Monday, February 24, 2014

The Chief Minister’s Assassin – A Novel

Phew! It’s done. Finally! My second novel is done editing and is currently being readied for publishing; it will be out second / third week of March insha’Allah.

Having worked on it off and on for the last three long years plus, I feel lost not having to slog over it anymore. Strangely, the feeling is not unlike, perhaps, withdrawal effects of narcotics? Not that I do / ever did drugs. Oops... a cigarette now and then maybe... Pan Paraag with Baba 160 sometimes perhaps... It is a solitary job, writing is. Unlike ordinarily going to office and interacting with colleagues, writing is a very solitary affair, with only my mind to network with. There were days, my mind wanting, struggling for creative ideas, I would find myself audibly arguing with my mind. You realize what people talking to themselves are immediately regarded as, no?

The novel is set against the backdrop of the Hindu – Muslim riots that took place in February 2002 and the subsequent massacre of over 2,000 defenseless Muslims. This mayhem, arson, bloodshed and killings were largely ignored and in many instances perpetrated by the very people who were supposed to protect the victims: the security forces and their bosses all the way to the top executive. The story, in narrative style, draws on three main characters, Salmaan, Preeti and Akaash, their lives and the destinies that ultimately draw them together. Their stories begin in Gujarat then move to Mumbai, India.

The novel is an easy read, I think, although talking or reading about mayhem and gore is never palatable. Yet, it is witty and downright funny at times. It will certainly sadden you but hopefully make you laugh as much. This is what Hussain Zaidi, author of bestselling novel Dongri to Dubai has to say about The Chief Minister’s Assassin:

'...highly riveting...profoundly gripping...Yusufali spins a darn good will keep you awake at night!’

I must caution the book is not for the young as it has violence, gang activities, street language and some situations that some may find unpalatable? This was unavoidable due to the real terrible violence that did take place and the story would have felt hollow and superficial without the ‘real feel’ of gangster life of Mumbai. This book is a novel, a creation of my imagination and thus has no bearing on reality, even though many places and personalities I talk about are very real.

It is not a religious book, for sure. I state this because as CEO of CAI and her charitable activities, I am sometimes, incorrectly of course, viewed as a ‘religious’ man. Also, it may be viewed as a ‘religious’ book because proceeds from the sale of its print version go towards the construction of a girl’s school and orphanage project in Afghanistan.

This said, I urge you to pre-order a limited print-version, signed copy now for US$100 each, delivered anywhere in the world. All proceeds will go towards the school / orphanage project, I am not retaining a single penny. You will also be able to purchase an eBook version for much less later but these limited print books will benefit a very good cause insha’Allah. The school / orphanage will be constructed in a ‘safe’ area of Kabul, giving an opportunity for sixty very poor (some abused) girl orphans a change at a quality education and decent, safe and healthy living quarters, with three square meals, clothes, medical care and very caring people to take care of them insha’Allah. The school will cater for three hundred girls; profits from it will supplement the operating expenses of the orphanage.

For those individuals coming to the fundraiser for the same project at Imam Ali Center in New Jersey on April 26, you can collect your reserved copy at the function; please advise so we can make appropriate arrangements.

Enjoy insha’Allah.

Reserve / pay for a print version here.

Monday, February 10, 2014

My Trip To Sirsi & Phanderi – Nasser Jetta

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.