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Lebi Tom |
April 09, 2003 15:38 IST
"Assalaam-alaykkum [May Allah shower His blessings on you]," a beautiful, petite woman wearing a hijab (veil) greeted me at the counter. "Wa-alaykkum-asalaam [May Allah shower His blessings on you as well]," I replied with a smile, proud of my few Arabic words.
This was my regular Thursday visit to the mutton shop. It sits on a small area where there are many Kurdish settlers who immigrated to US for many unfortunate reasons. Many shops have names written in Arabic and prominently display bright red-and-blue American flags. In fact, my small southern city accounts for a major number of Iraqi and Kurd immigrants.
"Leg?" she asked, sure of my reply.
I nodded a yes.
The woman behind the counter has been my friend for two years. At first, she was very cautious, only displaying a smile. Slowly, she started talking -- her first question was on what I do with the mutton I buy so regularly.
I like visiting such small shops of different ethnicity, a welcome whiff of a different culture in this sanitised, over-sterile country. This mutton shop was my favourite one. They had the best mutton in town, fresh and clean.
I had to wait some time while they cleaned and cut the mutton. Which is how I started chitchatting with my friend. Before knowing her, I hardly knew a people called Kurd. Our conversations ranged from television programmes to recipes to dresses, Kurd and Indian, and most of the times trailed to our countries, homes and memories we left behind.
"For career... uh... actually for money," I winked, when she asked me one day why I had left my home. I was afraid to ask her the same question, not wanting to stir any horrible memories. "My uncle was here. So we escaped," she said, without waiting for me to ask. I noted the word escaped and changed the conversation abruptly.
She showed me the leg of the mutton and weighed it. She then shoved it into a small opening at the back of the store, called for someone and returned to the counter.
"What do you think of this?" Pointing to her television, she asked me in a hushed tone. The television set was tuned to news on the US-Iraq war. I looked around the shop to make sure no one was there and did a thumbs-down.
"Why?" she inquired.
"Don't know. Haven't liked any war all my life. It is too cruel."
"That's too simple an answer," she smiled and replied.
I could hear the soft grunt of the meat saw-machine inside.
"How about you?" I looked into her big brown eyes.
She stared at the television set for a minute and sighed. "It's nasty. But... some wars are a necessity. It is heart-wrenching to see people with my kind of eyes and face, my kind of smile and hair die or... burnt... or crying."
"Hmm..." I could not make out whether she was pro or against the war. I did not want to pursue the conversation for all the politically correct reasons.
But she continued, "You know, there are places in this world where people are never free. Either it is our own people or, sometimes, it is foreigners... but prefer... our own to others."
The mutton was brought to the counter, cut, clean and put into small plastic bags.
"Inshah Allah [God willing], one day there will be a place where we all can live freely, without fear," I paid and said, without looking into her eyes.
She took the money from me, smiled, and replied, "Inshah Allah."
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh