I miss you every moment.. oh you are my heart and its pulse, I would never stop loving you.. and all the people are my witnesses…
These lines sung by Majed al Mohandes, an Iraqi singer, are from a beautiful song called ‘Hammoudi’, which in Arabic is a way of expressing, fondly, the name Mohammed. The song is about a woman singing about her love for the man she’s truly, madly and deeply in love with, Mohammed.
As a child of 10, I fondly remember looking forward to occasions like Ramzan and Muharram and Eid by virtue of us going to the infamous Mohammed Ali road, which is a stone’s throw from my home. My family enjoyed the variety of foods and the atmosphere and the feeling of brotherhood and warmth.
But for me it was always so much more.
Mohammed Ali Road, to me, was an adventure.
My permanent teeth still growing out, hardly taller than a fully grown, potted plant, usually clad in a kurta with a dupatta wrapped around my neck, I remember sprinting in order to try to keep up with my father’s gigantic steps. To any other child the idea of being lost in a crowd is their worst fear but to me I would try in so many ways to slip out of my dad’s clutch or my mom’s sight to get lost among the people. While my family would stop to eat kababs from a stall or firni from Tawakkal Sweets, I remember zoning out on the colours that were blinding me and all the faces that I saw two seconds ago and still couldn’t remember but struggled to, nonetheless.
I didn’t exist to anyone there and as much as I loved this blatant disregard for my existence, I was baffled at how invalid and small I was in this ocean of people, sweat and stories. Everybody there was living their own lives, had someplace to be, had important things to do, had their own kebabs to eat.
At that age, it doesn’t take much to fascinate you, but I knew then that I was roped in by something that would become a long term love, like a first love of sorts. I had fallen in love with the man who sold us hot tandoori rotis to eat with my nihaari that we parcelled for it was too crowded to eat there, I had fallen in love with the old barfi-selling chacha who gave me a small piece of mango barfi because I smiled at him, I fell in love with the woman who caressed my head because her elbow hit me while she was in a hurry to get somewhere, I had fallen in love with the little boy who was walking his goat on a street bustling with people and had let me pet it, I had fallen in love with the man who managed to sell baraf gola in a corner of this busy road adding dollops of colour to this already colourful street, I had fallen in love with small buildings and the windows I could look inside.
Most of the times I could only manage to see the ceilings of the houses and maybe sometimes a little more, but I had fallen in love with my ability to complete the whole house with my own imagination. I had fallen in love with the fact that this street forced me into my own little world which was a part of another massive one. I had fallen in love with the thought that, here I was, a child of 10 in copious amounts of awe, noticed by none and still, and still, I felt so important. I hadn’t just fallen in love with the place. I had fallen in love with the magnificence of my mind and its ability to create magic when I was there.
Of course as I grew older and change being the only thing constant, times changed and trips to Mohammed Ali road became a thing of the past or rare, rare happenings and somewhere while growing up I suppressed my love for the stories, lights, colours, foods and people as one of my sweetest memories.
Along with me, so changed this street, due to constructions and advancements that were to be brought about. While walking this street, now a 20 year-old individual, I still felt the warmth the street always offered me.
It was a sort of greeting between two long lost friends, each well aware of ones love for the other. Each acknowledging that no amount of time or distance would change this bond.
These pictures are a humble attempt at portraying how I looked at the people and shops and simple happenings. They’re simple pictures but each of them, to me, tell a story, and the fact that every person will read a different story, is the beauty of it.
This song, in a sadistically, humorous manner will always be a taunting reminder of my love for this street and how I grew up with it.
“I miss you every moment.. oh you are my heart and its pulse
I would never stop loving you.. and all the people are my witnesses…”