Friday, April 15, 2011

A Mutah...perhaps? Final

To diehard Indian admirers, who cannot bear the criticisms of dark sides of this great country, this article is not for you - please hit the delete button NOW! For the rest, this narration is strictly my opinion, experiences through my eyes as a resident of India the last 3 years. I love this country, my forefathers were born here; I laugh and genuinely am happy for her in her successes and grieve when she hurts and is down. But I am no idealist, glossing over India rising, at the expense of sometimes impossible to cope and complex tribulations. Enjoy...maybe.


4. Wealth: Yes, tiny minorities of your children are making (too) much money; some so much that common sense takes flight. Would you need a 27 storied home with 60 servants, your own helipad, parking garage, etc to make a family of 6 comfortable, Jaan? Wacky, no? One can spend wealth responsibly, one can flaunt wealth stupidly. The Tatas, eager for a pat on the head by a 'white' establishment gifts $50 million to Harvard University! What kind of a batty gesture is that?! Why not spend the money to educate slum children living in your very backyards basic education on hygiene so they can stop defecating on the streets? Go figure! Oh well, all families have some nuts in them, I guess.

5. Education: With great struggle, I put my daughter to a 'good' (read expensive) school, affiliated to some prestigious Australian academia. This way, Maaha Zainab would not have to learn Marathi that is being forced down so many throats. As soon as she is in, we are 'encouraged' to have her take tuition classes after school at a cost almost equal the school fees. This is an industry in itself in you, Jaan; how can you tolerate such blatant fleecing of parents hard earned money? Teachers deliberately defer coaching important exam passing material to force after school tuition classes. I am ashamed to admit I have given in and dole out the moola; unavoidable, it's the system. Have you seen government schools in rural areas of you? One word - disgusting: with absent teachers who work elsewhere and pocket paychecks from the government; non-existing books, classrooms with light bulbs stolen and desks so wobbly, so filthy, a child risks injury sitting on it. I try to find a quality medical school for my son; there are plenty. I have to pay hefty fees all right, and a donation (read bribe) of $100,000; please don't ask for a receipt. What? Why?!!! The Principal looks surprised at my outburst. He shrugs his bony shoulders, blows garlic breath towards me, gives me a toothy smile then mutters, Our rules... This is repeated over and over again at every school we try, the donation amount (and my blood pressure) elevating along. I wonder what these graduating doctors do once they graduate; transact business to repay loans or treat your sick.

6. Apathy: The middle class are making good money in your cities and these are in a buying binge. Refrigerators, air-conditions, washers, dryers, televisions..... I buy all these; brand names, brand new with a 1 year warranty. They work fine, for exactly 1 year. And then, and then, I swear, one after another, they go kaput. I literally spend hours on the phone trying to get (paid) service. I shout, I demand, I very nearly break down in frustration. Phones are not answered; promises are never kept, ever. On lucky days, a repairman may finally arrive and fix the problem; only to have the same issue crop up again in a week's time. Then, I am told there are no parts available and I'll have to wait, wait, wait... I try complaining, the call never gets transferred to a supervisor; he or she is busy in a meeting, leave a number, the call is never returned. These manufacturers are so busy making, selling, who cares about after sales service? The TV repairman, I give him $5 once and waitlisted parts show up mysteriously next day; the problem never recurs. In my mind, a bulb flashes; I get it. I grease all others for a service already paid; it's the system, yaar.

7. Oops, a Muslim: There are housing coops in Mumbai where a Muslim stands no chance of buying or renting an apartment. She won't be refused; it's illegal, at least in law books. She'll be harassed; bring this or bring that document; she'll go round and round until she's tizzy and tire; give up. I am Muslim, but a US national (same Indian wheat skin color, black eyes, hair and looks, except for a slight tangy American accent, perhaps) so the going paradigm puts me above an Indian Muslim, so I get in; see how racist you have become, Jaan? Some exceptionally bright and talented Muslim students are denied admission to top schools just because of religion; this rarely mattered before, nai, Jaan? These are not my observations or findings; these are your own government statistics.

8. Cricket: You win the Cricket World Cup and rightfully go bananas; time for much fiesta and pride being Indian, more so that you beat arch rival Pakistan in the semi finals. Why, even the usually grumpy Prime Minister and usually unruffled Soniaji cannot contain their emotions. All good, no? Then, you dole out over US$3 million taxpayer's money to the winning players; this, in addition to hefty compensation already earned by them. This payout is to some of your wealthiest citizens...makes sense to you? Your children have great successes in running very profitable companies in the West; why not have them come and drive some common sense and value of money to your politicians?

9. Finally: India Shining? India Raising? India the biggest democracy in the world? These slogans are pathetically so removed from reality, I want to laugh, but I am truly anguished about these illusions. Merely a front for the outside world or narcotics working overtime perhaps, to drown you off stark realities. You allow tons food to rot in storage but do nothing because of political pressure; young couples get hacked to death because they are of different castes yet you take lethargic or no action, just to appease vote banks? You kill innocents in Kashmir and Northeast and justify these to the world as self defense (hues of Israel?). India Sullied and India Sinking are more apt descriptions. These words from a well known but hated Indian activist: We have proved to the world - and to ourselves as well - that we are a third world banana republic which is sinking into a bottomless pit.

