Posted by: believer786 | April 29, 2007

In Love … Once Again

I am back from a life-changing trip to Cambay (Khambat), a village in Gujarat (India) where I was born. I hadn’t been back to India in almost 17 years, which made this trip nothing short of ground-breaking for me.

Years ago my dad had made a promise to his dying mother that he would visit her every year no matter what. A man of his word, my dad took us all (mom, brother, myself) to India every year to Cambay where lived my grandmother, my grandfather, and most of my dad’s brothers and sisters (8 of them). Living in UAE at the time, we had to adjust to a lesser life whenever we visited the village. There were no shower systems, and the bathrooms were the old style hole-in-the-ground, we mainly slept on the ground on floor mats. All we had were fans to keep us cool and we had to contend with lizards and mosquitoes while sleeping (cringe).

Whenever we visited, the villagers would eagerly stand at their respective doorways to see who had visited their village in a car. Yes a car was a novelty in our village back in the day. Every time I visited, I felt and was treated like a celebrity. People hung on to my every word and they wanted to know what the outside world was like. Needless to say I made a ton of fans and had quite a loyal group of female admirers too! The one constant that stuck out every time was the love people bestowed on me.

My cousins, my nieces, my uncles, my aunts, my grandparents, my neighbors, my entire village would go extremes to be hospitable to us. Even though they were poor, I was treated to the best of what they could afford and besides, love didn’t cost a dime or rather a paisa. I lived in UAE doing my usual school routine and then visiting the village would be a refreshing break that would energize me for the coming year. Everything changed when I was admitted to a university in Chicago, IL for higher education.

I got caught in the intricate web of school and work in the USA. I was introduced to a life of which I had not even dreamed. I started to forget old-school relationships and hospitality and was now knee deep in a life of my own. I was beginning to lose my desi/fobbish ways and suddenly become Mr. America himself. I had the Apu (from Simpsons) accent when I landed on US soil but within a few years I had perfected an American accent that was the envy of my desi buddies and even some of my gora buddies. The American folks would always ask in amazement, “Dude where did you learn to speak so clearly?” I don’t understand this stereotype about Indians expected to speak with heavy desi accents. So the American dream was coming true for me and I was beginning to live it.

My life’s focus now was to become a millionaire before I hit the age of 25. I was also starting to enjoy my new found freedom a little too much and started to hit the brakes on the Islamic fundamentals I was raised with. Along with all these changes in me, I naturally resisted going back to India. I was content with what I had found in USA, and I had given up on my old life. I was replacing my relatives and close ones in the village with new people I had become friends with, who came in all sizes, shapes and colors. Everybody back in Cambay painstakingly kept hope alive that I would visit them again some day. I was born there, I was part of them and they loved me unconditionally without expecting anything in return.

Finally something in my mind was aflutter when I was in Dubai this time and I had this strange but powerful longing to go back to Cambay. It was as if all the collective voices of my people had entered deep into my heart and had got a grip on me. Turns out it was the best decision I made in my life in recent times. For the 7 days I was there, I experienced nothing but peace, happiness, utter contentment, and was once again showered with the undying love of my people. They forgave me the instant they saw me and looked up at me in amazement at how I had grown into a young man. When I last visited Cambay I was but a skinny little wiry kid, and now I was a polished and fit gentleman (oh come on I am allowed to toot my horn every now and then!). They loved my new look with my crew cut and my Armani glasses (I avoid wearing contacts in the village due to pollution and stuff).

What I experienced after 17 years was nothing short of spectacular. What I saw was nothing short of extraordinary. Over the years I had built a barrier around me which kept the true me hidden from the world. I had locked myself and my emotions in with me and had become inexpressive and to some extent unable to experience or express love. My heart had slowly hardened and was now in dire need of replenishment and the villagers had just the medicine to break all barriers and resuscitate a heart that once beat in my chest.

My dad’s younger brother (chacha) had come to pick us up from the airport. He hadn’t slept all night just to be able to pick us up from the airport. This was the first thing that hit me. Sacrifice. Something that Khambatis do without so much as a whimper.

