Saturday, 5 September 2015

A stranger in a strange land

A stranger in a strange land

‘Mon in’ smiled Raz at Paddy Devlin, ‘we don’t bite ye know.’ Paddy smiled feeling a lot less brave than he looked. It was the first time he’d ever been in a Muslim home in his life.  He and Raz had met at High school and had become good friends via their mutual love of playing football. Despite being from an Asian background, Raz was pure Glasgow in his speech and mannerisms. Paddy liked his self-deprecating humour and the fact he was just a decent guy. He also admired the way he destroyed any idiots who spouted racist nonsense, not with his fists but with his razor sharp wit.  He hadn’t been in his house in the many months they had hung about together partly because Raz lived a couple of miles away in Govanhill and partly because the opportunity never arose.  The first thing he noticed as he crossed the threshold was the smell of cooking and unfamiliar spices hanging in the air. ‘Come and meet my Mum,’ said Raz walking up the long hall. He turned into the living room which was surprisingly like Paddy’s own with its TV and 3 piece suite. A slender woman dressed in brightly coloured south Asian clothes smiled at them, ‘Ah Raza you’ve brought a friend. Come, sit and I’ll bring you some food.’ Raz nodded towards a small wooden table which had four chairs around it and Paddy sat. A loose pack of cards was on the table and Paddy noticed that the back of each card was embossed with an image of a black marble building. Raz noticed him looking at the cards and as he tidied them said, ‘That’s the Kaabah, in Mecca, the most holy place in Islam. I’m going on hajj one day and I’ll see it for myself.’ Paddy thought for a second, ‘So it’s a bit like St Peter’s or Lourdes is for our lot?’  Raz shrugged before nodding, ‘Aye, I suppose it is in some ways but in other ways it’s really unique.’  

Raz’s mother appeared with a large plate of samosas and two glasses of what looked like cola. ‘I’m Raza’s mother’ she smiled, her kind brown eyes putting Paddy at ease, ‘nice to meet you.’ Paddy replied, ‘Nice to meet you too Mrs Hanif. I love your clothes by the way.’ He instantly regretted saying such a thing unsure if it would cause offence but he relaxed a little when she smiled at him, ‘Thank you, I usually wear western clothes but traditional clothes are so comfortable.’ She left the boys with their snack before turning and saying to Raz, ‘Don’t forget to go say hello to your grandfather before you go out again, Raza.’ Raz nodded, ‘I will mum.’   Paddy paused as he reached for a samosa when he noticed Raz had his eyes closed. "Bismilallah," he said quietly before opening his eyes and reaching for the food. ‘You pray before eating, Raz?’ Paddy asked. Raz nodded, ‘don’t you?’ Paddy shrugged, ‘sometimes, well, always in school. They make us do it there though.’

The two teenagers ate their fill before Raz led Paddy from the living room along the hall to his grandfather’s room. He knocked the door respectfully and spoke in a language Paddy couldn’t understand but knew originated somewhere in Pakistan or India. A quiet voice from within the room responded and Raz entered and approached the ancient looking man sitting in a big chair by the window, “Daada! As salamu alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuhu” Paddy glanced around the room a little self-consciously as Raz embraced his grandfather. He wasn’t in the habit of hugging his grumpy old gramps and thought it a little sad that Scottish kids seemed to lose those sorts of demonstrations of affection as the years passed.  As he looked around, he noticed an X shaped book stand on the floor upon which sat an open Koran. On the fireplace stood three old fashioned picture frames each containing a black and white image. The first showed a man wearing cricket clothing and smoking a cigarette. The second showed a family group in some place much more tropical looking than Glasgow. The last picture took Paddy by complete surprise; it was incongruously enough an image of Jock Stein the former Celtic manager looking sharp in a dark suit.

