Simon Hardy Butler
Simon Hardy Butler

Tariq the Mensch

I want to talk about the New York cab driver who took my wife Trudi and me home tonight.

His name is Tariq. He is Muslim. And he is a total mensch.

We discussed food. He is of Indian heritage. He liked that I knew about burfi, kaju katli and many more delicious Indian sweets, which I’m familiar with because of my fascination with all things culinary. He himself eschews them because he is watching his sugar. I told him that’s hard for me. He scolded me about it, because he, a family man with a wife who provides his medicine on a regular basis, doesn’t want Trudi to worry about me. He is right.

We talked about the foods his wife makes, the rice-focused biryanis and the savory dishes of lamb (which he finds too fatty) and goat (which both he and I like a lot). Sometimes he only eats one meal a day: dinner. He works out as much as possible, often at four o’clock in the morning. He told me the best way to start watching one’s weight is to look at yourself naked in the mirror. In previous years, he was a gymnast. Tariq said some time ago, he saw a photo of himself in his younger days, when people used to call him “Wrestler” because of his solid build. At the end of the ride, when we shook hands, I could tell he had an athletic past. His fingers were firm and sturdy. His sentiments were righteous.

More righteous sentiments: He informed me that he loves Jewish folks. He called Jews the “smartest” people. He worked with them once upon a time when he lived in Paris. They taught him Yiddish. He also learned to say toda lecha. I asked him what it means. He remarked on the wonderfully humorous idea of me, a man of Jewish heritage, asking him, an individual of Indian ethnicity, what those words meant. I laughed. He laughed, too.

Tariq is a hard worker. He is paying $5,000 each for two of his children to attend Rutgers University. They are living at home, not at dorms. I, who resided in dorms during my stint at college, thought they might be missing an opportunity to experience the full academic atmosphere. Tariq was concerned that not everything would be wholesome. The idea of them getting exposed to potential drug use bothers him. I can’t blame him.

What a wonderful person Tariq is. And how horribly vile and nonsensical Islamophobia is. To hate someone because of one’s religion … how idiotic is that? And I lump anti-Semitism in the same stupid boat. Everyone’s different. Everyone’s an individual. Tariq exemplifies that notion to a “T.” We even talked about Israel, and not one bad word was spoken about it. He made my evening all the sweeter. And I wish everyone could be like him.

Case closed.

About the Author
Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and has interviewed innumerable people—including two Auschwitz survivors whose story may be heard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website. His views and opinions are his own.
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