Sunday, September 17, 2017

Masi Irma Comes Visiting / The Godmen Amongst Us / My New Novel

Masi Irma Comes Visiting
Masi Irma blows into Florida like an enraged ex, packing a hefty punch, huffing and puffing, spewing destruction and mayhem, upsetting routine and instilling fear. But like most exes with an ax to grind, the fury, devastation, and death she spits out are based on emotions churned by passion rather than logic. In this instance, the energy comes a spurring in Africa and roiled by the warm ocean waters of the Atlantic. We in Sanford are pelted by the howling winds, drenched by relentless rain, felled trees and snapped power lines, but alhamd’Allah, we survive. Not sure why the MC of HIC, under the wise wisdom of our young President do not open the doors of Masjid al Hayy as an obvious welcome shelter, like other Islamic places of worship have done.

Amazing how the media in the US cover this event. I’m not complaining, no. I’m glad of the minute detail tracking of Masi Irma’s ever-changing landfall sites and accompanying advice – where to get dwindling bottles of drinking water, depleting shelves of food, where to find shelter and much more, including dire warnings of death and destruction that this Masi is capable of venting. So much is hyped as well, however. Again, not complaining; we’d rather be extra cautious than sorry later. I can get my hands on drinking water, plenty of food and fruits almost to the last few hours before the supposed D-Day. I am tempted to evacuate to a fine refuge at Dauphin Island my good friend Faruk Khambaty from Greenville, NC offers, but Maaha Zainab is not too enthused to leave her other inflexible family behind.

Power snaps at magreeb, engulfing my house, the neighborhood and everything else in complete darkness, and cutting contact with the outside world since the communication towers are also hit; no phone or data access. As the winds howl and whip at my house, sitting in the darkness, I feel very small, helpless and claustrophobic. I must rely on Starbucks or Panera next few days to replenish juice to my MacBook Air and iPhone. My overwhelming reliance on the internet becomes a stark reality. The power remains out for agonizing days, spoiling all frozen meats, dairy, etc. Ouch, that hurts; nyaama is pricey here in Sanford. It takes 5 agonizing days without juice before Duke Energy restores power to my area; I’m willing and ready to commit certain murder by then. The constant stickiness from relentless sweating, uncertainty in the dark and reliance on torchlights to navigate rubs nerves raw, makes decent slumber impossible. I’ve been through much worse in my eventful life; daughter Maaha Zainab hasn’t and the strain shows on her face. I contemplate local hotels but they are either full or prices start gauging at $250 / night; I decide to sweat it out in a hurry.

The whole episode is quite unnerving really, the second time I’m going through preparing and braving a hurricane since moving here some seven-plus years ago. Not sure how many more of these life turbulences my fragile heart can take.

The Godmen Amongst Us
I’ve always wondered how and why seemingly intelligent people end up hero-worshipping Godmen like Ram-Rahim, the Indian criminal recently sentenced to twenty years in jail for raping his disciples; it's incomprehensible. His guilty sentence brought about the slaying of 38 people, imagine. Kheli ajeeb, no? He’s not the only one out there; there are several others, once commanding millions of frenzied followers, now rotting in jail. Hundreds more, equally popular and raking in tons of moola, roam free to spread their lunacy. Perhaps the following incident might give some pointers?

While I’m fretting about Masi Irma coming, a well-meaning sporadic donor to CAI, from somewhere along one of the scorching states of the Persian Gulf, calls and advises me that CAI should do more investing towards the orphans of Iraq. This guy is a momin and all but tends to impose his diehard opinions about religion and the rules of conduct in charity management and funds application. He informs me that there are thousands of orphans in deplorable conditions in Iraq that need our help right away. I readily agree with him, but politely point out that the orphan dilemma is not exclusive to Iraq; it ails Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, many countries in Africa... I also inform him that Iraq earns about 5 billion dollars in oil revenues every month, minimum, has tons of NGOs working for various humanitarian causes, our glorious and respected marajaas receive millions more in religious donations, so the need to help orphans outside Iraq, in countries where there are next to no natural resources, is more pressing. I also inform him that Iraq is one of the most corrupt nations on earth, that doing business there has ethical, accounting and compliance challenges and my past overall experience with charity work in that country has not been less than encouraging. This is where our conversation becomes far less amicable and eventually ends up in acrimony.

