Monday, April 19, 2010

Help most vague!

Bewaqoof! Says an elder, Bewaqoof ladki! He repeats. Idiot, idiot girl!

This admonishment is directed towards Begum Mumtaz, a dirt poor almost blind orphan girl living with her mother in the village of Nagaram in AP, India. The anger and irritation is because Mumtaz refuses to visit an eye specialist to check if a medical solution is possible for her eyesight. I am here, visiting this oppressively hot and muggy village to oversee the construction of sixteen homes for extremely poor families.

I chance upon this pretty girl lurking in the shadows of her hovel, one eligible for a new and small but decent home that will not flood this coming monsoon season. I ask her to come out of the shadows and present herself; she is shy, reluctant. The elders of local community accompanying me encourage her, sweet-talk her and Mumtaz shyly emerges into light. I take to her almost immediately, a tug to my heart, for she can be not much older than my own Maaha Zainab. How pretty Mumtaz is, maasha’Allah; I experience pain and sadness at her plight.

I ask her name, her age, whether she goes to school…she replies coyly at first, then gains confidence and talks. She thinks she is ten, maybe eleven; she used to go to school but has now stopped. Why, I ask? I can’t see, she says, and the teacher gets frustrated at me, so I stopped going. An elder thrusts five spread fingers very close to her eyes and demands to know how many she can see. Four…no, five, five, five! Well, I ask, have you seen a doctor about your eyesight? You can still see close up so there should be something that doctors can do for you. There is an embarrassing silence for a few seconds before an elder leans towards me and whispers, they are poor Sir, they don’t have money to see doctors or worry about surgery.

For some inexplicable reason, I feel an acute irritation at that remark and an even greater urge to rebuke the guy but I breathe deeply and remain calm instead. Well, I volunteer, CAI will be happy to pay for her surgery if resorting of her eyesight is possible. Is it? The elders look at each other and I can tell it has not even crossed their minds to inquire or research. Weeeell, they all start, but I cut them off. Can you guys please take her to a good specialist eye doctor and find out if surgery or any other treatment is possible? Don’t worry, CAI will foot the bill, just make sure you see a good specialist doctor. Please do this on an emergency footing.

While the entire troupe of elders erupts in joyous celebration of the good tidings and sing inevitable and customary (but always awkward and uncomfortable) praises of CAI and me, the subject person is forgotten. But when she speaks, everybody listens and the joy becomes instant surprise that turns to shock and unbelief.

Mei nahi jaaunji. This comes from Mumtaz, confidently, unequivocally. I will not go to the doctor, she whines. They will poke into my eyes and hurt me. I heard one girl with my condition was killed and her body parts stolen on the operating table. No, I will not go to any doctor, leave me be!

Everybody looks at Mumtaz Begum in astonishment; I gape at her while one elder call her bewaqoof, an idiot.

Now to the point of my writing this piece. I have come across many cases in my line of work where people, many educated and experienced, refuse (or can’t or don’t) take the initiative of simple first few steps that would make help possible and easier; this inevitably irks and dismays me. Here is obviously a serious problem with Mumtaz’s eyesight, everybody knows this, but nobody takes the initiative to find out if there is a solution to this problem. Okay, Mumtaz is a child and immature and scared; she will come around insha’Allah and we’ll try and get her the medical attention she needs.

I go to homes with acute needs or communities that are in critical poverty and all they will do is complain they are poor. When I ask how CAI can help, they have no clue, apart from direct financial assistance that is short term in nature and a quick fix; this is terrible defeatist mentality. This opinion or feeling of mine is probably unfair and false, there may be other factors and variables at play, perhaps; still, I cannot get rid of my irritability. It maybe has to do with lack of education and or poverty that drives this stubborn mentality. Surely a possible solution is available for every problem and this can be identified and entertained?

