NOSTALGIA: NO MORE HOLIDAYS IN THE US

Published February 18, 2018
The Hindu Mandir complex in Michigan| Photos provided by the writer
The Hindu Mandir complex in Michigan| Photos provided by the writer

Lately my elder daughter, who lives in Chicago, has been pestering me to take a holiday once again and visit her. But I am double-minded and it is not because of old age. Mr Donald Trump has put me off. His tweets and views about my country, and other countries that he doesn’t like, are simply outrageous. Who, in their right mind, would wish to take a holiday in Trump’s United States? It is no longer the same place.

I have twice visited the US in the past, first in 1997 and then in 2004 — and what an interesting time I had in that great country, touring no less than nine states: Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, New York and California.

One of my visits started off by attending a mushaira at Devon, a neighbourhood in Chicago where the streets are named after Jinnah, Gandhi, Golda Meir, etc. Those who recited their kalaam (poetry) in the well-attended mushaira were Pakistani immigrant poets — Dr Abdul Wahid Fakhri, Dr Abidullah Ghazi, Reazuddin Atash, Ghousia Sultana and Zamir Jafri.

The joy of visiting America has been tempered by Trump’s vitriol

The next day, I met the renowned Indian sarangi player Ustad Sultan Khan at the residence of one Mr Sukhan Bose and we immediately became friends. I had lunch with him and he very sportingly played the sarangi in accompaniment with the few bandishes (verses) I sang of my ustad. The tabla player accompanying Sultan Khan on his yearly pilgrimage to the US was the younger brother of Ustad Zakir Husain. Sultan Khan informed me that he had composed music for the Ismail Merchant’s 1993 film In Custody (whose cast comprised Shashi Kapoor, Shabana Azmi and Om Puri).

Two days later, I was invited to another music programme at the residence of one Dr Mehdi Nawab. A well-known surgeon, he lived in a 600,000-dollar Victorian mansion in Hunting Creek in the township of Prospect, Kentucky. In the same area, another Pakistani doctor, Zaka-ur-Rahman, lived in a nine-bedroom mansion.

Picnicking in a forest preserve
Picnicking in a forest preserve

I took a flight to New York, a state that I discovered was numero uno in arts facilities and activities. Next came Vermont, Alaska and Hawaii. In New York, 20 years ago, there were 56 theatres per one million people. I was told that the Eastern US was the region that believed most strongly in public support for the arts. Six of the top 10 states are situated in the East Coast and the quality of life there, too, is above average.

During my stay in New York, I passed most of my mornings at the picturesque St Cabrini Nursing Home on the banks of the Hudson River. Here Dawn’s correspondent Masood Haider’s wife, Margaret, was admitted since the past six years after suffering a stroke. I made friends with most of the residents of the nursing home — Peggy, who in her younger days worked for the New York Fire Department during the war and now had no relatives alive; Mary, who became a widow just after two years of marriage when her husband was killed in an air crash in France; Eddie, a lively character, who suffered from cerebral palsy, but was always laughing and joking. I spent my time playing dominoes with them.

Namaz break during a mushaira in Chicago
Namaz break during a mushaira in Chicago

However, Masood made it a point to take me downtown every evening where we took rounds of Fleet Street in Brooklyn, Park Avenue, Wall Street, Times Square, Battery Park in Manhattan, Ellis Island, Soho (to see art galleries where I met painter Shahzia Sikander), China Town for ginger ice cream, Greenwich Village for margaritas, South Sea Port Building where the old Bengali bartender served vodka Martinis to visitors. I also visited Rockerfeller Center, The Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre (now the rebuilt One World Trade Center), Syracuse University and Long Island to meet Ruby, my friend Latif Kapadia’s youngest daughter. Masood even took me to a gay bar for the benefit of culture shock!


There are many interesting things that I came to know about the US. For instance, I found out that there are scores of periodicals brought out by different religious organisations. For instance, the Buddhists brought out their publications by such names as Blind Donkey, Centre of Gravity, Clear Light, Dharma Season and Diamond Sword. The Hindus had named their publications Book of Godhead, Crazy Wisdom and I am News. The Jews brought out Jewish Action, Talks and Tales. The Sikhs called their publications Beads of Truth, Kirpal Light, etc. And I counted more than 30 periodicals published by different sects belonging to Islam alone. There was the liberty of practising and promoting different faiths — Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Shintoism, Taoism and Sikhism. Buddhism seemed to be most popular, with 117 active organisations, and 56 publications, followed by 106 Hindu organisations with 53 publications. There were 45 Muslim organisations with 33 publications.

With my daughter and grandchild in Chicago
With my daughter and grandchild in Chicago

Ironically, in the sphere of crime, too, the US led the world. According to the National Gangs Resource Handbook by Dr George W. Knox, only in the city of Chicago, there were nearly 30 crime gangs with names such as Vice Lords, Latin Kings, Bloods, Born to Kill, Chicago Outlaws, Crips, Latin Dragons, Fruits of Islam, Imperial Gangsters, Latin Eagles, Latin Locos, Party Boys, Party Players, Satan’s Disciples, Spanish Cobras, Two Sixers etc.

Florida, New York and California were rated as having the highest violent crime rate while North Dakota, South Dakota, New Hampshire and Vermont had the lowest crime rate.

The hierarchy of one of the Muslim crime gangs called Amalgamated Order of Lordism ran something like this: “Supreme Chief King of Kings — Prince of the Nation — Minister of Justice — King of Nation — Universal Elite — Ambassador — Minister of Command — Precinct Elite — Lieutenant — Minister of Literature.” The gang’s message to ‘Muslim:

Brothers’ was: “A great day with the high sign of love. In peace I come. In time I am. For what is Islam but Lordism? And Lordism but Islam? Each when served properly will give the people a different flavour of the same thing. Almighty is Allah, Allah is Almighty. Chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, is purposely designed to meet the criteria of the people’s taste. Yet the flavour does not subtract from substance. I am the true V/L self and you are the true Muslim. By virtue of our seeded part we are brothers under Allah’s influence. We represent two establishments, yet stand upon one stone. Allah is rain-maker and since we both acknowledge him we can walk in warmth.”

My uncle’s grave in Chicago inscribed with his own verse in Urdu
My uncle’s grave in Chicago inscribed with his own verse in Urdu

The hierarchy of a Spanish gang named Spanish Gangster Disciple Nation (SGDN) ran like this: Chairman — Governor — Lt. Governor — Secretary — Ambassador — Consultant — Viceroy — Member. They had strange names for different organisations, such as Neeks for Administration, Pig for Police, Division for Gangster, Rockwell for Disciple, Fafts for Literature.

Some of the names of gang members were: Lil Bug, Tiny, Casanova, Mr Dee, Cisco, Caveman, Lil Man, Tomo, Alberto, Fingers, Smoky, Speedy, Armondo, Moreno, Mijo, Miss Lee, Goofie, Happy, Smiley, Troubles, Peanuts, Tita, Marina, Patty, Gym Shoes, Beaver, Mustang and Killer.

I can write a book on the US — but it is too late for me. However, it is difficult to comprehend why such a great country with such diverse and interesting elements in its liberal and progressive ethos should have forgotten the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and Abraham Lincoln to elect Mr Donald Trump.

What an anticlimax! No, sir, no more holidays in the US for me!

The writer is an amateur photographer and singer, trained in classical music by Ustad Wilayat Ali khan

Published in Dawn, EOS, February 18th, 2018

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