Tuesday, September 30, 2014

ramadan recitation

“Tumi ki Bangali?” “Are you Bangali?” she asked in her Sylheti dialect. This I knew because I had spent too much time with the Sylhetis in Queens organizing in the projects collecting surveys from Bangali aunties and uncles, attempting to politicize them while eating their bhaat (rice) and beguner bhorta (mashed eggplant) all while trying to decipher their Bangla. Conversations ranged from “ami english mattam fari na,” “I can’t speak English,” to describing some “khaanor or matar bish/bedna,” “ear pain/headache.” Far from universal shuddho but close to the regional Chatgaiya my parents spoke at home.  

Before I could respond, she looked closely at me, “tomake dekhte Bangali lage,” “you look Bangali.” I smiled, showing no teeth, sharing no words. Her eyes stared in curiosity, perhaps at the bulge on my upper lip carved out by a snaggletooth. Maybe she was assessing the caramelized shemla she knew could only belong to a Bangali meye.

I could tell she wanted to talk and engage in the purano “tomar bari kothai?” where are you from? script. Did she really want to know where I grew up? Did she care that this was my first time at the 96th street mahal of a masjid? A mahal, at least compared to the ones that Bangali landlords would’ve otherwise housed Bangali families of 4-6 in an overpriced, cramped 1-bedroom, which was actually a 2 or maybe 4-bedroom, but these Bangalis are hustlers. Like my father. No bedrooms in these apartment building-turned-worship centers, just rugging and men for days. And a terrible stench. Maybe from the shoes stacked abrasively by the entrance. I imagine no shoes were ever stolen here. Or the underground bathrooms in need of a blessing. Though somewhere along the stench I remember my first crush.

The script was cut short with questions I had never been asked before. She listened carefully as I shared how this was my first Ramadan participating in masjid congregational namaz, my first jummah, my first janazah because in Brooklyn, the Bangali women in my family prayed at home. It was Rabia’s idea to masjid-hop. This began with juhr at the Islamic Center at NYU.  

We separated until I noticed her hovering over my body and the Qur’an I held close. I stopped my speeding finger and looked at her. “Tumi porte paro???” “You know how to read???” Amused, she mentioned having learned a different script of the Qur’an. I continued reading silently until she requested that I read out loud. No! I had done that only in Qur’an class where we could move forward if we read the day’s lines fluently. Aside from the hujur evaluating, no one had heard me.

I started off shy, soft, and self-conscious of pronunciations until her voice joined mine.

Together, as if in a choir, we recited in harmony.

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