Inna lillahi Wa Inna Ilayi Raajeoon... the profundity of this beautiful Quraanic verse hit me most when I lost someone dear to me, without whom I wouldn’t be here today - my father, Aunali Jetha, my role model. He lost his battle fighting Leukemia last year. Life hasn’t been the same ever since he passed away. Being the eldest son, responsibilities hit me head on. I had no time to prepare myself but accept fate and move on. Not a single day passes by where I don’t think of him.
As mentioned in the Noble Quran, a man’s mission is not just to live a life doing good deeds but also to have offspring’s who can continue his legacy and spread the love of Ahlulbayt (A) by giving good examples. In honor of my father, my family decided to do something that would shine his name perpetually; this is the least that we could do for him. It is said that the only investment that grows in time, producing the best results / prosperity / betterment of society is education, and my father always emphasised on the importance of education.
With the help of Yusufali (Comfort Aid International) we have been able to fulfill that commitment. He advised us to sponsor a science wing at an all-girls small school located in a rural area called Phanderi, a village in Uttar Pradesh, with many poor sa’daats.
And so, here I am today, 18th Jan 2014, forcing myself awake at 1:45am to pursue something that we want to do for our late father. I have an early flight to catch that would take me to India to attend the inauguration of that wing.
A three day journey – a matter of 72 hours; enough time to meet different people who become good friends and make beautiful memories. And so I meet new brothers in faith with remarkable personalities: Yusufali aka the ‘Ayatollah Londoni’ (as someone from Afghanistan mistakenly referred his as), Akbarbhai aka the ‘God Father’ and Asgharbhai. Good, down to earth people, with a beautiful mission to help the poor across India. Wish I could do that too; some day, insha’Allah.
The plan is to stay at the Bahman Boys Orphanage located inside the massive Sirsi school complex. The journey to our destination is long, on a cold, rainy and immensely foggy day from the airport in New Delhi (such a contrast to the pleasant Dubai weather!). Even so, I experience a lot of warm humour and remarkable moments during the drive. Right from the amazing parathas served with a dollop of butter and chai served in a disposable clay pot (some well deserved traditional desi food) at a roadside dhabba, to a small stand selling exotic fruit. The fruit of the day is gulaabi, a tropical East African fruit I have before tasted.
When we finally arrive at Sirsi, I am moved by the warm welcoming given at the boys orphanage. Following a well served dinner, though exhausted, we still have room for some stories and joke time with the men – Yusufali, sharing his many adventures and trying to convince us that his famous chewro from New York and juggupak from Tanzania are the best in the world, while Aliakbarbhai cracks some jokes only he has the secret of! But what happens in Sirsi stays in Sirsi – all visitors know this rule...
That’s the end of DAY ONE!
Thankfully the weather clears up the next day. I ignore my nagging mind about my usually healthy diet plan and dig into some traditional Sirsi style breakfast - the pooris are to die for!
It is time for some play with the boys after breakfast! Aliakberbhai is very good with his batting skills, but as cricket isn’t my cup of tea, I am glad the kids agree to play some serious football (soccer): CANADA vs. UP. Although CANADA team did score the winning goal, UP’s captain – Sir Saab – aka principal of Bahman School decided that the goal was not valid. Instead he wanted a replay in the evening. We couldn’t argue much – after all, who would argue with Sir Saab – he dons a 22-calibre revolver...
Life in Sirsi is generally hard, but these boys are blessed to be at the orphanage, rather than being left uncared in the society. Their future looks bright here. Amidst the surrounding poverty, there is hope...
It is hard to imagine the hard life for many poor; especially in underdeveloped countries like rural India, be it a single mom, a widow, an orphan... Currently CAI is funding home construction for poor widows. With 7 houses already completed (out of 50 still under construction), it is time to give them away to the deserving owners. Their contentment with a sturdy house with bare minimum makes me feel how incomparably blessed we are.
Following our visit to the Bahman School, few mosques and ImamBargah, it is dinnertime! Menu cried out loud: Seekh Kebabs!!! Cold weather, hot kebabs!! HEAVENLY!! A nice, small gathering with the orphan boys and girls.
As the little girls wish us goodnight, they invite us for dinner at their orphanage the following day, which we happily accept. That’s the end of DAY 2.
As I get up after a night of well-deserved sleep, I am a mix of varied emotions; excited, anxious, happy... This is what I have come here for; it is the big day, for me. As we hit the dense foggy roads again, we witness a few accidents. Indian driving skills - one hand on the horn and the other on the stick shift, or cellphone or stuffing the mouth with maawo - on a foggy day; what can one expect?
Upon arrival at Phanderi School, we have a relatively lavish welcome – with flowers, green carpet walk to the stage, students reciting poems, du’aas and a ceremonial gathering with students and parents.
I am here, finally, standing in front of the veiled plaque outside the science wing. As they unveil the plaque, a rush of emotion overtakes me on seeing my father’s name. Job very well done, alhamd’Allah. It makes the whole trip worthwhile. I feel our purpose is served. May Allah (S) bless his soul.
After lunch at the Principals house we visit an uncompleted orphanage, where 14 girls are staying, CAI has undertaken to complete the project. It will house 30 orphans when complete.
In Phanderi, something else grabs my attention: a traditional ghor (Jaggery) factory. Who hasn’t had ghor with roti in the morning – such a delicacy! The ‘factory’ uses everything from the sugarcane to good use, including the dried peels, which are used for fuel. Indian creative engineering at its best!
After lengthy goodbyes, we head back to Sirsi, where the little girl orphans are waiting to have dinner with us. The drive back is very challenging, what with dense fog and almost nil visibility.
We reach the girl’s orphanage safely, where we were warmly greeted. The girls hardly have visitors so they are extremely excited to see us. No matter where you go, girls will be girls. A group of them see my phone and it only takes a click of a camera to make them smile, to pose, to feel special... so beautiful, so cute!
There is a kid who grabs my attention: Muskaan (it means smile); a lovely little girl, quite shy, but always with a smile on her face. She shows off her ‘English’ skills, reciting what her favorite things in life are. She had some problem with both her eyes. But thanks to CAI donors, she has one eye cured and the other is scheduled for surgery soon. Alhamdullilah!
Watching these girls sitting down and eating next to us fills my heart with a sense of joy and happiness. Suddenly I forget all my problems; if only life was always like this.
As we return to the boy’s orphanage to wrap up for the night, Aliakberbhai and Asgharbhai still have a lot of work to do - accounts, book keeping. It takes a lot of time and dedication to manage all this hard work. I head to bed with a little sadness in my heart. My journey is almost at its end; we head back to Delhi the following day.
I have been to India for work a few times and every time I come, I always leave with so many memories and thoughts. But this time, it is very special.
I can go on writing pages with word of praises and appreciation towards Yusufali, Aliakbarbhai, Asgharbhai and their team’s hard work and dedication. It is so easy to donate money or build an orphanage, school, clinic, etc. But it is a different ball game to manage it on a day-to-day basis. The whole team is truly devoted for this good cause and together they are paving the future for these kids... May Allah bestow the best of his blessings upon them. Ameen.
Watch a few photos here.