Celebrating Eid with Aisam

Published: September 14, 2010
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A ticket to the game

A ticket to the game Champion of our hearts The Indo-Pak Express in action

Watching Pakistan’s Aisamul-Haq Qureshi almost win the Men’s Doubles Final at the US Open in New York was not a bad way to spend Eid.

Throw in a velvety lump of gulab jaman gratis the Bengali uncle at Spice Corner, beaming from behind the counter in an embroidered black kurta; some papery pista-encrusted bakhlava from the toothless Palestinian landlady, her troop of grandchildren hurtling through the building in a jumble of satin and plastic wands; and a cup of spongy ras malai from Curry in a Hurry, served by a waiter in a Jinnah cap with a retro Shahrukh Khan-Madhuri Dixit video playing on the TV – I’d say Eid was downright unforgettable.

We hadn’t planned on it. I was expecting it to be a pretty ordinary Friday, minus the 100-odd phonecalls to the 100-odd friends and family scattered across North America, an attempt at cooking sheer khorma wearing gold bangles and a chiffon shalwar kameez that still smelt of neem leaves from my jahez trunk,  followed by dinner at the Lebanese place down the street when my husband came home from work, and a two-person Eid jamaat in the living room, infused with jasmine incense for added effect.

But all that changed when Aisam Qureshi and his Indian partner Rohan Bopanna – nicknamed the Indo-Pak Express – zoomed into the US Open Men’s Doubles Final on Wednesday, September 8th, making history as the first Pakistani to reach a Grand Slam Final, in the first major tournament that an Indian and Pakistani – sworn enemies from birth, some would have us believe – were playing on the same team.

I’m not a huge tennis fan, but when I read the news that night on my laptop, sitting in the blissful calm of our  TV-less apartment, I made up my mind: “We have to go”. There were no two ways about it. We had to go support Aisam, even if we didn’t understand why the deuce the commentator kept saying “Laav” every two minutes.

24 hours, a Craigslist hunt, and a hotel lobby rendezvous later, we had four Friday tickets to Arthur Ashe Stadium in our hands and a breathless mixture of hope and disbelief in our hearts – what if they won?  They had made it this far. Could it  be? Could this historic India-Pakistan duo beat the Bryan Brothers, identical twins playing tennis together from the age of 2, with 65 Double’s Titles titles to their name ? Could Aisam be the hero and ambassador that Pakistan so desperately needed, in this her darkest of hours, on this blessed Eid day?

1:30pm – Half way through the second set, 4-4. We had gradually inched to the edge of our seats. Anything could happen now. I was trying to control the urge to holler a “Buck up Aisam buck uppppppp!”, an almost genetic reflex after a lifetime of cricket-watching – which, it turns out, is a very different experience from tennis-watching – but every so often a screeching ”Aisam!” would escape from our girly green corner, much to the horror of the surrounding goras.

We didn’t care. It was bad enough we had to forego the face-paint and gigantic flag in our hurry to catch the 7 o’clock train.  Tennis needed some good old desi jazba.

I still wonder, if we had cheered a little louder, prayed a little stronger, would an invisible force have lifted up Aisam’s arm for that winning stroke?

Probably not.

But though the Indo-Pak Express didn’t win the title, Aisam was still the hero. He was the hero in that 23,000-seat stadium, packed with Americans, a pocket of Indians and just a handful of Pakistanis, with his youthful smile, passionate smashes,  an endearing hint of nervousness, and the heartfelt speech at the awards ceremony that brought everybody to their feet.

He was our Lahori boy who started  playing tennis with his mother when he was 14 because it beat staying indoors doing homework.

He was a real guy. And he proved that with talent and hard work, you could get anywhere. More importantly, he showed to all Americans watching the game that day why Pakistan deserved respect – respect,  and right now, more than ever, assistance. The Bryan Brothers have donated $5,000 to the Qureshi family’s relief fund for flood victims, and with Aisam in the limelight, one hopes that other atheletes follow their example.

Thanking the Bryans for their donation, shouting out an Eid Mubarak to the crowd and happy birthday to his sister back home, and expressing to America a simple message “We want peace just as much as you do.”  Aisam brought out the best of Pakistan.

What is Eid about? Contrary to my childhood convictions, it’s not about eidi; it’s not about  new clothes or food either. It’s not even about giving or sharing, though that comes pretty close.
I’ve realized that Eid is about family. It’s about the triple hugs, the smell of roses and frankincense, and the crisp whiteness of everything, from your dad’s kurta to the new tablecloth to the grin on the face of  the cook’s 6-year old son and the milky sweetness of your mother’s superb sheer khorma.