Friday, April 16, 2010

An orgy of blood /A dance for justice – Final

I ask the driver to take me to Naroda Patiya, Naroda Gaun and Gulbaag Colony. The former two are minority Muslim pockets and scars from those couple of days of mayhem are still evident, even after eight years. Drab, dusty and filthy at places, the State has neglected to develop these narrow wandering streets into something even remotely akin to other parts of Ahmedabad or Surat I have seen. What stands out dramatically is the fear on people’s faces, fear of the unknown and the stark possibility of history repeating itself.

It is at Gulbaag Colony that enormity of what transpired hit me quite hard. Just outside the Colony is a hot, busy, bustling street with commerce in full swing. I walk ten steps and stop, as if I have hit a stone wall. The place is deserted, cool and calm and eerie, I gasp; two stray dogs regard me with wary disinterest, then return to napping. The scene is akin to a still from a ghost movie, only here, the presence of lost lives is very real; I involuntarily shiver.

Descriptions from Zakiya Jafri and Firoz Pathan come vividly to mind as I stroll around weed infected lawns and step on piles of rotting leaves. A discarded child’s sandal, a tennis ball, fabric from a torn dress, an empty packet of washing soap, a cricket stump, a laundry clothe line…all reminders of a once normal and dynamic neighborhood. However, what horrifies and depresses me are burnt out rooms of all units I stop at; blackened walls, some with melted clocks, pictures or other artifacts still nailed in, broken, now rotted, half burnt furniture.

I feel I am being watched by the souls of victims that burnt here and shiver again. The driver, feeling similar emotions perhaps, moves away and stands at a distance, conversing with a couple of people. I take few photos fast-fast and join them even faster. These two are vegetable venders who roam around the neighborhood, pushing their wares on a two wheel cart. We chit chat about the events of that day both remember and mourn. One, with a withered face of someone who has been exposed to a lot of sun, speaks freely, expressing similar sentiments I have heard from others. Why the rapes, he asks. Okay, you have an issue with me, take it out on me, hit me, injure me, even kill me. But why rape our women, mothers, wives, daughters? Why, why? The raping of our women in front of our eyes is the most difficult to bear…

My thoughts:

A lot has been said, speculated and written about that fatal incident at Godhra and its aftermath; volumes of pages on the internet and elsewhere. There are some theories that are outright absurd, a few plausible. But when we look at stand alone facts; these glaringly point towards well supported and executed plot against a minority religious population. Consider these facts:
1. Independent forensic evidence point to the fire that begins inside of train, not outside.
2. Bodies of these innocent Hindus slain at Godhra are sent by State authorities to Ahmadabad, some hundred miles away and paraded in front of Hindu mobs to incite revenge.
3. Three radical, extremist and anti-Muslim Hindu groups, the VHP, Baj Rang (youth wing of VHP) and BJP are actively supported by police, encouraging and in some instances actively aiding in the carnage (eye witness accounts as documented by Tehelka, an independent news agency).
4. Arms (knives, swords, fuel, gas cylinders and guns) are quickly assembled and are easily available to anybody who fancies one.
5. A firebrand BJP MLA, Mayaben Kodnani goes riding atop an open Jeep around Ahmadabad all day, urging and inciting Hindu group to take up arms to attack and kill Muslims. The police refuse to arrest her, citing lack of evidence even though another accused testify he was with her all day, inciting others to violence and revenge against Muslims in Naroda Patia and Naroda Gaun.
6. It is only three months after an FIR is registered against the main accused that police make arrests, only for them to easily get bail; these accused are still out and free.
7. Crucial evidence, especially from Naroda Patia and Naroda Gaun is systematically destroyed; the pit where bodies burnt not examined, no forensic samples taken. Dying statements from victims not recorded, postmortem on nearly half the dead not performed (from police records without stating reason of this momentous error); none of the accused is sent in for scientific examinations, no identification of accused by surviving victims done, and many glaring, deliberate destruction of crucial evidence by police and security apparatus as recorded by Tehelka investigators.
8. In spite of so many killings and injuries, in spite of open use of knives, swords, and other armaments, not a single weapon recovered, expect one, a sword.
9. The prime accused, Bajrangi, boasts he is given safe haven at a farm for four months by authorities, then a sympathetic judge grants him bail; he is still out and free.
10. Most damning of all, those in authority visit Naroda Patia and Naroda Gaun twice, once on the day of riots and again next day; garlands rioters and according to the main accused, urges them to do more.

