KARACHI: The greying walls around Aga Khan Hill (aka Honeymoon Lodge), the birthplace of Sir Sultan Mohammad Shah, the Aga Khan III, have been scrubbed and repainted a pale blue. The gates to the place have also been given a fresh coat and a few days ago when one of them facing the Defence Phase-II Commercial Area was slightly ajar, one could see the gardeners weeding the flower beds.
His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, the 49th Imam of the Shia Ismaili community, is visiting after many years and his arrival has sent a wave of happiness in the entire community.
Ismaili Jamaatkhanas all over the city have been decorated with coloured lights as community members arrive for deedar of their leader. There are so many community members, and since all want to see him, they have been assigned specific days with each day also divided into two shifts with around 23,000 people lining up to catch a glimpse of their spiritual leader during each shift.
“Our community cards were made about a month back,” says Aly, a shop owner. “Everyone from the community has a card, just like the national identity card with all his or her information. This is only for the community. It is required for security purposes, too,” he says.
Asked about the last time he had presented himself before the Aga Khan, Aly smiles shyly and says that he has no recollection of it. “I was a baby in my mother’s arms then. I don’t remember,” he says.
“I am just grateful that I have another chance now to see him and cherish the moment for the rest of my life. I will tell my children about it.”
There are many framed photos of Prince Karim that grace the walls of a photo shop across the Jamaatkhana in Clifton but the one of him with his horse that has remained there for a long time is missing. The shopkeeper says that he only recently sold the print. “Many of my other prints of his pictures have also been bought recently,” he says happily.
When asked if he thought the sudden rise in sales of the Aga Khan’s pictures is connected to his visit, the man nods happily.
The big photograph of the smiling leader on the main wall of a chemist shop has a shining new frame and glass.
“I saw His Highness when he was here 17 years ago with my eldest child in my arms,” says Firoze, the shop owner. “My son was only a few days old then. But he is 17 now and I am glad he will see and remember him now,” he says.
“My other two children are also old enough to remember the moment,” he says, adding that his second son is 15 and youngest, a daughter, is 11.
Asked if custom requires them to wear a particular dress or jewellery for the girls as it is after all a moment of joy to have their leader among them, he quickly shakes his head. “First of all, our community doesn’t have any particular dress. As for jewellery, how will it look when the metal detectors are going off every other second?” he says and laughs. “You have to be sensible,” he adds.
“It is great to have our spiritual leader here after all this while. And the entire community knows this,” a senior community member told Dawn.
When asked if the celebrations included serving special dishes, he just laughs and shakes his head. “We have no special dish or food. We eat what you eat. We break bread just like you. We are one of you,” he explains.
Asked how come almost all of the Ismaili men run businesses, be it a big company or a small shop. “Is it to help provide job opportunities to the masses?” The gentleman smiles and shakes his head again. “The focus is not on business but on education. His Highness has always urged us to provide our children with the best of education.”
Apart from Pakistan, the Ismailis live in 24 countries. Besides South Asia, there are also many Ismailis living in Africa and the Middle East, Europe, North America and Australia.
Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2017