No sooner had I dodged nearly 15 black clad male paparazzi who were hot on the trail of Kate Hudson as she, together with two friends, exited Barneys on Madison Ave at 61st Street did I hear the chants of men marching northbound on Park Avenue between 61st and 65th Streets.
I recalled a similar procession this time last year, when a group of Shiite observers, both men and women, gathered together, albeit the fairer sex stands at the tail end or along the perimeter, in memory of the death of Hussein, the grandson of Islamic prophet, Mohammed. Many of the male participants beat their chests as a display of their devotion to Imam Husayn and in remembrance of his suffering during the Battle of Karbala. Most of the people are dressed in black for mourning, there is a ceremonial white horse clad in colorful regalia and young boys carry signs and ceremonial banners.
A group of four or five men offered me a cup of tea from their truck when I asked what was in their cauldron. I accepted and learned that the procession takes place in Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar and serves as a way to remember the loss of a leader.
Bystanders from the toney upper east side neighborhood are used to seeing parades that flow along Fifth Avenue. There’s the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Puerto Rican Day Parade and last year, we watched the Pope in his Pope Mobile roll merrily along.
Because the procession spanned a space of four blocks, the police cars and their blinking red lights could be seen at the beginning and the end of the gathering. Larger gatherings, like the ones that residents from the tony upper east side are more familiar with, are also led and concluded by squad cars. Similarly, we watch the parades and observe differences, as in the German Day parade where Alpine men where lederhosen march to the tune of an oompah band.
One lady in her 70’s, who wasn’t Muslim, remarked that she’d never seen anything like this before in all her years in the ‘hood. A man in his 50’s explained that it wasn’t new, that they were Shias and that in other parts of the world, processions like the one today happen with regularity. A doorman told me that the procession ran along the Avenue up to the Pakistani consul’s office on East 65th Street. I didn’t stick around to follow the trail. Suffice it to say, for some the sight is new. For our children, it is their multi-dimensional, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic world.
May we all live together in peace and prosperity.