Photographs, in decending order:

1 - 6 Burnt out shells of once vibrant homes.
7 Courtyard of Gulbaag Colony.
8 Home of Zakiya and Ehsaan Jafri.
9 Firoz and Irfaan Phatan.
10 Zakiya Jafri

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An orgy of blood /A dance for justice – Part two:

Firoz Gulzar Mohammed Pathan (FGMP):

The train from Surat to Ahmedabad next morning is another comfortable ride, on time departure and arrival. Chotubhai Dosani, my host, picks me up and we lunch in style at his home and I have the afternoon free to relax and catch up with piling emails that were almost inaccessible in Surat due to a lousy connection at Ginger Hotel.

Chotubhai is a generous man; he provides me with a chauffeur driven air-conditioned car the next day, a life saver for me, for it is 108F or 42C, enough to sear my behind on the back seat of any rickshaw. I already have an appointment to meet FGMP; he must think of me a lunatic, for I have called him thrice to confirm already. He sounds very cautious, understandably, but after a little persuasion and reassurance, he let me come meet him. We get to FGMP’s garage after a couple of false stops, for its located in somewhat remote part of town. I notice an armed policeman with an enormous beer belly lounging on a charpai just outside the garage; the riffle looks as ancient as him, I wonder about him.

FGMP is a slight man, a gaunt and simple man. He settles me inside his one room garage; I immediately begin sweating for it is already oppressively hot, at only10AM. We chit-chat a little, size each other up. FGMP and only surviving brother co-own a motorbike garage and business is good. His brother Irfaan is the mechanic and he takes care of administration and a crane rental business just recently begun. I gently lead talk to the fateful day; he turns serious and his eyes look everywhere but me. Then, making sure we are out of earshot of the guard outside, he begins his story:

We were a happy family, my mom and pa, a sister and three brothers lived in a modest 2 bedroom home at Gulbaag Society. I was a tailor by profession then but did not go to work that day because of the strike called by Hindu groups in protest against the Godhra incident. We were alert but not overly concerned; we had weathered such events before. It was only when my brother Irfaan came running with news of stone pelting that we realized there was trouble. The stoning subsided after a little while but began again and intensified as they started ramming into our house. It was when the mob outside began hurling acid that I realized the enormity of our danger.

I went out of the house to join others that were defending the society by returning fire using the stones that had come to hurt us; mum and sister protesting, pleading for me not to leave them. After some time, Irfaan was hit on the chest by a sword but he had deflected the force of the blow so it was not fatal, but he was unconscious. As I and others tried to revive him, all hell broke loose and we were scattered. I abandoned Irfaan and ran towards my house, told mum and sis to lock doors and stay inside; I saw mum has packed all our jewelry in a bag. I slammed the doors shut, shouted at mum to lock it and ran; about ten men, murderous rage on their faces were coming at me; one flung a sword at me but missed.

I ran up a nearby flight of stairs to the roof of the building and stayed there, praying the mob would leave my house alone, prayed my parents and siblings would be okay. I wanted to go down but the entire front, back and sides of the society was filled by a rampaging mob of crowds with knives, swords and burning wood sticks. The air was full of thick smoke from burning homes and I could smell the terrible stench of human flesh burning. Then, there was a shift of wind and the smoke cleared a bit; I glimpsed mum in the courtyard, surrounded, the jewelry scattered on the ground, empty bag discarded nearby, the men hitting her…molesting her.

We are interrupted by two motor bikes that come in for repairs; FGMP asks them to return later, when Irfaan is at work, then waits for them to be out of hearing range and resumes.

