india trip, post 8

i’m actually back in chicago. but here’s the last post i did in india. i started my first day at work today. i only had about 6 patients but i spent about 10 hours at work learning the ropes. i spent almost two hours with my boss over lunch. inshallah tomorrow will be a better day. oh, i didn’t do the last day (day 36) of india. it was nice. we lit fireworks on saturday. hamza got scared and cried. on sunday i decided that we would go early to the airport to get good seats and to also check out the airport and do some shopping/eating. our flight ended up being canceled because air india pilots went on strike. they patched together 3 flights and we only had to sit in hyderabad airport for 9 hours (he said sarcastically). so next time (and i mean it this time) we are flying non-stop to hyderabad. the trip wasn’t too bad. even after we landed in chicago, people were pretty good to us. the border patrol guy even said, “welcome home” to me. they never do that. especially to bearded ones with a hijabi wife. well, i’m glad to be home. nothing beats a warm shower in your own apartment. here’s the rest of india:

Thursday, September 24, 2009; Day 31-33; 6:26 AM

I knocked out Monday night, and slept for a good 10 hours for the first time I’ve been in India. I did the same thing on Tuesday. It’s finally starting to feel like a vacation. See, Ramadan is not a vacation. It’s not like 8 days of Chaunaka – drinking, dancing and festivities. It’s about tightening your belt, and putting your body through fire in the crucible that is the month of fasting. You come out anew.

The signs that Ramadan is over became apparent almost immediately. The Muslim day starts at Maghrib (the sunset prayer), so the last day of Ramadan finishes at Maghrib. Right after Maghrib salat on the last day of Ramadan, I felt uber lazy to pray sunnah (extra prayers), yet I had been praying my taraweeh (the night prayers during Ramadan) pretty consistently. This morning for fajr (the dawn prayer), we barely filled the first saff (line). It’s kind of sad. It’s like an old friend left, and won’t be back for another year.

We did something called “ziarat” on Tuesday. It literally translates out to “final goodbye.” It’s a cultural thing done to signify the end of the grieving period. Like I mentioned yesterday, except for the grieving period of the wife, the period is 3 days. The ziarat is a symbolic gesture revealing to everyone that you are now going to try to go back to normalcy. Between noon and the afternoon prayers, people began to gather in the house. We hired a few chefs to cook enough food for about 100 people, slaughtered a goat and set up multiple areas to eat around my mamu’s and grandpa’s house. Then the men went to Asr prayer. After Asr, we read as much Quran as we could in 10-15 minutes, with each man taking a part. Then the Imam, Rashid Mamu (my wife’s mamu), and the Imam of the Goombus Masjid (the big dome masjid/mausoleum in front of my grandpa’s house; goombus means dome) made some dua for a few minutes. Then we all went to the graveyard behind Osmania General Hospital. The cryptkeepers had cleaned all around the grave and put fresh mud on top of the dirt. We then made more prayers for my grandma, put flowers on her grave and said our goodbyes.

When we came home, everyone ate. Not the dal-chawal or eggs we were eating for the past few days, but biryani and double-ka-meetha (which is the sickest desert in India – it takes a lot of patience and experience to make well). Everyone was in good spirits. Although everyone was definitely sad that nani died, I think many people were happy that she got some relief after so much suffering. Not only did she die in Ramadan, but also on an odd night in the last 10 days of Ramadan (which are auspicious nights, because it is said this is when the Quran was first revealed, known as Layl-a-tul Qadr or The Night of Power, which is better than a 1000 months – yea I know, it sounds pretty cool).

After most of the people left, all the young men in the house gathered in my grandpa’s house and kept him company for a few hours. My mom, and a few of the other guys’ parents were there as well. The discussion turned to how we must listen to our parents. It got pretty passionate, because I kept asking to what degree must we listen. Like, if my mom wants me to buy a Honda CRV instead of a Toyota Rav4, should I listen? So I asked my grandpa a similar question like that. He had a really nice response. He said, first try to convince her why you thing the other is better. The convincing should be done with good manners and sweet words. Someone shouted out that if you can’t convince her, bring her to Pappa Jaan (my grandpa!). If you can’t convince her, and for some strange reason she really wants you to, for instance, buy a CRV, then you go ahead and buy a CRV. My mom told my grandpa that it’s an old argument between her and me about her, ahem, my decision to go into medicine. My grandpa said that the one who carried you for 9 months, then cared for you for decades to bring you up, has a right over you. Nowhere in the Quran does it say to listen to your children, rather, it says that you should be cautious of your children. Allah has made love for our children a natural part of us, so it doesn’t have to be commanded. The love can be so great, that parents will go to great lengths to please their children and see that they’re healthy and prosperous that they would even lie, cheat and steal to see this end. This is why we must be cautious. It also says to be cautious about your wives. Hmmmm. Ultimately, he said to have respect for their requests, and realize that this life is short, so a few decisions here and there against your wishes won’t amount to much.