Raz called Paddy over to meet his grandad, ‘He doesn’t speak much English Paddy but I can translate for him.’ Paddy reached out and shook the old man’s hand noticing the many lines on his ancient yet kindly face. His grey beard was well trimmed and his bright eyes seemed full of life. The old man regarded Paddy for a second as if sizing him up before speaking a long sentence. ‘He asked if you liked his pictures?’ Paddy nodded, ‘aye, very nice.’ The old man spoke again as Raz translated, ‘The first one is of Fazal Mahmood, who, according to grandpa, was the greatest player ever to pick up a cricket bat.’  Raz then added, ‘He’s obviously never seen Imran Khan. The centre picture is of his family on the day he left Pakistan for Scotland.’  Before the old man could go on, Paddy pointed and asked, ‘What about the picture of Jock Stein? The old man smiled and pointed towards a chair. Paddy sat as Raz perched on the arm of his grandfather’s worn old armchair and translated for him as he spoke…

‘When I came to Scotland in the year 1966 I knew no one. The flight from Pakistan to London was the first and only time I have been on a plane. A long train journey from London followed and I arrived at Central station one dark winter’s night as the snow was drifting down. I had the address of a cousin who would put me up until I started work and got on my feet. It was written on a piece of paper. I asked several people how to get there and they pushed past me without reply.’ The old man paused as if recreating the scene in his mind. ‘I walked the dark, cold streets with my suitcase, a stranger in a strange land. I recall four young men shouting at me for no reason at all. They seemed so angry, so full of rage. I thought they would assault me but a car stopped and a man got out. He told them to leave me alone and his manner ensured they did not argue with him. They disappeared into the darkness like jackals when they see the shepherd’s gun. The man read my piece of paper and nodded. He opened his car door and ushered me in before driving me across the city to my cousin’s house. I spoke so little English that we could barely talk on the journey. He helped me with my case and led me to the close of that tenement building which is now long demolished. When I had gained entry to my cousin’s house I looked out of the window just in time to see him drive away. I thought no more of the man until a week or so later when an envelope arrived for me in the post. In it was a signed photograph of the man who had helped me. He also enclosed a note which my cousin read for me, wishing me well in my new life in Scotland. I must have left the paper with the address in his car. My cousin said the man was quite famous in Scotland but for me he was just a good man who crossed my path and I honour him still by keeping his photograph in my home.’

Paddy listened to the story in silence. ‘That’s amazing,’ he said, ‘Jock helping your grandad all those years ago.’ Raz nodded, ‘That’s why I have a soft spot for Celtic, that and them being started by immigrants. A lot of your fans get it, they know what it’s like being the outsider.’ Paddy nodded, ‘I’ve got an idea. You brought me intae your home today, I’m taking you to mine.’ Raz looked mystified, ‘But I’ve been in your house?’ Paddy smiled, ‘Nah, I’ve got two homes.  Let me explain….’

The following weekend Raz and Paddy walked up the Celtic Way in bright sunshine. Celtic were taking on Aberdeen and the crowds milling around the stadium were in expectant mood. They stood in front of the statue of Jock Stein, ‘That’s the guy who helped yer grandad back in the day,’ said Paddy. Raz looked carefully at the statue, ‘He looks strong, not arrogant just a strong person.’ Paddy nodded, ‘He’s an ex miner, arrogant folk wouldn’t last long down a pit’.’  Raz approached the statue and reaching into his jacket pocket took out a small flower which he placed on the plinth, saying quietly, ‘That’s from an old man you helped a long time ago. Paddy watched in silence before saying, ‘Now let’s go look at my second home.’ They entered turnstiles at the Jock Stein stand and made their way to their seats behind the goal. So this is your second home is it, Paddy?’ Raz said looking around him at the impressive emerald arena. Paddy looked at his friend, ‘It is indeed. Who knows, if you enjoy the game today you might come back again. Ye might even end up a Tim.’ Raz laughed as a roar announced the teams were coming out, ‘insha Allah, Paddy, insha Allah.’  Paddy regarded him, ‘I’ll take that as a yes shall I?’


  1. Incredibly uplifting piece. It certainly makes you stop and think about the way people are welcomed (or not) into our culture.
    Re assuring to see on these blogs the outpouring of feeling and sympathy towards todays victims who are not only after a better life for their families but also a safer one, we cant persicute them for that.
    Hail hail

  2. Thank you Kenny, given the history of the community which brought Celtic to birth, how could they not respond well to others fleeing war and persecution?