I waited there on the roof, numb and defeated, until about 7PM when there was quiet; only embers form dying fires and an occasional moan from an injured or dying person remained. I then escaped through railway lines running behind the Society. The railway police would not let me stay at the station so I fled to our mosque and stayed with those in similar predicament for two days before I was allowed to return to Gulbaag Society. It was further two days before a truck full of ice and bodies of my family members was brought to the Society by the police; I identified the remains. We took them to the graveyard, bathed, shrouded and buried whatever remained of them.

I ask about the guard outside; he is State provided, for there are threats from those arrested and now out on bail; threats to keep quiet, to withdraw the cases. But the guard seems useless, I say and laugh, he won’t be able sit up, let alone protect you, I joke. FGMP shrugs his shoulders, the joke either lost on him or he cares not.

What can one do after hearing firsthand accounts of such horror? I am numb with pity and sorrow for this young man in front of me. I console him and speak few words of kindness and share in his pain. Things are looking up for FGMP and Irfaan, economically at least. From the INR200k (about USD4,500) granted by Gujarat government as compensation, they bought this land, built the garage and have spare land they could rent out. Both are married now and have their own families. I bid farewell, promise to keep in touch and leave; there is no sign of the guard outside.

Monday, April 12, 2010

An orgy of blood /A dance for justice – Part one:

Gujarat on February 27, 2002: a train carrying a group of radical Hindu devotees is set on fire at Godhra, Gujarat resulting in the deaths of 59 people, supposedly by a Muslim mob. Subsequent findings question this version, as it is proved fire could not have possibly set from outside the train, rather, scientific and forensic evidence point to the fire having initiated from within the train itself. Nevertheless, what transpired in the aftermath of this ghastly incident put humanity and Gujarat, especially her leaders and government to perpetual shame and disgrace.

I am least interested in propagating who was right or wrong; anyone can easily browse the internet and educate themselves with the facts and make an informed decision. My purpose is to relate the human side of this slaughter; the unbelievable horror of those innocents slain, treatment and deliberate rape and molestation of womenfolk in the presence of parents, siblings and children even and subsequent humiliation and agonizing slow dance for justice for those that (dare) to seek justice.

There were several Muslim neighborhoods that were targeted by the assailants, ones that suited their needs; neighborhoods that were small, defenseless and surrounded. Three stand out, for the numbers slain and severity of destruction; Naroda Patiya, Naroda Gaun and Gulbaag Colony. For the purpose of this narration, I chose two persons from Gulbaag Colony that, in my opinion, stand out for their stories to be told, be established, be accepted. One, Mrs. Zakiya Jafri, who witnessed her husband cut to pieces then burn and two, Firoz Gulzar Mohammed Pathan, who saw his mother and sister molested; who lost a total of five family members those few hours.

Zakiya Jafri (ZJ):

I take a train ride to Surat, some three hours away from Mumbai by a fast, air conditioned and comfortable train, the Shatabdi Express. Surat is where Mrs. Jafri now lives, with her eldest son and his family. The city surprises me; reasonably clean, well planned, very good roads and relatively less crowded; probably the best city I have had the fortune to visit in India. A 15 minute drive by rickshaw puts me outside of 25 Alvi House, a well maintained and modern villa amongst row of like ones. I am met by ZJ’s daughter in law, Duraiya who makes me comfortable in her bright, well furnished home. I am then introduced to ZJ, a motherly figure, someone I instantly warm up to, for she reminds me of my Mama. I feel queasy, instantly, for I have read about her torment, her tribulation, and am unsure if I will be able to question her about her nightmares without getting personally emotional.

I can at once feel the inner strength in her; she sees I am hesitant, nervous, so encourages me to ask away. I have been talking about my ordeals for over eight years; I have stood up to many hostile forces and still have to battle many more, powerful forces, so ask away. You have come from very far, it is the least I can do. True, ZJ is a remarkable and strong women; she has taken on the State of Gujarat, her Chief Minister, no less, and is battling for justice in the courts. So I let her do the talking mostly; the following is her story:

It was tense the night before, with people coming in and out, wanting to meet Ehsaan; there were continues telephone calls. I was used to that, what with Ehsaan being an ex Congress MP and his connections with those in power. Ehsaan got a call from a Hindu friend, who advised us to perhaps leave home for a few days. Ehsaan dismissed the suggestion, how could he possibly leave when so many looked up to him for support?

