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Dateline New York
Indians, Pakistanis and mushairas
By Aisha Khan

September 1 seems a long long while ago. Not the barely three months it actually is. That day I arrived starry-eyed, in New York, "the hub of the world" as my grandfather described it.

My expectations of the city were moulded by the numerous movies and serials aired on cable television. Fast life, high business, wheeling dealing, the ubiquitous yellow taxi, traffic jams.

So, as I reached my friend’s house, I was more than a little surprised to hear the quiet neighbourhood’s peace rent by songs from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai blasting from someone’s stereo. 

Later I was amazed by the number of Indians and Pakistanis I saw on the roads, in the subways, manning shops, hawking fruit. To complicate the issue, there are immigrants from the Caribbean who are of Indian origin. Many identify strongly with their country of origin and try to recreate their ethnicity on social occasions. 

I realised that the place I stayed, Queens, has, out of the five boroughs of New York, the largest concentration of Indians and Pakistanis. 

Of course New York is really a polyglot city. The number of advertisements offering English classes, for people from any language from Arabic to Tamil, is testimony. Spanish has acquired near official status. Chinese, I suspect will soon follow. And Urdu/Hindi and Punjabi are pretty common too in some areas. 

Amidst all this some Indian Muslims and Pakistanis are trying to keep Urdu alive. There is a lively mushaira circuit in the New York area and the neighbouring state of New Jersey. 

I learnt that during the year three mushairas are really looked forward to. One is the mushaira hosted by the Aligarh Old Boys association around Sir Syed Day. 
The second is one organised by the Halqa -e- Fun -o- Adab, which once a year invites a some noted poets from India and Pakistan. The third is an organisation composed basically of pathans from Pakistan who make it a point to invite Ahmad Faraz every year. 

This year, among others the Aligarh Society also invited Gopi Chand Narang, professor of Urdu at Jamia Millia Islamia. 

Many of the events are "ticketed," to raise funds for the sponsoring organisation and also cover the costs of the poet’s visit. All expenses are paid for the poet, and he is also given an honorarium. Once in the States, they usually do a tour of a number of cities, Washington D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, and thereby earn a decent sum. Enough to keep the muse going another year. 

Ramadhan here in New York, seems quite flavourless. No sirens, no special vendors with …. (what is that sevain thing called which you soak in milk)… and extra fruit sellers.

In fact, it is a lonely, individual event, rather than a joyous congregational observance. One plus point was that I suddenly got to know how many Muslims there were in my university. 

The usually bare room allotted to the Islamic Center was overflowing at Maghrib time on the first day of fasting. People were waiting outside in the corridors to prayer and there were two shifts. I commented on how many people had come to an Arab student, who wryly remarked how none could be seen before Ramadhan. 

A few weeks before Ramadan I had attended one of the Muslim Student Association’s meetings planning for Ramadan and provision of iftar etc. There I learnt that the Muslim communities in New York could not even decide on a single day to begin fasting. It seems it is usually impossible to sight the moon, so many arbitrarily decide on following whatever suits them. Some go by their local mosques, while others go by their city or country of origin. Yet others follow Saudi Arabia. 

It is more than a little sad that even in this holy month, Muslims cannot set aside differences and unite, if only in prayer.

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