A spe­cial guest calls for go­ing all out

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

birth­day, what dif­fer­ence does it make that you’re turn­ing…” I didn’t get much fur­ther.

“Aargh! I don’t want to talk about it, be re­minded of it or cel­e­brate it. That’s why I’m com­ing to Doha. In Cape Town l’ll be ex­pected to or­gan­ise a big party. Ev­ery­one will make a big deal about it and, while I ap­pre­ci­ate they mean well, I would pre­fer to let it pass me by.”

I re­alised the time for talk­ing was over – the time for pre­par­ing guest rooms had be­gun. Not that I was un­happy at the prospect of vis­i­tors. Aqeel and Saabi­rah are fond of Na­jma and her hus­band, Sedick, while Shi­haam and my sis­ter share a bond in their love of shop­ping malls.

The day of their touch-down in Qatar dawns. Na­jma and Sedick en­ter the ar­rivals hall at Doha In­ter­na­tional Air­port. Saabi­rah runs straight up to Na­jma, gives my de­lighted sis­ter a big hug and gur­gles “mama” – which is what she calls her grand­mother.

Nice one, Saabi­rah, ex­actly what a wo­man try­ing to for­get her birth­day wants to be told; that she’s start­ing to look like her mother.

“Um, Shi­haam’s got the car run­ning out­side, no time to daw­dle,” I stut­ter, ea­ger to move on.

On the way home, the con­ver­sa­tion turns to what’s hap­pen­ing in Doha. Bol­ly­wood megas­tar Shahrukh Khan and Hol­ly­wood icon Tom Cruise may have re­cently vis­ited Dubai to pro­mote their lat­est films, but there’s a lot go­ing on in Doha too, I say. The World Pe­tro­leum Congress re­cently took place in the Mid­dle East for the first time, the 2011 Arab Games are in full swing and the Doha In­ter­na­tional Book Fair is on. The Mu­seum of Mus­lim Art is also a must-see, as is the renowned Souk Waqif. And let Dubai have Khan and Cruise, I add, we’re get­ting Bar­ney and Bob the Builder.

“Baaar­ney”, shrieks Saabi­rah at the men­tion of the pur­ple devil – I mean di­nosaur. “I don’t mind giv­ing Bar­ney a miss,” says Na­jma, with what I’m sure is a side­ways smirk at Saabi­rah. Per­haps it’s her way of ex­act­ing re­venge for the “mama” in­ci­dent. “But it would be great to get tick­ets to some of the games events and to visit the book fair. And of course I’d like to visit the malls. But, other than that, I just want to spend time with you guys.”

That night, af­ter launch­ing her first as­sault on the Villagio shop­ping mall, I sense the re­tail ther­apy has per­haps quelled Na­jma’s birth­day para­noia. De­spite what she has said, surely Shi­haam and I can throw her a lit­tle party, per­haps invit­ing some of the friends we’ve met since mov­ing to Qatar?

I barely get past “we should cel­e­brate the fact that you’re turn­ing…” when the growl resur­faces. “Rid­waan, please un­der­stand, I came to Doha so that I can en­joy be­ing anony­mous on my birth­day. We can get a cake, be­cause I know the kids will en­joy that, but no party please. And you may think I’m be­ing ir­ra­tional, but don’t you dare men­tion my age.”

Na­jma is the eldest of five Bawa sib­lings – I’m the youngest – so when she asks me to do some­thing, I sup­pose I should re­spect her wishes. But be­ing the baby in the fam­ily gives me a li­cence to drive my sib­lings crazy – so there may yet be a party. Heck, I may even throw in some presents. The fact is, Na­jma has ac­com­plished a tremen­dous amount in her life and shows no signs of slow­ing down, which is some­thing to cel­e­brate in my book. And, whether you’re in Cape Town or Doha, not be­ing 49 any longer, seems like a good rea­son to do it.

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