Next morning, Ehsaan was watering the garden when I called him in to have breakfast. He pleaded for a few more minutes when suddenly, I heard a commotion outside. There was a crowd gathered outside our compound gates, an angry crowd, a Hindu crowd. I felt fear for the first time; a trepidation. By the time Ehsaan came in, there were already a few neighbors gathered at our home, safety in numbers. Ehsaan immediately called the local police commissioner and requested help but only the commissioner, a Pande came, alone. He advised Ehsaan to leave Gulbaag Society, he would take us to safety, wherever we wanted to go; Ehsaan flatly refused. Instead, he requested two large police vans so that all of Gulbaags residents could be led to safety until the situation calmed. Pande said he would try and left; that was the last we hear from him.

There was now commotion in our house, with more people coming in and Ehsaan trying to reach the powers to be for help and reassure the gathering group at the same time. The first few stones fell harmlessly in the front lawn, but subsequent ones, the larger, more deadly ones were thrown from a vantage point diagonally across our house; our outer walls had been breached. Some of our neighborhood youths used these very stones to fight back but we were outnumbered. When the first fires started, I panicked; as did our lot. As one after another unit was set ablaze and there was still no response from the police or other politicians, Ehsaan asked me to go upstairs and wait; I did with a few other women. Ehsaan then thought he could buy our way out; maybe money could placate the crowds. He opened our safe and stuffed all the money we had into a bag and left the house to confront the mob outside. That is the last I saw of him alive.

I did not see what transpired between Ehsaan and the mob but many others did. He tried to reason with the apparent leaders who were inciting the crowd and then offered them money. They accepted the payoff, then asked Ehsaan to open the gates so they could take the money. As soon as he opened the gates, he was grabbed…

ZJ pauses here, sips water and is quite for a moment. My buttock muscles tighten and palms dampen as I dread what she might say next, whether she will break down, for surely I will not be able to hold back my tears as well. But she is strong and continues, though with an emotional quake in her voice, a far away expression in her eyes.

…then they killed him, mercilessly chopped him to pieces with knives and swords before burning him alive. He was a Muslim, yes, but he was a human first, we don’t melt this kind of treatment to animals even…my husband died an excruciating death. There was very little of him that remained we could bury, mostly ashes and pieces of bones. He was not alone though, 69 people perished here at Gulbaag, all innocent middle class citizens of this country. And they raped the women, right in front of the children. A young boy, Firoz, our neighbor, merely 16 – 17, saw his mother and sister being raped, then…then they set them on fire. Four orphan girls, young ones, teenagers, all raped and burned alive. Our other neighbor, a crippled tailor, held on to his door but it was kicked in; he was knifed to death. His wife was raped, then forced to sit in a plastic tub, then lit on fire. Miraculously, she survived and still visits me sometimes. Part of her body is just bones, the flesh burnt and melted away with the plastic.

When the police finally showed up after dark, they brought the police vans, and then asked us where we wanted to go. Where could we go? While we were in the police vans, a senior officer came up and lifted the curtains to peer at us, then commented how it was possible for so many to have survived when so many more had been “taken care of”. I shuddered, asked to be dropped off at a street corner where I sat until daybreak. The next morning, some people who knew Ehsaan took me to my relative’s home where I stayed for a few days until my sons came to get me.

It took me years to come out of a shell, I led life like a zombie until the NGO, Citizens for Peace and Justice, helped me come to my wits. We filed an FIR in 2006 and the slow process of justice takes its time, as you know. Insha’Allah, we’ll get there, eventually.

