There is a war of words of larger-than-life proportions next door at the Leela Hotel here in Mumbai, India. I can hear the feuding couple hurl filthy abuses at each other as clearly as if they are right here in my room. The fight is about the man supposedly paying too much attention to a barmaid in the lounge downstairs. They are yelling in Hindi, a language I understand and some of the curses are so colorful it makes me cringe and blush out of embarrassment – I thought I had heard every imaginable expletive out there. It’s rather entertaining for a while but then I want it to end. It’s almost midnight, I am severely jetlagged and have a minor medical procedure tomorrow and want to try and rest.
I am about to go and knock at their door and ask them to knock it off when I pause. What if the couple is bigger than I am? Or drunk? Or stoned? Or both? Or armed and decide to vent their anger on me instead? This makes me nervous. But I’ve never been one to shy away from standing up for what is right and am putting on something decent to wear when I hear the sound of a distinct, sobering whack. It is a nasty-sounding, hurtful slap. Followed by an anguished feminine sob, Then silence. The calm endures so I go back to being indecent and fall fitfully asleep.
Tamanna is an eight-year-old daughter of a schoolteacher, Sikandar. The Taliban overruns Afghanistan by the might of the gun in 2001 and forces a fiercely fanatical version of religion on her people, Tamanna’s father promptly loses his job since his profession is redundant because the new rulers do not believe in secular education, especially for the womenfolk. Sikandar resorts to selling his few assets on the streets of Kabul for money to feed his family. Later, when these assets are gone, and Tamanna by his side, he offers to read or write letters for any illiterate passerby. The pickings are paltry, but some naan and a bowl of plain rice with a sprinkling of hard, moldy raisins are still possible.
One day, the Taliban arrest Sikandar from the streets of Kabul and imprison him for two weeks. His crime? For exposing Tamanna without a hijab in front of men at the bazaar. No matter that the girl is a child not required to cover her hair or body. By religious law, common sense, or decency.
Tamanna is the oldest in the family. She has an infant brother, Idrees, and her mother is ailing from hypertension for which medication is now out of their financial reach. So, it falls on Tamanna to fetch a pail of water from a water-well a mere block from their house in the slum-sprawl of Chandawal, within the city of Kabul.
It is when Tamanna is propelling the well-pump for water when she feels the sting of a whip on her fragile back. Howling in anguish, she is yelled at by a young Talib that girls cannot be outside the house, and she must return home immediately. Tamanna tries to explain, through her tears, that the water is critical for her family and there is no man at home to do the task, but this falls on deaf, uncaring ears. The Talib threatens his weapon once more, forcing little Tamanna to speed from the sting, abandoning the water pail.
Why am I telling you these miserable stories? In both instances, the use of blatant power over intellect decided the fate of the conflict. I can state, with absolute conviction that the slap and sting were from uncouth and unschooled persons. It can only be the mindset of an illiterate that assumes might is right and the solution for all differences of opinions and ideas.
CAI has been, actively supported by her Trustees, fellow NGO partners, and donors, relentlessly making education opportunities for the unprivileged their number one priority. I begin my recent journey in Dar es Salaam, fly to Mumbai via Dubai, fly to meet a school donor in New York via Dubai, who insist on meeting me in person and pay for the airfare (yes, business class for those who MUST know), return to Mumbai via Dubai, fly to Kolkata, return to Mumbai, fly to Sirsi, return to Mumbai, fly to Karachi, Pakistan via Dubai, fly to Saleh Pat, Sindh, return to Karachi and then fly home to Dar es Salaam via Dubai. My trip to Parachinar, Kohat, and Islamabad is upturned because I land up at Fatimiyah Hospital in Karachi for a medical emergency.
All through these countries and trips, I must test for the accursed doodoo multiple times, sixteen exactly, all the time uncertain and worried if an infection will upturn my travel plans or strand me in a dicey country.
All these trips are related to providing quality educational opportunities to children who must broaden their Allah-gifted thinking panorama to be the best of mankind. Upright and tolerant humans, the likes of Gandhi, Mandela, and Teresa who led by examples of forgiveness and tolerance. The sight of children walking to school in a remote, unforgiving mountain of Afghanistan is a delight, or the clatter of students in a makeshift class in a dry barren field of Africa is music to my ears.
CAI donors are now working on their 67th school (click here), gifted across the world, wherever children are deprived of this basic right. I am asked by many donors for an opportunity to invest in projects of thawab-e-jaaria for their deceased parent(s). I can think of no worthier project than educating a deserving child and making her and an ensuing progeny into upright, tolerant, and compassionate humans. More than a worship place, more than water wells, a learning institute has more potential profit. Not that the former sacrifices are unimportant, of course. But dollar for dollar, education is rhodium solid as far as investment returns. I know I’ll be challenged on this fact by many pundits and it’s okay; I have proven statistics to fall back on.
A believer with education can acquire the traits of Muhammed, Ali, Fatema, Hassan, Hussein, and nine others. A believer without one is just another possible Taliban. Or a baraza attendee, perhaps, whiling life away in smoking and criticizing everything under the sky.
Note: I do personally profit from my trip to New York. Although it is bitterly cold and I curse the elements and wonder why any sane person would want to live in New York, daughter Maaha Zainab is able to fly down from Florida and we spend some quality hibernating days together.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this Blog are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the Blog do not reflect the views of CAI and or her Trustees.