Amna’s School Dream Comes Alive
I strongly suggest a read of Amna Naqwi – The Unwanted Daughter, so that the subsequent narrative will be a natural transition and make for an easier read and comprehension of the following:
The jarring, uncomfortable, pot-riddled road from Sirsi to Halwaana is over 200 miles and takes over six hours. It tears into my patience and disposition, taking a toll on my already beaten down immune system, since I have already been on the road, traveling from Africa to Asia and Europe and Asia again the last six weeks. The annual Indian monsoon rains have played havoc with the subpar UP road surfaces so the ride is jarring and halting, making mincemeat of my brains. It is a relief when we pull over for a cuppa chai and some snacks at a roadside dhaba.
Zeeshan and his brothers run the rickety dhaba in Jansat town, set amid the busy main road towards Halwaana and eventually New Delhi. It has recently rained, so the atmosphere is moist and steamy, now ablaze with a hot sun, bringing instant sweat to my brows. The four school-desk size tables wobble dangerously as we try and make ourselves hopelessly comfortable. The ear busting toots from trucks and buses and vehicles and motorbikes and bicycles and tractors and bullock carts that ply on the roads make so much tumult, it is difficult to think, even. I wish we had gone to better digs, air-conditioned perhaps, but I am told this is the best we can do for the next four hours, so I sulk and bear it.
My mood has a turn for the better and my lukewarm appetite surges immediately after I try the first spoonful of the concoction served in a small metal plate. It’s a mix of haleem and Taheri chicken biryani, fiery and namkeeni; I finish mine in a flash, yearn for and get more. The next round is haleem, made from blends of lentils and masalas and green chilies. This one is even fierier, made for people with stomachs of steel. I fleetingly worry about my gut’s aftermath tomorrow morning; we have but a single toilet back in Sirsi, but for now, my taste buds are in heavenly bliss. There are several fearless birds that hungrily forage for grains of rice that make it to the floor; I feel sorry for their eventual potty business, but like me, they seem to have thrown caution to the wind and want to enjoy the heavenly delight. I am told that the beef haleem is even better but CM Yogi and his Hindutva agenda has killed that delicacy.
It is only after my belly is sated that I notice the open kitchen in action. Zeeshan the owner slices onions at a pace that is a blur to my eye, his ten-year-old son, off from school because it is a Sunday, struggles to pound fresh masalas in a stone grinder by the dirt floor while another brother begins preparation to knead dough for piping hot parathas coming up if we are prepared to wait. Zeeshan moves his arms non-stop, slicing onions, stoking the blazing fire that cooks the lentils, serves unceasing customers, handles money and wipes everything – from his profusely sweaty brows, his fingers, the deadly sharp knife, the pots, pans to everything else he encounters - with a damp dirty-looking tattered towel tucked at his waist. The same towel eventually makes it to wipe clean our table top, leaving the air around me with an uneasy odor of foul dampness. I try to drown the uneasiness I suddenly feel with a couple of steamy cups of sweet chai.
The AC in the car helps me cool off a bit as we head towards Halwaana. The village looks exactly like rural India was fifty years ago; green and healthy as far as the eye can see. I am reminded of a scene from the Bollywood movie, Gopi. Why, I expect comely Saira Bano to spring up any second and serenade me with akeele hee akeele chalahe kahaa. Alas, it is not to be, since she is busy nursing an ailing Dilip Kumar in Mumbai.
While arrangements are made for the foundation stone laying ceremonies of CAI’s thirty-fifth global school for the poor, I rest my aching behind on a charpoy under a peepal tree. Ahhh, what luxuries! There is absolute quiet as birds chirp above. The only other sound is of a mother shushing some infant Jaffer to sleep. I try and close my eyes but hordes of the most persistent flies on earth descend to inflict misery on me. The villagers solve this problem by starting up a generator powered fan that keep the pesky pests at bay. Now, if they could only do the same with the overpowering lingering smell of goober…
The foundation stone for the school is laid and we head home after a late lunch hosted by the villagers. It’s another jarring, uncomfortable, pot-riddled road to Sirsi, over 200 miles and will take over six hours, at least…
So, there you are Amna, CAI donors and Trustees have fulfilled their promise made not too long ago. Your school will insha’Allah be ready sometime next year. You and 600 others from this and surrounding villages can begin dreaming of a better future, as good, strong, moral and more importantly, balanced, tolerant and educated Muslims.
New Novel Update
Shit! Eat Shit! This is the unpalatable title of my latest novel, my third. The manuscript is edited and ready, and a limited print version will insha’Allah be available immediately after Rabi ul Awwal 17, while the online version should be up and running shortly.
Hopefully you like my writing, and if so, you’ll love this novel, set in India and Dubai. However, even if you don’t, or if you are not a fiction person, I still encourage you to please purchase a copy, since 100% of the proceeds will go towards supporting CAI’s worldwide 460 orphans. CAI raised US$77,000 towards this very worthy cause with my second novel, The Chief Ministers Assassin, so I am very confident we can do at least US$100,000 with this one, insha’Allah. The money supports the orphans in their daily needs but more importantly, provides them with a quality education, invaluable for their successful future. The print version is available for US$100 each and delivered worldwide. You can pre-order a copy by clicking here. Allah bless.