Wednesday, May 24, 2006


i changed the settings, to allow for anonymous comments. this way non-bloggers can comment as well.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

my kind of khidmat

this weekend was the National Restaurant Association show at mccormick place here in chicago. the show is held every year, and this year al-jamea tus-saifiyah took out a booth to represent al-mawaed al-saifiyah. i was given the task of writing a lengthy report about all of this.

i spent all of yesterday and today interviewing the dozen or so talebat who have come from surat to represent at the booth. the person in charge also has a vision for the report, and i spent a lot of time discussing this with him, trying to make sure i know exactly what direction the report is going to take.

i'm excited about this project; these past two days have been an eye-opening experience. i can speak about what i have learned at length. so much discussion grew out of the interviews i did, that i saw how much potential this report really has to make a difference. i feel that it is rare to be directly involved in something influential; i am incredibly lucky that it is in my nasib this time.

and furthermore it's nice to do writing-khidmat; i am happy that my career and my primary skill can be of use to dawat. it makes me feel confident that this job that needs to be done, will be done in the best way possible. and i am excited that this project will bring even more opportunities for khidmat.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


since returning home last weekend, i have been noticing how beautiful the lake looks from our window. after almost a year of living in this apartment, i have begun to take the lake for granted; i can see it everyday, after all.

yesterday, however, it rained in the late afternoon and afterwards, in the two hours before sunset, a beautiful rainbow appeared over the water. it was a perfect arch and very deeply colored; i could see every color clearly.

and today, the lake is an intense blue. the sun is shining and there are cars and people all moving about; there is activity, activity, activity. yet the lake, just beyond all this activity, is still. and clear. it's a maltese blue, a thai blue. an indian ocean blue.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


we traveled to poona by car from bombay, via kandala and lonavla, two breezy hill stations. after poona we went on to jalgaon, ajanta, burhanpur and ujjain, and then returned to bombay and finally chicago. the caves at ajanta are amazing; they were carved out over a period of 800 years, between the 2nd century BC and the 6th century AD. they are not in fact caves at all, but rather huge caverns carved right out of the side of a mountain by buddhist monks. in the 2nd century BC, i don't imagine they had the kind of machinery we now have to carve out mountains, and so i am completely amazed that the ajanta caves exist at all. the "caves" are filled with paintings, sculptures and carvings, and are symmetrical and breathtaking.

it was a fascinating visit; the caverns are so huge that they make you feel small in comparison. at the same time, the realization that without tools and without machines, mere humans created these miraculous caves, made me feel... big. filled with possibility. inspired to be part of a group that can do so much with so little.

anyway. moving on to poona.

our time in poona was wonderful; it was time to see family, and little else. and i loved it. taher got a chance to meet a lot of my extended family, and i got a chance to sit back a little and just enjoy feeling interconnected.

apart from aziz, my entire immediate family, as well as my parents' brothers and sisters, and my first cousins, all live in chicago. thus i take for granted my relationship with my family and my place in the world; i am well supported. however, being in poona and visiting the homes of so many more family members made me feel even more connected; it reminded me that i come from somewhere, from a history that stretches back more than just to my family's years in chicago. there are generations of family that connect me to hundreds of years of history in india. it's a powerful feeling, knowing that you come from somewhere and that you are a part of something. even if that something is simply family.

one thing i experience in both poona and bombay was my parents pointing out buildings and storefronts and landmarks and relating their memories of that place; my mother grew up in bombay and my father grew up in poona. they were both city kids and they can drive around bombay or poona, respectively, and have a connection to much of what they see. there's my mother's medical college; there is my father's favorite bakery. there was the restaurant where my father took my mother on a first date; this was the headquarters of my father's first big client. when we visited jalgaon, after poona, i experienced more of this. here is the home that my mother used to visit in the summers; here is where she used to run around with her sister and cousins and here is where her mother, my nani, grew up.

it's a heady feeling, seeing where my parents come from. seeing, in fact, where i come from. it made it easier to imagine my parents before they arrived in chicago. this was not my first visit to india, but it was the first time i actually paid attention to all of this; in one way, i found that i am tied to india far more than i am tied to the country of my birth. and i found, furthermore, that i am damn proud to be indian-american.


bombay! after kashmir, bombay was a shock. a familiar city, a city i know well, but a shock nevertheless. crowds of heads and clothes become a smear of color in this city- everything is moving and streaky. it swallows you whole, this city. even if it's your first time here, you are not kept apart or outside. you are taken in immediately, involved from the beginning. you can access bombay, you can mix right in.

in some other cities, you visit and you feel as though life is going on around you, but you cannot break in. in bombay, you cannot avoid breaking in. you are in. the dirt gets under your fingernails, the genius beggars surround you, the shopkeepers look you right in the eye. there is no protective bubble around this city, keeping the outsiders out. there are no outsiders. this very thing is the reason bombay is one of my favorite cities in the world.

chicago, my favorite, my home, is not this way. people come here to visit and remain visitors; they leave chicago having seen the sights but not really having become part of the city. i see this happen time and again. in bombay, however, you are in the city for a day and you are already wearing a kurta shirt, with colorful glass bangles tinkling on your arm and the bombay sun darkening your skin. you have already begun to feel ownership of the ocean and discovered your favorite hangout. you have internalized the city. it has internalized you.

if you know bombay, you know why i love it. everything has a story. everyone has a story. even in the slums, there are precious stories and precious lives being carried out. you cannot disregard anyone; it would be stupid to do so. reach out to it instead. so much is going on, and the city has space for all of it. and only one tiny portion of that was the four of us, my parents, taher and i, hanging out and having dinner with family and friends. stopping in a familiar place before setting out again for jalgoan, burhanpur and ujjain.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


kashmir. it is almost legendary, this place. of all the places in india, this is the one that seemed the most mysterious to me; the one place i wanted to see out of curiousity more than any other feeling.