There is an immediate backlash at my assertions, even though I give him facts about my claims. The man, bless him, accuses me of disobeying the ulemas in Iraq, that they are the ones who decide who gets what. That they are the learned ones and I have no right to accuse the country of being corrupt. And even if it was, I am still to let the clergy decide where the aid should end up. I am advised that unlike him, who follow the ulema unquestioned, I would be wise securing my future by following his lead. Ahem.

I would have ended the argument then, since it is obviously illogical, and should have. But as I mature in overwhelmingly exceptional wisdom even more, I feel I cannot suffer fools so easily anymore. So, I tell him that our Glorified Allah has given me, and him, intellect, and made it mandatory that we use it. That we would be questioned for wasting it on Judgement Day. Ulemas, I tell him, are our respected guides, not infallible. When their ruling contradicts reality, reasoning, and verified balance, we are to refrain from following them. That brings about claims that not everything in Islam is overtly rational. Perhaps, I concede. But to me, with the knowledge and experience I have, I would not be a blind follower.

When we fail to agree to resolve our differing opinions, and cannot agree to disagree, I concur, rather cunningly and cruelly, to channel all his $50,000 plus in donations to the orphans in Iraq if he committed to it right then. He hangs up on me.

I know the guy is well-meaning and righteous. But sitting in an air-conditioned office, managing a cushy job is not equal to being on the ground, facing stark everyday realities. In my capacity as CEO of CAI, I must decide, in utmost anguish most times, where to channel scarce resources. It breaks my heart and gives me sleepless nights when I must allocate priority to one at the expense of another. All poor orphans are eligible a share of the available pie, and if I know that Iraq already gets more than its share, I’ll be aggressive in trying to equal the share elsewhere. Unrepentantly.

This episode gives me insight then, somewhat, how and why Godmen like Ram-Rahim exist and flourish. Perhaps?

My New Novel

Remember, my third novel is ready and a limited print version will be available immediately after Moharram / Saffer, 1439. All proceeds, 100%, will benefit 460 CAI worldwide orphans in their quest for excellent education. Please preorder a copy at US$100 each here. Delivered worldwide. Allah bless.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Yes, I’m A Grouch / Bosnia The Beautiful – Again / My New Novel

Yes, I’m A Grouch
I wake up this morning in a sullied mood, because of multiple overnight global alerts that make any decent sleep impossible. The Rohingya’s are going through renewed genocide by hardline Buddhists aided by the Burmese army, a ten-year-old destitute, orphaned girl is going to die in Herat, Afghanistan because CAI is going through a severe cash flow, so I got to scramble and dig out my begging bowl, and the knuckleheads in a remote African country where CAI has helped can’t seem to understand my urgent need for compliance reports. Aghhh…

Then, after fajr salaat, I open the BBC news channel, one source that I routinely scan every morning to get the latest global developments overnight. This channel was, at some point in history, impeccable with its impartial and fair reporting. Alas, they too, have been corrupted by the new world order we live in. Nevertheless, the BBC does a fair bit of dependable reporting, and it is still an excellent source for accurate timekeeping, so my watch always has the precise BBC time. To my utter disbelief, Yalda Hakim’s comely and smiling face tells me that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their 3rd baby. And so? I ask her with my eyes. And so, nothing. She ignores me and turns to other news in the UK. Bloody hell, the world is upside down with crises everywhere I look and all the BBC is interested in telling me is that Kate and William had a tumble in bed and were now procreating? Blaspheming the BBC, I flip over to Al Jazeera to watch the misery of the Burmese Rohingyas.

I warned you I was in a mean mood. There is no place, I find, to breathe easy anymore. I feel claustrophobic with all that is going on in our world. My happiness is constrained, short-lived. Is carefree laughter history? Disasters in Yemen, Burma, Parachinar, Sierra Leone…hunger deaths in Kenya and the Sudan…flooding misery in Houston, India, Bangladesh…Ya Allah, when is this all going to end? This is now becoming a trend. And now, an obese lunatic in North Korea is keen on playing Russian roulette with another unpredictable fella to see who’ll pull the trigger first? Enough reasons to want to play the game myself, I tell ya. No wonder my daughter calls me a grouch. Do you blame me?

