Saturday, October 6, 2012

All Is Vell?

I was married to India once, but settled on divorce later, opting for a Muttah affair instead. A wise decision, no?

I wait at Kabul airport for a flight to New Delhi India, having just concluded my 22nd visit into Afghanistan. Bushed I am, from lack of sleep, exhausting, punishing schedules visiting very remote CAI projects over seemingly impossible roads. But even more draining is simply fretting over ghastly security situation in this badbakth country. The uncertainty of non-existing logistics and repetitive, apathetic, mundane security measures in place take a relentless physiological toll.

Indian Airlines is predictably late; I end up sitting next to an Indian man with a full head of hair, a bushy mustache but even bushier hair sprouting from his ears that are neatly combed back; I do a double take and rudely stare at him; he seems not to mind, even smiles and wags his head – the universal All is vell Indian greeting. Aren’t ear (and nose) hair supposed to be trimmed back? Intrigued, I look up his nose; nope, no groomed locks up there. I stare at the ears some more; does he sometimes shampoo and braid these tresses you think? I revert to brooding over the appalling conditions of our widows and orphans I leave behind; next few days will be exceptionally difficult, adjusting to ‘normal’ life, leaving the misery of destitution behind while I indulge in privileges of relatively fine foods and comfortable sleep.

India seems not to have changed much since I was here three months ago; superbly raggedy, contrast between the super affluent and indigent even more robust, power plays of dirty money and dirtier politics healthier. Heartening are all ongoing CAI projects; the orphans are good shape, our Sirsi school keeps on expanding in size and quality, grand opening of Phanderi Girls school for the poor on budget and schedule next March insha’Allah.

Going by local newspapers and television, dirty underwear of Bollywood brats are all-consuming events. Sharuk Khan’s farts and Kareena Kapoor’s impending marriage (doesn’t matter she’s been sleeping next to an ugly mug for years) to Saif Ali Khan make headline news. No matter women are abused, raped and exposed to lopsided (cultural and legal) benchmarks in India every day, most people can’t defecate in decent privacy, rural roads are in horrid conditions, the comic, alarming strains of most potbellied policemen’s uniforms, politicians skim away more money in one day than a laborer will earn toiling for a year. It is not really important a Chief Minister still reins over a State after masterminding mayhem, rape and slaying of thousands of Muslims; a decade ago. Nope. Salman Khan’s dreary, stupid, on and off love saga with Katreen Kaif, however, must reach the masses. Is it a coincidence these Bollywood terrors have Muslim names?

In India, a person is deemed worthless, worthless, worthless if born dark skinned; but overwhelming Indians are. TV commercials peddling fair skinning concoctions would want to make most Indians cry in revulsion and despair; the makers reap in the immoral rewards. Indians consume Gudka, a cheap, noxious intoxicant and cancer-causing blend with a passion; tax revenues are all too important for it’s control or eradication. It is a poor man’s fix anyway, by Allah, who cares? Gudka spit is the brand-new paint technology, decorating walls, walkways and roads of Indian cities.

I complete my rounds of CAI projects in Sirsi, UP and am driving to New Delhi, about five hours away. With no Muslim restaurants around, I stop for a break at a squeaky clean, busy and loud local Dhabba; I can see neat, clean cooks in uniform cooking in the open kitchen; yet, I cannot eat here. This Hindu owned joint has a cordoned off place for Muslim customers wishing to offer salaat. I immediately compare this place to almost all-Muslim owned eating joints at Paala Ghali in Mumbai; shabby, dirty, cooks in dirty sweat-stained waists, with sweat dripping straight off armpits into food being cooked. But I can eat here?

Kishangang in Bihar, another improvised Muslim community in India is depressingly dirtier, with feral pigs roaming wild. CAI donors have built a mosque and now completing an Imambargha here. The place is so poor, with so many women crowding around Aliakberbhai and I, pleading for help, it is a wonder I keep my sanity. Deadly Bihari mosquitos torment, there is no place for succor, especially after magreeb. To keep them at bay, I don on full-sleeve shirts in this very warm, moist weather. Lo, these tyrants follow me to the bathroom and have a feast on my exposed behind; Aliakberbhai gives me a quizzical stare as I discreetly use rough sofa seat to satisfy a burning itch.

In Mumbai, a more ‘civilized’ city of India, I sit outside a Coffee Day outlet to enjoy an iced coffee on a warm day. I feel homesick; miss home but still have a full schedule in Africa and Middle East before I return home. Lost in my thoughts, I fail to notice I am being observed; I start. A girl urchin squats not more than ten feet away, staring at me like a lost puppy. She must not be more than ten or so, thin as a stick, with dirty matted hair; I can smell her unwashed body.

Feeling irritated, I scowl at her and hiss phooto! She budges not an inch, continues staring between me and the icy glass of coffee. Phooto, I hiss again. She downs her head; slowly, deliberately turns around and makes her way between mostly empty tables. Ruuko, I shout at her on an impulse; she turns around to look at me. A waiter hurries from inside, ready with a stick in hand to shoo her away; I restrain him. Instead, I order another iced coffee and instruct the waiter to serve it to the child. He looks at me as if I am insane but moves reluctantly when realization downs I am serious, nose up in disapproval. The girl smiles happily, revealing broken, decaying teeth. I reach into my pocket, the smallest bill I have is Rupees 500 (less than US$10), I thrust this towards her. Her eyes open wide in shock and surprise, she takes a step back and gives me a sharp suspicious look, the smile freezing on her lips. Lailo, I urge her. After a second of debate, she snatches the note and half jogs a few feet away to look back at me; the happy smile returns, I smile back.

The waiter returns with the order to go; he obviously does not want her sipping the coffee at a table. The girl grabs the cup, fumbles with a straw with hurried, unstable fingers, almost dropping it. I go to her and help, trying hard for the odor not to affect me. Once through, the child draws on the straw and devours almost half the content, pauses to take a sharp breath and smiles at me, a head wag follows. All is vell?

Murtaza Bhimani of Dar es Salaam and Abbas Abdulhussein of Orlando accompanied me on the trip to Afghanistan. Abbas will write his trip report shortly, which I will then Blog. Insha’Allah.

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