MIDWOOD – The annual Pakistani Independence Day mela will not be taking place this year because of COVID-19, but don’t fret, there will be a Cultural Caravan to make up for it.
Little Pakistan, the strip between Avenues C and H, suffered a lot these past few months during the pandemic. People lost their jobs, they lost their loves ones, and they lost their neighbors. People were anxious and for a long time, the strip remained quiet and empty. Hundreds of dead bodies were placed inside a refrigerated truck parked outside Al-Rayaan Muslim Funeral Services, the local funeral home for months, because was at capacity. Janazahs took place on the street with five, sometimes ten people.
On the corner of Newkirk and Coney Island Avenues, there’s a food cart. Every day after 6 p.m., dozens of people line up and wait for their free, hot, Halal meal. The cart has been there since Ramadan, recently hitting 100 days of giving back to the community. The Pakistani American Youth Society (PAYS) started the cart endeavor, along with partners that include Muslims Giving Back (MGB), the NYPD Muslim Officers Society, the Khyber Society of America, Innayah Services Inc., Shorefront Coalition, Gyro King, and tons of elected officials.
To see Little Pakistan during the worst of COVID-19 this spring, and to see the Halal cart in action, check out this wonderful video.
Back in July, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that large events requiring a city events permit will be canceled through September 30th as the City works to prioritize open spaces for public use.
“The City will not issue a permit for any event in a location that interferes with the Open Streets or Open Restaurants program,” officials said. “Permits will also be denied for all events larger than one block, stage/video events that require amplification, street fairs, and events in parks that may unreasonably diminish public use. The City will refund or defer fees paid in connection with a denied permit.”
“While it pains me to call off some of the city’s beloved events,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the time, “our focus now must be the prioritization of city space for public use and the continuation of social distancing.”
Pakistan’s independence day takes place on August 14, and Little Pakistan usually celebrates with the mela, an annual street fair bringing together thousands of people, music, food, and shopping.
PAYS co-founders Kashif Hussain and Ahsan Chughtai decided that the neighborhood deserved to celebrate, still, especially after everything it had gone through, so they decided on a caravan – a celebratory, socially distant event, floats and all.
“How can we achieve joy and happiness for the Pakistani American community in Little Pakistan?” Hussain told Bklyner.
The Cultural Caravan will take place on the day the mela was supposed to happen, Sunday, August 16.
At around 4 p.m., there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony by the New York Consul General of Pakistan Ayesha Ali and local elected officials on Coney Island Avenue and Avenue H. After the short ceremony, floats, motorcycles, and vintage cars decorated with the Pakistani flag and the color green, will proceed from Avenue H on Coney Island Avenue toward Prospect Park, and then circle back on Coney Island Avenue toward Avenue H.
For those who are not able to join the floats and for those who don’t own a vehicle, can join by standing on the main road and cheering as the caravan passes by. Or they can walk and ride the bike while being socially distant. People are encouraged to wear traditional Pakistani attire– shalwar kameez– and music and flags will decorate the streets of Little Pakistan.
“In a socially distant new reality, this will bring a sense of normalcy and uplift our communities,” Hussain said. “I’m proud to say that we have united the community during this pandemic to think creatively and help bring positivity and hope to our community which was highly impacted by COVID-19. We will continue to bring more programming while working with everyone in our community and communities at large.”