.

Jozi, an infrequent visitor to Alif Laila Tavern, finished his story and went to bat.

Jozi is from Bahawalpur but now lives in Northern Virginia and like many of us, he too is a cab driver. He has a master’s degree in Urdu Literature, which could not get him a job in Pakistan. There were no jobs for him in Virginia either.

So he bought an old cab from the money he had saved by doing night shifts at a gas station and set up his “own transport business,” as he tells every new comer from home.

Every Ramazan, cab and limousine drivers from Virginia, Washington, DC and Maryland gather at a large parking space near the tavern and play cricket.

They come around midnight, after traveh prayers. By then, the parking lot is almost empty. So they turn it into a cricket field. The bat and the wickets are real. But instead of a cricket ball, they wrap white plastic tape around a tennis ball and use it for bowling on the hard surface.

It is like a proper cricket tournament and is played every night for one whole month. The last match is played a night before the moon night.

Unused to all-night cricket, the local police department sends a patrol car to the parking lot for the first few nights. But when they see the players dispersing peacefully after the game, they stop coming after a few nights.

The tournament also attracts friends and supporters of the two teams. Some local night owls also stop briefly to watch the game, do not understand it and walk away.

Jozi is not a regular batsman, so he got caught while lifting a ball for six and returned to the pavilion.

Hafiz Saheb, the tavern’s unofficial priest, was waiting for him.

“Why do you make fun of the mullahs?” he asked.

“Hafiz Saheb, how long have you been here with us?” Jozi asked. “Fifteen years, and you still do not understand us.”

“I do. I understand you well. You always ridicule mullahs,” Hafiz Saheb said.

“The story I told you does not mock Mullah Nasruddin,” said Jozi. “Instead, it shows how smart he was. What he says is very logical.”

“And what’s that?” Hafiz Saheb asked.

“Don’t waste your wisdom on those who are ignorant, that’s the first point. And if you are saying something people already know, you are wasting your time. This is the second point. People should always share knowledge with each other, that’s the third point,” said Jozi.

“Besides, Mullah Nasruddin was a Sufi, not a mullah,” he added.

“What’s the difference?” Hafiz Saheb asked.

“There is a world of a difference, Hafiz Saheb, ” said Jozi. “The Sufis never killed a mullah but the mullahs often got them beheaded.”

Before Hafiz Saheb could reply, two teenagers – an Afghan and Pakistani – started arguing with each other.

“The Afghans, they are still learning how to play cricket,” said the Pakistani. “They learned cricket while living in Pakistan as refugees. They still have a long way to go.”

“Yes, that’s why they defeated Pakistan, right?” the Afghan countered. “Yes, we are new in cricket but we can teach you a thing or two.”

“Defeated us, in 2010 Asian Games? That was our C team, not even B,” said the Pakistani. “Don’t you remember, India, Pakistani and Sri Lanka did not send their teams to the games due to prior engagements?”

Hafiz Saheb got up and walked up to the two teenagers.

“Stop fighting. We are not here to fight. Don’t you remember, you are both Muslims and this is Ramazan,” he said.

The two moved away from each other and said they were doing so because an alim (a religious scholar) had asked them to do so. This obviously pleased Hafiz Saheb.

“Good,” said Jozi, “if you fight, the police will stop this tournament and we will never play here again.”

This also had some impact on the two. They shook hands and embraced each other as the spectators clapped.

Now Jozi also felt the need to make peace with Hafiz Saheb.

“Hafiz Saheb, did you see the moon two days ago? It was so big and beautiful,” he said.

“Yes, it was,” said Hafiz Saheb, “and it had a strange effect on me. I could not sleep all night.”

“It happens, it happens,” Jozi said, “and it reminded me of the moon I used to see back in my village. It looked so beautiful behind the sand dunes.”

“How we ran away from that land and now everything about that place seems so beautiful. We miss it all the time,” said Hafiz Saheb as others agreed with him.