I sit in the shade, outside CAI built Al Zahra Boys Home in Sirsi, UP India. My face and every exposed body part feel the scorching heat and humidity out here. I earlier inspect new science laboratories and seven new classrooms at the school across the orphanage all morning so am taking a well-deserved break. I can see shimmer of heat creating mirages across the field that our children will play cricket later today, seemingly unaffected by the suffocation I feel. Six orphan puppies, cubs of our guard dog mauled to death by predators while fighting to protect her litter, take shelter from the heat under a cluster of pretty stressed flower plants, panting as they try to seek comfort from siblings in the absence of their mother. Even a slight movement of squatting flies away from my face brings instant beads of perspiration all over my body; even my undies seem to weep at the effort.
I believe I am coming down with something dreadful. It has not been an easy trip this. Punishing commute between villages in Afghanistan with very little sleep, to Srinagar, Kashmir for a girls orphanage project and now in remote Sirsi has, perhaps done harm to my immune system. I could go to the air-conditioned guest room inside the orphanage building but that would entail starting up a pricey, noisy, erratic generator so I am not bothered. Plus, the brave man I am, I am scared silly of mice. For the first time in four years that I regularly visit this orphanage, there are mice in the room. Yesterday, Aliakberbhai and I finally go to sleep, at about 2AM, arriving from New Delhi, driving six hours. I am in deep sleep when I feel light tapping in my back. I open my eyes to look at Aliakberbhai in blissful slumber. If he is facing me, who is it tapping my back? With my heart in my mouth, I leap out of the bed; so does a tiny mouse, even more terrified than Î, who springs in the air and frantically scurries to the safety of a refrigerator nearby. Earlier today, after salaat, the room super chilly, I insert my feet into the warmth of a comfortable blanket. Mr. Mouse thinks likewise, so my foot caresses a furry ball. I scream the orphanage down, much to the merriment of staff and boys. No, I am fine wilting away here in the heat. I am not going to sleep in that room tonight either, not until the mice trio are shooed away or put to permanent sleep.
My feeling weedy and melancholy, even with excellent progress of school labs, classrooms, both girls and boys orphanage ship-shape here in Sirsi and a new classroom wing extension at Phanderi Sadaat Girls School some two hours away has deeper reasons. Some three months ago, a friend observes I have lost laughter and merriment; I have turned much serious with my association with CAI; a grouch, he suggests. Then, I wave this off as a silly observation, of course. Now, I am unsure. With worldwide Muslims, especially Shia Muslims in deep suppression and oppression, what is there to elate and be happy about? I cannot name a single country where Muslims are prosperous or happy. Can you? A smug mug of Narender Modi all over the country as front contender for next Prime Ministers post of India can easily slide even the most optimistic mind into deep melancholy.
And then, early this morning, I meet Muskaan, a seven-year-old orphan girl at the orphanage. She is going blind, you see. Muskaan is unique, for she has no parents; both die within few years of each other. She is taken in by her maternal grandmother, an old woman, poor and sick herself. Overwhelmed, she turns to our orphanage for succor and is more than relieved to put Muskaan in our care, which is fine of course; this is why we are here. Recently however, our staff detect Muskaan does not follow instructions and takes inordinate time performing routine tasks. When a doctor examines Muskaan, the diagnosis is swift and devastating. She has very weak and unstable retinas, deterioration of condition is certain, leading to eventual blindness. The doctors can only delay the outcome with immediate surgery, one eye at a time. But it will be certain blindness eventually, for sure.
This news is both numbing and painful, both to Aliakberbhai and I. Aliakberbhai, who is more close to all the girl orphans as he visits them more frequently than I, is not willing to accept the doctors verdict. He insists a more qualified specialist be contacted, no expense spared. The doctor regards Aliakberbhai with understanding, tolerant eyes; he has no objection to the suggestion, but cautions us not to delay. Now, Muskaan will go through the routine of being examined by a specialist and then certain surgery. This will retard progress of the darkness that has begun engulfing this pitiful child of Allah, whose wellbeing and care He has commanded and admonished us so much in His book and through His representatives (A) on this earth. This darkness engulfs me as well, suffocating me as I imagine my own Maaha Zainab in a similar situation. I start violently, startling the slumbering puppies, who yelp and whine in protest, but are unwilling to vacate their relatively comfortable place under the almost weltered flower plants.
So here is little Muskaan, who has stolen my peace and quiet since I learn of her predicament. I know of nothing that I can say to her that will give her hope. But yes, I can pray for her, beseech my kind and merciful Lord to please, please give Muskaan her sight back, even if I cannot be merry and cheerful. I beg you to join me in praying for this beautiful child as well. Miracles can, do happen. Insha’Allah.
I include photos of other orphan girls gleefully exploring my IPhone 5, a novelty for them. Yes, we execute one mouse, the other two, unfortunately, escape.