A special guest calls for going all out
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.