Not all is lost perhaps; there is a growing class of your children who are getting a decent education, those that can afford it. My fervent prayers and hope are for these to change the status quo, eventually, and vote for leaders out of rational, not Bollywood infected emotions. That votes will not be bought or coerced, rather, cast on basis of competency and logic.

So there, I am done ranting and raving. I am leaving you, Jaan, going back to the USA; my children deserve a better quality of life. I demand a divorce. I am not sure how long this process will take (who knows how much or who to bribe at this point?) but it must happen. I still love you, very much, and will surely miss you...

I heard you! Good riddance is not a nice thing to say to a former lover and departing guest. But I will not completely cut off my ties to you. I still want to come visit you, as a pardesi perhaps? We can recapture our lost affection this way? A Mutah...perhaps?

Blog ends.

A Mutah…perhaps? Part One

To diehard Indian admirers, who cannot bear the criticisms of dark sides of this great country, this article is not for you – please hit the delete button NOW! For the rest, this narration is strictly my opinion, experiences through my eyes as a resident of India the last 3 years. I love this country, my forefathers were born here; I laugh and genuinely am happy for her in her successes and grieve when she hurts and is down. But I am no idealist, glossing over India rising, at the expense of sometimes impossible to cope and complex tribulations. Enjoy…maybe.

My dearest India,

I struggle arduously, my dear, debate if I should write to you, whether my pleas will make any difference to the sad state of affairs within you. Not, most probably. But I write nevertheless; what to do yaar, old habits die hard, na? You will definitely not agree with what I say after I am finished, and that’s okay; fiery frustrations will ease off my chest. These have been boiling up in me since I migrated to you from USA in early 2008 with my family. You see Jaan, my ancestry is Indian, and I wanted my daughter who was 7 then to get a taste of life in the land of my great grandparents. A land that is great and diverse; to a pardesi, a visitor, a cocktail of frenzied delights and disgusts.

When I first see you way back in 1980, I fall in love, instantly, with all of you, the whole country. You seduce me then, with your exotic Goa and Kerala, historic Agra and Jaipur, rustic and rural UP and Bihar; your cuisine of heavenly handi kebabs of Lahore and dosa delights of Chennai and ras malais relishes of Kolkata; the summer mango madness, your fascination with everything Bollywood. The people in your belly generally are, well, for want of a better world, innocent; welcoming, warm and oh, so hospitable. So you entrap me, with your lovely body; like a temptress in a local mujra and I drink in your heady jasmine. The more I come to you, the headier is your grip until I can bear it no more. I too, want to be near you, inside you.

So I pack up from Houston and move to Mumbai where I have few friends and relatives. Things get off fairly well for a few months of our marriage. But then, slowly, surely, like a jealous husband suspecting a wayward wife, I notice anomalies. You realize I am now a mere resident, not a novel outsider, so you gradually turn on me; the novelty fades, your glances at me are not exclusive any more but furtive, perhaps seeking adventures not of my domain. Our differences commence as irritants mostly, but you, my Jaan, have definitely changed, you have many more admirers, many more seducers. You are booming, economically, with GDP nearing 9%, you are reckless in greed and disregard, sheer neglect. In quantity, you ape the West blindly but shun quality.

Sorry Jaan, I will be very candid, and what I say should hurt; I doubt it however, previous experiences a painful reminder, I now realize you really don’t give a rat’s arse.

The following list of gripes about you infuriate me, to a point my doctor is genuinely alarmed about my blood pressure’s equilibrium:

1. Corruption: I see you are ready for a defensive rebuttal; hold it! Yes, I know corruption is a scourge of every developing nation. Perhaps. But you so proudly proclaim you are now a developed nation, no? Why, even Obama couldn’t contain himself, dancing into frenzy, proclaiming India had arrived; other ‘major’ world leaders couldn’t wait to jig in after him. I grew up in Africa, so am aware of what chai is all about. India, you, however, beats most countries I know silly, easily on this. From the pot bellied policeman on the street corner to the Cheap, sorry, Chief Minister to almost the entire State and Central Monsters, sorry Ministers are deep in it for a slice. Want a driver’s license, want to lodge a police report, want to buy land, want to register as a foreigner, want to use a scarce public loo…? Show me the moola! Shameless. Blatant. Even the above suspicion Army; caught with their hands in the till. The media makes daily headlines of scams or scandals involving officials or lawmakers, there is outrage, horror, calls for action, all eventually futile. Time passes, new, bigger, bolder scams make for new, bigger, bolder headlines. Corruption is in your system my dear, woven into your very fabric, as intricately as an expensive sari on sale at Sheetals.