When we got home I laid eyes on my lovely nieces for the first time since they were not even born the last time I visited. Nadia is 13 and Asiya is 16. My heart was touched by Nadia especially because she is sharp as can be and kind and gentle. She immediately engaged in a discussion with me and asked me about the whereabouts of my wife. I changed the subject. Nadia got me some water and asked if there was anything else she could do for me. Over the course of my stay she took care of all my needs like water, tea, food, even ironing my clothes; may Allah bless this child. She even taught me how to read Gujarati on a daily basis. She asked for my autograph before I left which I was more than happy to give. I will inshallah do something for my neice as she is very smart and deserves a break. I was appalled when my chacha told me that he makes Rs 2000 a month. That is about $50 a month. That is just insane. Chacha and his family not only took care of our lodging and food but also took us out to places to keep us entertained. That is barakat! So little money, yet so much to give. One thing that hit home was the fact that I never ever saw Chacha and his family without huge smiles on their faces. They lived a happy, content and full lives. Khambat had changed in the last 17 years. Everyone I saw carried a cellphone! I was shocked. Chacha also now has a tv, a refrigerator, a washing machine, all of which I had never seen before in Cambay.

Money or no money the people of Khambat lead content and satisfied lives. I also happened to notice that not one person in Khambat was bald. Its true, they all have thick lustrous hair which would be the envy of any hair model here in the States. That is because they do not lead stressful lives like so many in the US. They also have the biggest hearts I have seen. Wherever I went, people were eager to treat me to food, drinks and sweets. Even when I went to some restaurants I was treated to free food and was entertained to a heart-warming chat simply because I am a Khambati and they are proud that I visited them. This was all a bit too much for me to comprehend because living in the US I am used to the fact that nobody has time for others. We merely live solitary lives that revolve around us and our immediate family members. Not so in Khambat. If you need something, an entire village is at your disposal.

Then I took a look at the women. The women are naturally beautiful and naturally slim. This is not an exaggeration but I did not see a single fat woman. All women, I mean literally all the young women are about 5’2-5’7 and they weigh about 90-110 lbs. They do not have fitness gyms or health foods or any of those ridiculous lose 500 lbs in 5 seconds programs you have available in the US. All they have is what they were given by Allah and Allah has blessed them with beauty, health and happiness. The women are brought up with family values as their #1 priority. The kids have the best life in Khambat. Everyone comes to see the kid and spend time with kids. A kid gets attention on a daily basis not only from the mom and dad, but all the uncles and aunts and grandparents and all the neighbors.

Khambat is a celebration of life, of children, of family, of ties, of relationships, of people, of love. I felt so loved that I had to extend my stay for 2 extra days, I really could not get enough and I really did not want to bid them good bye. I regret not taking my Rebel XT camera because I wanted to capture of essence of Cambay through my photographs. I did take some photos on my RAZR and we will see if it is worth posting here.

My mission now is to write to National Geographic and encourage them to do a documentary on Khambat. I know for a fact that it is worth it and the world will be a better place to have read and learned a little about Khambat and its treasures.

cambay.jpg

The experience has left me humbled and has taught me some important lessons. Money and materialism as is the craze in the US, will not and cannot buy you piece of mind. Money and materialistic possessions do not amount to anything if you have to come home to loneliness. All the money in the world cannot substitute a simple yet poignant thing like love that humans are capable of bestowing on each other. It is true, don’t knock it till you actually experience what I have experienced.

People become fundamentally different living in the US, no fault of theirs, just the by-product of living in such a high-paced individualistic society. I would not have changed or even realized it until I visited the village. My heart was starved for some real love, real feelings, people who really care and not do it for show or as a duty. Cambay has taught me that Allah has given rizq for every human on this earth. Even if you make $50 a month, it is possible to have a beautiful family, a house, and most importantly, happiness and contentment. These people wake up at the crack of dawn and go to bed at 10. They do their daily chores without so much as an oomph. And all the while, they have a song on their lips and a smile on their face.

People come and go on a daily basis and check on each other’s well being on a daily basis. They want to serve you until the day you leave them, without any expectations in return. This is true love, this is true brotherhood, and this is true caring. This is the kind of Ummah this world truly needs. Sure we meet each other here in the US, but is it really from the bottoms of our hearts? Do we feel touched deep down when we meet our fellow muslim brothers and sisters? I suspect not. Many of us do it as a sense of social duty. Love is not a duty, it is a natural expression. We need to rekindle this dead art in us. We ought to.

I also had a chance to meet all my childhood sweethearts (the group of female fans I mentioned earlier hehe), and most of them still beautiful were now married with kids. It was so surreal to see these women bestowing so much love on their little ones and I felt the love even through their kids when they embraced me and wanted to play with uncle Mushir!

Time flies. Will this village forgive me for forsaking them? Will this village forgive me for letting materialism and money get to my head and for having ignored them all these years? I know they have and I thank Allah for that.

Today, I stand a better man, richer for the experience I was so lucky to have had. A man that realizes that money is just money, it really affords one just a temporary sense of happiness and/or achievement. Long term happiness, peace of mind, and that eternal quest for the satisfaction of a hungry heart comes only from a life filled with love.