It’s about piling up in the car for the annual visits to your endless roster of relatives, from Anarkali to Multan Road to the Gulberg III cemetery; the date brownies at your phuppo’s and the anday ka halwa at your khala’s, playing Taboo or Monopoly with your cousins till midnight or watching Michael Jackson videos on your chacha’s new TV system while the grown-ups laughed boomingly away in the drawing room, because no matter what you would always be eight years old in their eyes, and that was a great feeling.

I wasn’t with my parents this Eid, nor my cousins or khalas and khaloos, chachas and phuppos. Eid dinner consisted of my husband and I with a remotely-related United Nations-veteran New Yorker-aunt and a third cousin whom I had never met in my life, at a Chinese-Indian fusion restaurant on Lexington and 28th.   Stir-fried bhindi and gobi manchurian.

But I was with family. It was Eid, I was a proud of Pakistan, and Aisamul-Haq Qureshi had waved at me. It was a good, good day.

manal.khan

Manal Khan

A freelance writer and photographer based in Madrid, Spain, who loves old cities, tall trees, dark chocolate, and being inspired. She is a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism and a Lahore native. Manal blogs at "Windswept Words" (manalkhan.wordpress.com)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sarah B. Haider

    Way to go, Aisam!Recommend

  • Khadija Masood

    So refreshing to see Aisam and Bopanna breaking stereotypes!Recommend

  • Usama

    It was a completely marvelous performance by Aisam and he presented the cream of Pakistani attitude, talent and culture. Let’s hope next time he will take the last step and raise the US Open title high with Rohan Bopanna, who by the way is an excellent player, too.

    Kudos to the writer for wonderfully summarizing the atmosphere for those who were not there.Recommend

  • Talat Haque

    Thanks for spreading your happiness ………… its good to do that ! :) Recommend

  • shiza

    Manal its a beautifully written article n has touched my heart a lot wid wat eid is and shud b for thus who are fortunate enough to spend it wid our loved ones:) I’m glad aisam made urz worth it just like mine I’m his proud sister:)Recommend

  • http://ahandfulofdust.wordpress.com/ Mariam

    Beautiful write up :)

    He is indeed the pride of Pakistan. May God bless him.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Gushy gushy article. Realy loved it.Recommend

  • http://manalkhan.wordpress.com manalkhan

    thanks people! it was an honor to see him play live. how can one not gush? :)Recommend

  • Tayyaba

    beautifully written indeed!Recommend

  • http://syedaabidabokhari.wordpress.com/ The Only Normal Person Here.

    Hey… that was a breath of fresh air :) Good write up. I can sense your zeal and enthusiasm.

    Indeed Aisam made us all proud. Recommend

  • Waqas Ahmad

    Aisam, U made us proud :-)Recommend

  • Haider Nawab

    Beautifully written Manal

    Aisam spoke with such passion after that final that the loss became inconsequential.
    Pakistan needs more people like him.Recommend

  • Maria

    Downright beautiful and soul touching! got very nostalgic reading about the account of Eid as children.Plz write more often.Recommend

  • Sarah Munir

    Truly refreshing. This is why no amount of visual overload can beat the pleasure of well-written pieces :). Do write more often.Recommend

  • Zuhaib

    Awesomely crafted =)Recommend

  • Zuhaib

    Manal, both of your write ups r awe-inspiring n patriotic…..make me a proud Pakistani….yeah please do write more often…the best thing about your write ups is the feeling to a reader that whatever is written expresses true feelings of a writer Recommend

  • http://manalkhan.berkeley.edu manalkhan

    thank you so much for the comments! it is truly very encouraging. i will definitely be writing more!Recommend

  • http://munzee72.wordpress.com/ Munira Zoomkawala

    very lovely post Manal, seriously, it wasn’t about winning or losing for most of us, it was about the joy of being represented in a context other than that of woe and terror! a belated ‘eid mubarak’ to you! thanks for sharing your experience :)Recommend

  • Majid Urrehman

    I own “I’ve realized that Eid is about family. It’s about the triple hugs, the smell of roses and frankincense, and the crisp whiteness of everything, from your dad’s kurta to the new tablecloth to the grin on the face of the cook’s 6-year old son and the milky sweetness of your mother’s superb sheer khorma.”
    Thanks,Recommend