I ask if the Congress Party has helped. No, no help from them, although Sonia Gandhi (Congress Party President) did come to pay condolences. But so many others have come forward and expressed support and sympathy, individuals, NGO’s, civic groups as well as groups overseas. It is here then she breaks down and weeps, and the tears came. I wait for her to let out her anguish and compose herself (I do likewise). I console her, promising her I will pray for her and for the soul of her husband. I also assure her that justice will come, must come, for it is against Allah’s attributes for criminals to go unpunished. After a cool glass of delicious fresh mango juice, I bid farewell and take a rickshaw to my hotel.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Haw, all is vell…

Haw, haw, please come; you will be okay, I have curfew passes for us. So says my friend, Shabbir Lalani, an active social worker based in Hyderabad. He is assuring me of my safety in the violence engulfed city; bloodshed between Hindus and Muslims that has flared up in the Old City, resulting in total curfews and shoot at sight orders to security personal. Shabbirbhai a quiet man, a shrewd man, has kept it secret that train tickets for our trip from Hyderabad to Nampali are in a non air-conditioned second class compartment. Had he informed me about this, I would not have left safe and secure Mumbai. There are some benefits to the curfew however, the roads from airport to the city, usually a crowded cocktail of traffic mayhem are deserted, so we fly past to the train station, secure in the knowledge the curfew pass with Shabbirbhai will rescue us from any eager, irate policeman with an itchy finger on the trigger.

When I find the train station subdued and somewhat deserted, my spirits elevate; the train ride will not be so bad. This optimism is quickly busted when Shabbirbhai, rather demurely, gives me the bad news. I almost swoon in shock and choke on my spit which decides to travel down the wrong way in sympathy with my emotional dismay. Say what! I shout, but Shbbirbhai spreads his arms wide in a gesture of helplessness. There were no better seats, this is vacation period in India and families are heading back to the villages, it was either these seats or a three months wait for the air-conditioned class to open up. With this matter of fact reality, I shut up but my heart is already inconsolable.

Now, for you who may question the intensity of my sorrow, let me give you a brief history of train travel in India. On average, twenty million people travel by train in India, every single day. Re-read the number, that’s right; your calculator will refuse to compute an annual total, so I did it for you on Excel; seven billion, three hundred million humans travel by train every year in India. This is more than total number of humans in the whole world!!!. There is only one train per day that plies the Hyderabad – Nampali route and it is always crowded and unruly, even in first class. So the prospect of trying to sleep through 320 miles of travel in the allocated class in the heat, humidity, noise, smells and mosquitoes can fill even the most seasoned Indian traveler with dread. Now, if we had first class seats, it would be a different story all together. Two crispy white bed sheets, two fluffy pillows, ample space and cool, almost cold air conditioning. Why, you wouldn’t even miss home. Almost.

I am going to the sleepy village of Nagaram, which is about 5 miles from Narsapur, which is 20 miles from Nampali. Nagaram was badly hit with a typhoon last year and the villagers lost everything they owned, their homes too. CAI has agreed to rebuild sixteen such homes, for families that are really in very bad shape; I am going to inspect the progress of these homes. Nagaram sits in the eastern coastal region of Andra Pradest so it can get pretty sultry in summer, which is just now beginning.

My worst fears surface as we board the train; a whiff of urine emits from the toilets and our seats are but two rows away; I grind my teeth and brace for disaster. The train leaves on the dot and I prepare for battle; the battle for space. The train stops at the next station and a mini riot ensues as our cabin gets overcrowded fast-fast. When things settle down, I am left starring at a very heavy set woman with ample bosoms and a ring on her nose so huge, I am reminded of a cow in a similarly fix. She is sweating profusely, her blouse a wet mess, curly hair matted to the forehead and a string of flowers that must have brightened her day earlier but now looked as miserable as she. Her eyes are shut tight as she tries to stabilize her breathing, large hands flap, flap upwards and down and sideways in a futile gesture to create non existing cooler air. I glare at her; I am so mad. She has decided not only to transport her large bulk, but maybe her entire household stuff, as the limited aisle space between her and me is packed paraphernalia solid and her large pudgy legs now overflow over the stuff and our knees almost kiss. Then she opens her eyes and stares at my sullen, angry face and smiles the widest, brightest of smiles, revealing startlingly white against very dark skin teeth. She bobs her head in the universal Indian sign of greeting and acknowledgement; horrified at myself, instantly, unthinking, I return the bob; ALL IS VELL.