2. Apathy: Ah, you smile; I see you know what I refer to, no? You don’t care! From the monsoon potholes that jar my car and rattle my brains to the overflowing, stinking garbage heaps on street corners to the shockingly diseased, perhaps rabid cur that is furiously scavenging on top of a heap. If it takes the Supreme Court of India to rule whether stray dogs should be put down or reprieved, I know there is something pretty messed up with the system. From dog and human poop everywhere I walk, the menace of gurka spitting (national pastime, no less), people urinating and defecating in public, the stinky pong that arises from Malad to Mahim that most Mumbaites are seemingly immune to, trains cramped so tight, I am treated to hues of armpit hair wherever I turn my traumatized head, noise polluting so awful it stings my ears…. Brand new airports, supposedly worth billions of dollars, with tiles cracked and misaligned. I won’t even discuss the (un)Commonwealth Games, it will make me puke on you. A $75 million project that ended up costing $15 billion and not even half the work to show for it. Can you imagine how many schools, toilets, roads…can be built with that kind of money? Nobody cares, because funds meant to upgrade most British era infrastructure are sitting in some Neta’s Swiss bank account.

3. Goondagiri: A “political” party threatens violence for perceived insult to anything Marathi or remotely Hindu and the State (and you) kowtows. Ban Valentine Day, ban movies, ban books, ban artists, demand all storefront signs be in Marathi, demand apologies or else. In Mumbai, all non Marathis, out! Your citizens, from UP and Bihar, out! Break some bones, destroy store fronts, threaten violence, all in the name of Marathi Manoos, coerced by none other than one man at the head of civic government; your authorities wring their hands and look on; pathetically impotent. What hope do you have for your redemption if over 70% your elected lawmakers have criminal cases pending? There is a constitution and all well meaning laws within you, my dear; very few, if any, enforced or upheld. Nice to show to the UN, however, no?

To be continued...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Kenya, Tanzania Calling

I say, exclaims the very black overweight immigration officer at Jombo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, flashing very white teeth at me, you are born in Tanzania; so you speak Kiswahili, then?

Vizoori sana, I say, hoping my love and grasp for the language still shines. But she resorts to English, disappointing me.

So you need a visa?

Yes please, I reply.

Okay, give me money; she flashes teeth.

Startled, I ask, money?

Yes, yes, money, pesa, rubbing fingers of a hand together. For the visa, heh, heh. She bares her teeth, again.

Oh, I say, relieved. How much?

I say, she says looking at me demurely, give me what you have, I’ll give you change…if you want it back.

Huh? I hand over a crisp US$50 bill. She looks and feels it lovingly and then, leaving me flabbergasted, smells it, inhaling deeply.

Ahhh, she croons merrily, nothing smells better than a crisp dollar note, heh, heh, heh.

She turns serious abruptly, writes a receipt for US$25 and hands it to me.

You asked for 5 days stay, I give you a month, kareebu!

I am treated to a flash of teeth yet again; this is one happy mama.

Well, asante sana, I respond.

So I wait for my change but she looks at me unseeingly.

My change, Ma’am? I ask.

Oh, so you want it, sivyo?

Now she is all stern and businesslike, no flashing teeth.

Yes, please, I reply but my voice squeaks for some reason; my response comes out nervous.

Very reluctantly, like a child parting with a favorite toy, she selects a US$20 bill from a wad in her pocket large enough to choke a horse and passes it over to me. Then she returns the stack to her pocket and looks at me; we study each other, I wary, she unmoving. After what seems to be an eternity, which is actually only a few second, she lets out a long disappointed sigh, violently scratches decorated hair and scalp, gruffly reaches into her pocket, looks for a fiver and tosses it curtly on the counter and shouts next! I am dismissed; I grab my passport and walk, run towards the exit.

My due diligence trip to Nairobi, Mombasa, Dar es Sallam, Dodoma and Morogoro are very fruitful.

In Kenya, CAI helps with US$10,000 in food grains to draught stricken farmers outside Mombasa and will, insha’Allah, grant higher education scholarships worth US$25,000 to poor gifted students, especially girls, to pursue and complete a degree or vocation training enabling rapid employment.

For Tanzania, CAI is finishing up due diligence for either an elementary school in a poor neighborhood of Dar es Sallam or a vocational college for girls in Zanzibar. Additionally, CAI will grant higher education scholarships worth US$50,000 to poor gifted students, insha’Allah.

I also visit Dar ul Muslemeen run by the exceptionally talented and dedicated Muslim Bhanji in Dodoma, Tanzania. Muslims’s over 22 year’s sacrificial efforts is paying huge dividends in educating very poor and destitute children in the Dodoma area. Dar ul Muslemeen is a shining example of what a single person’s determination can achieve. The taxi ride to and from Dodoma, about 7 hours each way is an eye delight this time of year, with hues of flower color most of the way, spoilt only by numerous halts from traffic police in unrelenting pursuit of bribes. We are stopped 8 times, and chided for not carrying a first aid kit and even for discoloration of the vehicle hood!

Click here for a few photos – enjoy!