It has and is my priority to channel CAI funds to the most needy areas of the world; have blogged about these countries extensively, Afghanistan in particular, of course. Recently, I had the good fortune to visit Indian Kargil and Srinagar, where CAI recently built a school for a very poor community in Kargil and is aiding the construction of a girl’s orphanage in Srinagar. I also met the thirty-seven orphan girls at the home CAI built in Kargil several years ago. My, my, my babies have grown! I could hardly recognize any of them, except a couple.
The trip was harsh indeed; I was trapped in a snow avalanche for hours, a normal five-hour drive through spectacular and breathtaking but traitorous mountains passes took fourteen, slept in a ‘five star’ hotel that rendered my body with bloody bedbug rashes that I scratched like a rabid monkey and a groin muscle-pull from jogging that had me in tears, literally. All worth it of course, I am not complaining, just giving you a penned picture. Better still; click here for some wonderful photos of the adventure; worth several thousand words.
Mixed Fruity Jjaam
Aamir (name altered) is a middle-aged waiter at Ramee Guestline Hotel at Juhu, my place of regular repose while in Mumbai. He greets me profusely as soon as I walk in for breakfast, flicks a soiled rag to clear invisible dust from a table and waves me to a chair and makes me comfortable.
Saheb, he says genially, welcome back. Kaise ho? He begins to fuss around, arranging immaculately placed cutlery around, pours me a steaming cup of tea and wants to know what I will have this morning. Undde? Masaala omelet? Bhaaji poori? Oopma? Or masaala doosa? I order the usual two fried eggs sunny-side-up and Aamir goes scurrying off to the kitchen; I get sullen looks for this preferential treatment from others still waiting to be served.
Aamir hails from Muzzafarnagar, a poorer area of UP, India. He came to Mumbai when he was about twelve and has worked his way up from picking food from garbage dumps to washing dishes in shabby restaurants to now being a waiter at this hotel. His is one of millions that have gone the same route, escaping grinding poverty in rural India, so why is Aamir worth a mention? Well, he instantly reminds me of the waiter character with rabbit-like frontal teeth in the Bollywood movie Cheeni Kum (watch it if you haven’t already; well worth it). With me, he pronounces Mixed Fruit Jam as Mixed Fruity Jjaam, with the same tone as the waiter in the movie pronounces Hyderabaadi Zafaraani Biryaani to Amitabh Bachaan. I always laugh when I hear him say it.
Aamir gives me the preferential treatment because I am the only one who has taken the time to talk to him on a personal level and have taken an interest in him and his wellbeing? Perhaps?
I eat the eggs with Aamir hovering around like a moth on a mission, replacing my paper napkins every time I wipe my lips. It is useless stopping the waste; he waves away my protests and grabs the napkin away from my hands every time I touch my lips with it, so I try to minimize my etiquette. I finish the eggs and Aamir is there with a fresh cup of steaming masala tea with two slices of karaak brown bread liberally spread with butter; just the way I like it. He splits open a mini package of jam and raises bushy eyebrows.
Mixed Fruity Jjaam, Saheb?
I smile broadly and nod my head.
Gulaab, The Pampered Goat
Just outside Chaar Nal in Dongri, Mumbai, I notice a mini horse, except it is a giant goat, about four feet tall. The animal belongs to the owner of a medical store, who bought this Rajasthani animal when it was a few months old and named it Gulaab (rose). Feeding it with lots of love, oats, badaam and quality vegetables, the goat shot up both horizontally and vertically, and is now subject of much curiosity and amusement to whoever comes across it the first time. And so it is for me as well. Curious, I make inquiries and am introduced to the owner, a hefty Miyabhai with a handsome flowing all-white beard who views me with much suspicion when I introduce myself and ask about his animal.
Why do you want to know? Asks Miyabhai, looking me up and down, then anxiously peering outside the store at the tethered Gulaab, making sure I had done it no harm. You are not Indian, are you? You want to buy him, don’t you? Miyabhai’s eyes take on a cunning look. He is not cheap, he has cost me an arm and a leg. I feed him the best foods everyday...
A customer walks in but Miyabhai is in no mood to serve him; he yells at his assistant to attend; I seem be a better monetary prospect.
This animal is prized, continues Miyabhai, I tell you. He is gentle and loving, Why, I bring him for a nap every afternoon and he rests his head on my very own lap! Miyabhai slaps his ample lap for emphasis. But I’ll sell it to you for a modest Rupees 200,000 (about US$3,400); it’s a bargain...
I take a startled step back. No, no, I say, I don’t want to purchase him, I just was curious because of his size, I have never seen a goat this size before…
Miyabhai’s face darkens in ire. He grabs a tuft of abundant beard and pulls at it in agitation. Aree Mister, then why did you come and disturb me? Bah, let me know if you are interested in purchasing Gulaab, else be on your way! He turns to his assistant and grumbles. Fokaat ka aadmi, wasting my time with silly questions. Bah! The assistant grins toothily and eagerly wags his head in blissful ignorance.
I am still curious what Miyabhai will eventually do with Gulaab, except slaughter and eat it. But I fear for my safety, so make a rapid retreat.