Evening turns into night and the air turns super humid as the train snakes her way east, towards the sea. We eat dinner; chapattis with chunks of tandoori chicken while the madam across me busies herself with chunks of heaped rice with daal curry shoved into a hungry mouth. She seems a happy camper, this mama, for she smiles a lot, this time with yellow rice grains stuck to her brilliantly white teeth. With nothing else to do, the lights go off by nine and I delicately climb up to the third berth to try and sleep; I bump my head along the way several times, for the space is super cramped, but my ow, owch, ow, owch protests go ignored. I undress to my briefs, uncaring; it is simply too hot and humid. There are no bed sheets, no pillows, only the stale smelly plastic that sticks to my skin and makes rude, farting noise whenever I have to unglue myself which is often, as I turn and toss through the night.

I sleep in fits, as the train makes many stops; with inevitable commotion at every station, together with several tones of snoring in the cabin enough to wake the dead. It is also very humid and the blend of urine, body odor, mix of tandoori masala and daal among others makes sleep that is unsettled; I dream of missiles made from extracts of madam’s teeth being fired at me. These missiles are tiny boiled rice grains that grow huge and deadly as they approach me.

The train arrives Nampali right on the dot of six but I am a mess; tired, sleepy and with a terrible crick in my neck. I go through my task ahead sluggishly; the guys there must think I have a hangover. We take a rickshaw to Nagaram, meet with the committee overseeing the construction project and eat a massive lunch which makes me even sleepier. I gratefully crash on to my berth for the train ride back to Hyderabad and a flight home to Mumbai later in the morning. Thank God I am too exhausted to care about anything and just haphazardly sleep through the entire train ride.

Jet Airways flight to Mumbai is right on time, five minutes early, even. I look forward to going home and playing with Maaha Zainab who I miss very much whenever I travel. It is when we are almost above Mumbai that the pilot comes alive and informs we are being diverted to Ahmadabad. Eh? Mumbai airport has closed down due to VVIP movement and we do not have enough fuel to circle around Mumbai for the ninety minutes it will take for the VVIP to depart and airport to reopen. So we are in Ahmadabad for an hour before we take off and head for home.

My neighbor, a smart young man in his thirties perhaps gets chatting with me. Who am I, where I am heading, where I am from… Then we speculate about who this VVIP could be whose movements merited an airport closure. I don’t care who it is, I say carelessly, he is an idiot, inconveniencing thousands of people. I must have said this quite brashly, for there is an uncomfortable silence from those sitting close to us. That man could only be our Prime Minister, says this young man after a while, we don’t call our Prime Minister an idiot, however inconvenienced we may be.

Oops, ouch! Nako. ALL IS NOT VELL.

In Hyderabadi lingo, haw means yes and nako, no.

Prophecies of a dying brother.

Two days before Bha stopped talking and went into a coma, he called me to his room and sat me down by his bedside. Bha, Mohammedreza Sultanali Yusufali, my eldest brother, was a father figure in my family. My father, you see, passed away in 1960, and since then Bha had led at the top, fulfilling the vacuum created as head of family. He started working at age 14 to help pay for household expenses, struggled considerably during mid life, married late but more than made up later on with much success in business and personal accomplishments. His service to Arusha Jamaat in particular, was exceptional. Bha was also the one who provided initial financial and moral support that has put CAI activities in the blessed position it is now in.

Bha was a man with unshakable faith in Allah (S); I know, I know; all of us have faith in God, but Bha’s faith was, well, extraordinary. I worked under him at his shop Mchawi wa Radio in Arusha, Tanzania; this shop had very little to do with radios as it traded mostly in bicycles, its spares and Agip cooking gas. But Bha retained the name and the label Mchawi (magician in English) stuck to him from then on. Business during those times in Tanzania was very good, people made a bundle and Mchawi wa Radio was no exception.