we stayed in a houseboat on the Dal Lake in kashmir. the houseboat was massive, with five bedrooms, each complete with intricately carved walnut wooden walls. i felt like i was sleeping in a pretty box each night. we had a houseboy, rasheed, who was our housekeeper and cook during our 3-day stay on the boat. in order to reach the mainland from our boat, we had to take a shikara, which is basically a long rowboat with a huge sofa in the middle, upon which my family and i would recline as we were rowed lazily from shore to shore. nothing like a little decadence when you're on vacation.

kashmir itself is a gorgeous place. it seems almost like a country separate from india, in that the architecture, the spacing of the roads, the color of the people's skin and eyes, the breeze are all different than what i have experienced elsewhere in india. at an altitude of 6000 feet, everything is lush and the weather is actually pleasant in may, a month during which the rest of india bakes under the sun. the mughal influence is everywhere, from gardens to food to names.

one night, around sunset, we took a shikara ride on Dal Lake for two hours; it was the most relaxing experience, just sitting on the boat, enjoying each other's company amidst beautiful scenery. we were all in high spirits; the surroundings made us feel a sense of peace.

i believe i will miss Dal Lake. in the houseboat, at night, you could hear the sounds of canoes rowing by; the sound of water being gently pushed to the side was what lulled us to sleep every night.

Gulmarg: this was a day trip we took on our first full day in kashmir. gulmarg means meadow of flowers, and is located at an altitude of 9800 feet, high on a mountain. we took a gondola up to the top, very near to the line of control between india and pakistan. it was pleasantly cool on the mountain; we were comfortable in long sleeves. the native indians who were vacationing there had rented fur coats, hats, gloves and boots, which we found hilarious. it wasn't that cold. we even saw one little girl in a snowsuit! the temperature must have been no cooler than 80 degrees farenheit, but to the indians, it was snowy and therefore cold.

Pahalgam: this was the day trip we took on our second full day in kashmir. we drove through the countryside to reach pahalgam, through acres and acres of rice fields and greenery. along the way, we stopped at a tiny store that sold saffron. pure, deep red kashmiri saffron that costs twice as much as anything you find in america and smells twice as heavenly.

the scenery on the road to pahalgam was idyllic but had a disturbing tinge: every 100 yards or so, there would be a fully armed soldier standing at attention. we knew it was for the protection of civilians and tourists, but it reminded us that protection was needed. in the depth of the green scenery it was easy to forget that this place was one of unrest.

what i have written above does not do justice to kashmir; it's one of those places where 1,000 words does not equal one picture. but while i was there i felt peaceful, i felt able to just take in the scenery and relax. i did not feel oppressed by heat or bewildered by noise and chaos. it was lovely and india surprised me once again with its cache of jewels.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Delhi/ Agra

my parents, taher and i got back from india last night; it was a whirlwind 16 days, and we are all completely burned out. but it was very, very worth it.

we hit so many places that i think i will blog about this journey in sections, beginning with delhi and agra.

we flew into delhi and spent the first day adjusting to the heat; the average temperature during our two-week stay in india was 45 degrees celsius. so about 113 degrees farenheit. i'd never been so sweaty in all my life.

we did a lot of sightseeing in delhi- raj ghat, which is the location of mahatma ghandi's funeral pyre, and things like humayun's tomb and jama masjid. our second day in delhi, we took a day trip to agra to visit the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Akbar's Tomb. if you know Mughal history, you know that these places are key to the stories of the emporers of the Mughal dynasty: Babar, Humayun, Akbar the Great, Jahangir (and Nur Jahan), and Shah Jahan (and Mumtaz Mahal). it was awe-some being in the very places where these dramas played out hundreds of years ago.

walking out of akbar's tomb, taking in the majesty of it all, my mom and i were talking about the fact that at first glance, huge structures such as akbar's tomb or the taj mahal seem like arrogant displays of wealth. but at the same time there is another way of looking at it, in that the money the mughals spent on clothing and jewelry is long gone; those displays of their wealth did nothing but show off their status in the present.

these huge structures, however, are what have made their names last well into history. and better yet, these investments continue to bring money into india even today. humayun, akbar, jahangir and shah jahan have ensured that their wealth will only multiply, long after they can personally benefit from it. they have ensured that the common laborers who put their sweat and muscle into building these structures have become part of something that would outlast them. something that would make them not common at all.

one memory of delhi: there is a picture in my parents' house of my dad, age 9, sitting on the steps of jawaharlal nehru's home with about 40 of his classmates. this picture was taken 56 years ago on a field trip to delhi, when nehru was relatively new as prime minister. as we drove around delhi on this trip, half a century later, my dad suddenly told the driver to stop in front of nehru's home (now a museum) and told us to look at the front steps beyond the garden. that was the scene of that picture, he said! so we piled out of the car and went to the steps and had my dad sit in exactly the same place, and took ten pictures. then we found a gardener to take a picture of all of us sitting with him. my dad, back in delhi with his wife, daughter and son-in-law. who would have thought.

it was a moment for me. made me consider my dad being 9 years old, having his picture taken with a historical figure. the realization that the pic was taken 56 years ago made my dad seem like a historical figure himself! :)

it was one of those moments where you realize you come from somewhere. this feeling became the theme of the journey, it turns out. i got a taste of how much india really has to do with who i am. i am used to india; things like the chaotic choreography of traffic or the street cows do not faze me. but this trip, i was more surprised by india than i have ever been before, because i saw so much more of the country than on previous trips. and i appreciated what i saw.