When I meet my muslim brothers and sisters now, I will meet them with renewed, unparalleled enthusiasm and vigor inshallah. Time is short, life is temporary, I need to do what is right. To me, this is the most important aspect of my life. Sharing love. True, deep, affectionate, untampered and unselfish love.

I know not all of us can experience something like this because not all of us come from a village. But I implore any of you who can experience something like this, to immerse yourself in it for a week. Away from internet, laptops, and technology. Envision a village where people are always waiting you with open arms and open hearts and the love that connects each and every member of that society.

Just as my dad made a promise to his dying mom many years ago, I have made a promise to my parents and my people that I will visit them at least once in 2 years. It should be easy to keep inshallah because I already miss them immensely.

In closing I want to say that I am in love … once again and I thank Allah for dragging me back to this village and showing me what I was denying myself and what I was missing all those years, and for stirring something so deep within me that it has rocked the very foundation of who I am. Alhamdulilah.

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Responses

  1. Mashallah. Very beautiful, Mushir. It was such a wonderful description.

    I have to admit that i have never really cherished the idea of visiting my parents’ villages. I want to go back to India to meet my relatives, but i’ve never thought about how i could benefit from it in a spiritual sense. I am very accustomed to the luxuries of the West, so the idea of ‘roughing it’ does not appeal to me.

    However, your insights are quite inspiring, and i pray that once i have some free time i will definitely make plans for some journeying of my own.

    I’ll just have to pack a whole suitcase of mosquito repellent, cos them lil @$%^& really go for me! My relatives used to joke that i had ‘sweet blood’. 🙂

  2. I find the experience of visiting Pakistan similar to yours Mushir, especially after gaps of a few years. Their simplicity is beautiful and spiritually they are connected to their deen in ways that we could should we be able to distract ourselves of our luxuries and instant gratification self destruct mode we’re usually in.

    However, I cannot envisage myself living in a place like that. A few weeks or a few months perhaps, but it is very difficult to do so as a lifetime commitment. The lack of independence, as a woman, is what hits me everytime I go. And the older I’ve got, the less I am able to do – not due to family pressures, but those imposed on women by a very frustrated and patriarchal society.

    But its good to know you enjoyed your visit! 🙂

  3. salam

    Very nice post…beuatifully written and evocative. Like Sumera, it reminds me of visiting Pakistan but my theory is that it’s really the starvation we feel for family love, ‘apney’, that make us so emotionally attached to our countries.

    For me it’s not always pleasant, the rudimentary style of living doesn’t inspire me, but actually makes me frustrated that we as Muslims are not able to have in our countries a higher standard of life for everyone. The non-Muslims have come so far through their efforts and improved their living, whereas that’s what we should be doing, knowledge, wisdom, power, strength, science, infrastructure, that what should be our mainstay, and it was for so many years, but we just nosedived.

    Simplicity is of course what our Prophet practised, sallalahu alaihi wassalam, but not ramshackleness.

    I think the modernity and convenience of Western technology is good, and we should adopt it whilst keeping to the values taught by Islam to society as a whole, ihsaan, neighbourliness, care, respect, good character as enumerated in the hadeeth. The reason we can keep at it is, unlike the Westerners, we have a different motivation to keep ‘good’. Reward in AAkhirah whilst atheist societies have no such thing to aspire to, so they lose interest in ‘goodness’ very quickly.

  4. Oh I wrote my blog name incorrectly. Visit it sometime!

    shadeofrahmah.blogspot.com

  5. Masha Allah,
    Very nice post. It matches word for word my own experiences whenever I visit Pakistan.

    May allah grant us the strength to look forward to Aaakhira and not get embroiled in this duniya

    يَايُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمْ وَاخْشَوْا يَوْمًا لَا يَجْزِي وَالِدٌ عَنْ وَلَدِهِ وَلَا مَوْلُودٌ هُوَ جَازٍ عَنْ وَالِدِهِ شَيْءا انَّ وَعْدَ اللَّهِ حَقٌّ فَلَا تَغُرَّنَّكُمْ الْحَيوةُ الدُّنْيَا وَلَا يَغُرَّنَّكُمْ بِاللَّهِ الْغَرُورُ
    O people, you shall reverence your Lord, and fear a day when a father cannot help his own child, nor can a child help his father. Certainly, GOD’s promise is truth. Therefore, do not be distracted by this life; do not be distracted from GOD by mere illusions. (Luqman:31)

    Jazak Allah!

  6. yeah that was quite lovely.. sometimes we need a lesson like that to remind us what really matters in life….. it’s funny how we forget the really important things and get tangled up in frivolities….
    inshaAllah this experience has lifted you spirit a little bit and given you a new perspective.


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