It is June here in Mumbai, the peak of summer; hot and steamy. Monsoon rains are supposed to arrive in ten days, but I have my doubts. The annual rains have yet to douse Kerala, the first point of entry way south, delayed, and Indians have reasons for concern. Last years inadequate moisture was disastrous for almost all of the country, reliant on good showers for generous agriculture output, a good portion of GDP. There have been serious riots in Maharashtra due to the water crises, and everybody dreads the consequences of another failed or inadequate monsoon.
I am returning to the Leela Hotel from Andheri, after meeting with my doctors, who torture me with several medical tests to determine the progress of my recovery. The tests take several hours, so I am all hot and bothered and irate. The crowds at the Metro station, probably as harassed and annoyed as I, don’t make the navigation to the platform easy. So I try to recoup from the jostling crowds, oppressive humidity and even more repressive, offensive body odors inside the supercooled Metro tram. My recovery is made even more agreeable by Anuksha Sharma, as she radiantly smiles at me from a Nivea poster, showcasing unblemished, chakaas underarms. I hope everybody will take her message of using Nivea underarm spray seriously. Jaldi – jaldi, please?
Miraculously, I find an empty slot, just enough space to accommodate my trim behind; anybody bigger would have had a serious problem. Pressed next to me is an equally perspiring teenager, but she seems to be immune to her environment - leaned over, thick hair screening her head. She is totally tuned off from me, and others, concentrating on listening to something from her earphones. I assume its music, for she breaks out into a sitting jig now and then, as much movement as the confining centimeters will allow her. When she finally decides to reveal her face, I (and others) can’t help but gawk. She has a nice enough face, sullied by a mammoth nose ring that is pierced smack in the middle of a pert nose, not the sides. The ring instantly reminds me of another nose, belonging to an ugly, mean-looking farm buffalo, plowing at a farm in Sirsi. I have an intense desire to yank at it, but abstain; I hear Mumbai’s Arthur Jail is no catwalk. The teenager must sense I am gaping at her, for she gives me a grilling, defiant look, which turns into a ravishing smile; I blush scarlet and return to staring at Anuksha Sharma. I think she’s safer, harmless.
The Leela Hotel is a small paradise right smack in the middle of this crazy and bewildering city of 22 million people. Reaching it, I escape to my room, take a shower and have a mango ice cream cocktail; what bounties of Allah can I deny? I have an entire day to await my test results. These results will determine how I will employ my life the next full year. I try not thinking about it and complete pending compliance paperwork for all CAI projects in progress.
I have been on the road for almost six weeks, alhamd’Allah. Weeks that has taken me to India, Afghanistan, Iraq, Dubai, Ethiopia, and Tanzania and now back to India. I will return home in two days insha’Allah. I could not travel to Yemen unfortunately, although I so wanted to take part in the feeding program CAI is coordinating with ALLA and WABIL. Over US$95,000 worth of food grains was / is distributed to the starving and besieged population in the war-ravaged country.
This alone time gives me a chance to assess CAI’s progress and her future. There is finally a functional team in place to tackle any eventuality, whether I sink or swim. Sohail Abdullah, Abbas Jaffer and Hasnain Yusufali, CAI Trustees, are now adequately equipped with information to take CAI forward if warranted. The compliance requirements, both to IRS and our donors, are in place, field reporting and documentation are streamlined and communicated at regular intervals. Yes, I still have to hold hands, carry and use the big stick at times and act a benevolent dictator. However, I am much confident about a bright future for CAI, insha’Allah.
As a novelist working on my third book, to be published mid-2017 insha’Allah, (all proceeds benefitting CAI’s seven worldwide orphanages, hoping to raise US$100,000) I am always ears to new ideas. However, I relish on observing people; they are the fodder for my imagination and material for my novels. So I head to the swimming pool and inevitably run into 25-years-old Bhavisha, the front desk assistant manager of the hotel. She is an attractive, charming lady, and I am, naturally, drawn to her. This woman wakes up at five every morning, six days a week, puts on jeans and something, takes a rickshaw, then a train and then the Metro, reaching the Leela two hours later. She changes into a uniform saree, dons on a permanent smile, then works for ten hours minimum, more most times, almost on her feet all day, and then retracts home at the end of her shift. All this, for less than US$300 / month. She is considered middle class. This is how the vast majority of people in this mega city make their living.
Poolside is an excellent way of working on the novel; I make steady progress. A Muslim couple with two kids come and occupy the pool chairs next to mine. The man is massive, gut and everything else. He collapses on the comfortable chair, orders four hamburgers, fries and mango lassi from a hovering waiter and gets busy on his cell phone; the family forgotten. The wife settles the kids in the shallow part of the pool and settles into a chair next to her husband, a bored look on her face. I give her a sympathetic smile. She looks away, a face pained.
My lead doctor calls me next day; I can sense the smile in his voice. The tests are all negative. I do not have to take any more tests for another year, although the medication, diet, and punishing exercise regimen must continue. I hang up and make sajdah of eternal thanks to my Allah. The power of YOUR prayers, thank you! Allah bless.
I am going home tomorrow insha’Allah, to daughter Maaha Zainab and relish a month long blessed month of Ramadhan in Sanford. Sheikh Nooru is reciting for 15 nights - a treat to look forward to.