I learnt the ropes of trade here and the sweetness of profit. However, come zohr prayer time and Bha would shoo out waiting customers and close shop. I would protest, argue I would close up and he could precede me, but no, he would have none of that. Money in tens of thousands of shillings was a LOT of money in the seventies; Bha once made out a check for charity that made me almost choke and swoon in awe. Bha would ignore his business and run around town and country for errands for our mosque and community; didn’t bat an eye once when I told him a bicycle got stolen as I was alone and overwhelmed at the shop.

The day he called me in and talked to me for the final time, he looked tired, resigned. Bha had been struggling with acute sarcoma cancer; we all knew he was bidding time. Incidentally, about 2 years before he was struck with cancer, he had declined a very lucrative business proposal that I had put to him. No, he had declared firmly, no more business ventures for me, my time is up and I have to prepare to meet my Lord. I had dismissed those sentiments, written it off to overactive emotions of an overwhelmed but simple man who had achieved much in life, both spiritual and personal.

I remember that day vividly. Yusuf, he had addressed me, his face gaunt from months of suffering, pain, surgery and hospital stays. He had looked at me hauntingly; swallowing painfully, for his mouth was drying up constantly due to medication effects from many drugs (mostly pain killers) he had to consume. I want to talk to you about the humanitarian activities you are doing. Do not wait to help the needy, just put your trust and confidence in Allah (S) and money and success will follow you. Remember always, you are answerable to Allah (S) and everything that you do must be for His (S) pleasure As long as you hold these supreme ideals firmly rooted in you and never compromise with them, you will achieve success and peace of soul you never before imagined. But remember, these successes do not come without losing something in return, giving up of other things. You will get away from the love and desire of this dunya very quickly; things that excite you now and seem important will seem trivial. The lure and luster of fine things that you thought you could not do without will seem almost silly. So, continue doing what you do but carefully consider what I have just said. With those words, he stopped talking and closed his eyes. A man of limited words even when he was in robust health, I did not prod for more; tired, I assumed, and left the room so he could rest. Little did I know those were my brother’s last words to me; Bha left us to be with his Lord 3 days later at age 59.

Now, six years after his passing, it amazes me to realize how accurate and prophetic those few words were. How exact was Bha! As I dwell into the slums of Govendhi and Malad, as I daily hear and deal with the plight of poor and wrenched widows, as I witness the desperation of a mother struggling with a dying child or a young women struggling to get married or further her education, as I struggle to come to grips with the situation of oppressed Muslims of Afghanistan and the lamentations of over 7,000 widows whose husbands were brutally murdered for being a religious minority, as I watch these widows and her young girls toil to fetch a pail of water 2 miles away in a foot of snow and ice so she can put nan on the table for her 5 – 6 kids... I ask myself the very question Bha alluded to. What is this life that I live in worth? All these sufferings and desperate people, why am I so blessed with the bounties of Allah (S)? Why am I so special? Slowly, but surely, I feel silly and ashamed to have yearned for objects and toys that seem so insignificant now. Possessions that I had to have appear petty, immaterial, negligible.

I just completed watching a documentary - Children of Gazza (http://www.shiatv. net/view_ video.php? viewkey=06a78886 b230886197d9&page=1&viewtype=&category / http://www.shiatv. net/view_ video.php? viewkey=5e6023fa c42ec39312a5&page=&viewtype=&category) and my heart wants to explode; it hurts so bad. Ya Allah! Where is this world coming to? Is this life worth living? Are the trivial things we desire and slog all our lives for really worth it when there is such appalling sorrow and sadness and inequity in the world we call home? Where is humanity? Why do beasts rule and control the world? Where is the Imam (A)? Surely this lunacy, this fallacy, this injustice must end and it is high time the Imam (A) is with us?