Bosnia The Beautiful - Again
I was in this exceedingly beautiful country in 2011, wanting to witness the brutal effects of ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims by the Serbs and Croatians first hand. I was awed by the country’s splendor then as I am now. Since I am already in Europe, and Chase credit card points add up right for air miles, I tie up with daughter Maaha Zainab flying in from Orlando and cousin Dr. Afzal Yusufali and his wife Rosy from Dubai for a four-day private trip to Bosnia.

I am convinced most immigration officers at London airports are first class dingbats. This one, portly, with abundant overflowing nasal hair asks me what my business is in the UK. I want to jest that I am here to meet Theresa May but stick to the facts; I tell him I’ll be gone tomorrow, to Bosnia. He hmms and heees, sighs, peers at my passport as if the contents will help him pass an exam sometime somewhere, fingers his nasal overflow and reluctantly stamps my passport and notes that I have leave of stay in his country for forty-eight hours only. Nincompoop, I swear at him inaudibly. But a sumptuous dinner hosted by Shabnam and Naseen Valji and his adorable mother at their home at Stanmore makes me quickly forget the earlier eccentric officer from the airport.

There are no direct flights to Sarajevo from London, so it is a four-hour layover at Vienna airport to bear the next day. Vienna airport is nice and all, except the cost of a poor man’s lunch leaves all of us with throbbing toothaches. My friend Abdullah Shabar from the Kuca Bosanska community center (meaning Bosnian Home) is at the airport to pick us up. Bosnian Home, in Ljesevo, sits in a quaint and picturesque setting for a mosque and community center, about ten miles from Sarajevo city center. The community has also built two excellent holiday apartments they rent out for about sixty euros a day, including everything for a sumptuous breakfast that can feed an army.

A local tour company, Superb Adventures, headed by Faruk Osmanovic, is our guide and company for the next three days. Faruk is a genial person, speaks very good English, is full of energy and easily interacts and becomes part of our group, breaking bread with us and sharing his experiences of adventure as a tour guide and from surviving the terrible Balkan war.

Do we have a ball or do we have a ball the next three days! Bosnia is paradise on earth; a delight to the eye and senses. It has it all; green rolling mountains, rugged forests, rivers, and streams so clear, we can see trout swimming in them. The country is safe, has good roads, decent internet coverage, halal restaurants abound and are relatively inexpensive. The food is kinda bland so we resort to chili sauce to spice up everything, from breakfast to snacks to dinner.

The liberal use of alcohol at restaurants, a reminiscent habit from the time the country was part of the Yugoslavian union, is prevalent and a put-off at times but bearable. We drive to Sarajevo and prettier Mostar, trek mountains, river-raft, eat and generally have a jolly good time. Bosnia can get fiery hot during summer and temperatures get to 100F during the day in Mostar. But the river water is still a chilly 50F, so the combination of rafting and briefly dipping in the frigid waters is a great contrast. We are so spent with day activities that the nights are a compelling and welcome repose.

The three days in Bosnia are a blur and I find myself back in London at my home with Nazir Merali and family, with absolutely no issues with immigration this time. Why, the very uppity lipped gentleman informs me I can be Her Majesty’s guest for six months! Whoa! After attending fellow Trustee Abbas Jaffer’s son Kumail’s wedding in Milton Keynes, I see Maaha Zainab off to Orlando and get ready to travel to Nakuru, Kenya, for more CAI work.

For people wanting a relatively inexpensive holiday full of fun and activity in a beautiful backdrop, Bosnia is it. Unfortunately, it may not remain virgin and or innocent much longer. Tourists, especially from the Gulf, are discovering the bargain and flocking to the country in droves. Since money is generally a secondary concern for these visitors, I can see wanton exploitation and deterioration of beautiful Bosnia not too distant away.

My New Novel
Remember, my third novel is ready and a limited print version will be available immediately after Moharram / Saffer, 1439. All proceeds, 100%, will benefit 460 CAI worldwide orphans in their quest for excellent education. Please preorder a copy at US$100 each here. Delivered worldwide. Allah bless.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Amna’s School Dream Comes Alive / New Novel Update

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.