Yesterday, my sister-in-law came over with her kids. They were all getting pretty bored, so we went to the zoo. Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! It was hot and sticky all morning, but by the afternoon it started raining pretty heavily. And, in true Bollywood movie style, everyone ran out in the rain and played tag, getting soaked. I still don’t understand the fascination Indians have with rain. Even when it rains in Chicago, my wife will ask if she could go out with the kids to get soaked. Weird.

Saturday, September 26, 2009; Day 34-35; 6:00 AM

Thursday I was out all day with a friend of mine from Windsor. It’s been over 5 years since I’d seen him. His dad is in business here in India, and he’s pretty well off, Alhamdulillah. He picked me up for breakfast, which we had in the lobby of a nice hotel in the New City – toast, jelly, cereal, eggs, paratha, idli, potatoes, and really delicious watermelon juice. Afterwards we roamed the city a bit, trying to figure out what to do next. At one point we were on a strip called Necklace Road, which is the road that abuts Hussain Sagar Lake in the center of the city. It has a mini-amusement park, and several restaurants, akin to Navy Pier in Chicago.

One thing I noticed was every few minutes a young niqabi would show up alone with a young man, usually a teenager, and they would sit somewhere private to talk, eat and so on. I first tried the 70 excuses thing, but my friend wouldn’t have it. He said these girls go out telling their parents they’re going to college, and then come on their boyfriend’s motorcycle with their faces hidden to avoid recognition. I’d heard of a few cases like these several years ago, but I didn’t realize it was so widespread. My friend told me that it has gotten much worse over the last few years, especially with the young Muslim women.

Then we picked up two other guys – one an intermittent friend that he chilled with occasionally, and the other a friend of this friend. I realized that day that it’s extremely important to know and choose your friends very carefully. It’s better to have no friends than a bad friend. These two guys, especially the former, whom we shall call friend A, were very rough around the edges, and the topic of discussion seemed to always fall back into the gutter. “A” worked as a computer engineer in Dubai, and whenever he would get a phone call, he switched to his super-innocent, Indian-accented English – “Yes ma’am, how may I be of assistance?” Then, as soon as he hung up, he would come back to reality. He drove like a psycho.

You can monitor your children’s friends. But, it’s the friends of friends, and the group that it forms that can become dangerous. It’s like the beautiful cover of a boring book that is used to deceive your confidence. I am never going to hang out with friends of friends again, unless I know and trust them.

We went to my friend’s uncle’s emu farm. He has over 5000 birds that he began breeding with 40 birds 10 years ago. Each bird is worth 20,000 rupees. The emu is like an ostrich, but slightly smaller. It doesn’t fly, but can run really fast. Its cataracts can be transplanted into humans. You can eat its meat, use the leathery skin on it’s feet to make shoes/belts, sell the feathers, and even use its fat to make oil. My friend said that since it’s a rare bird in India, the government is also giving a subsidy to farm them. I wanted to bring the kids the next day, but his uncle is having some scientists come to the farm to try to generate more eggs for more return per year, and they have closed it to outside visitors.

On the way home we stopped by an engineering college to meet another friend. We stood there yapping for about an hour. I ate a mitha-paan about the size of my palm. It had a special name that I forget now. It’s supposed to be placed in the mouth all at once, and then eaten slowly. I did that, ended up getting tears in my eyes, and chomped the rest very quickly.

Yesterday, I went for Friday prayers at another TJ masjid in the next neighborhood over. The khutba was about halaath ke musalmaan aur mahowl ke musalmaan – Muslims whose degree of faith is based on their situation and environment. He said that the environment of Ramadan brought a lot of Muslims out of the woodworks, but as soon as the moon was sighted, we’ll now have to wait a whole year to see them again. Muslims who are sick or have some problems at home with come to the masjid, become consistent with charity, prayer and so on, and as soon as the situation is resolved, they return back to their home, forgetting that their Lord was the one to gave them aid.

One quick story, then I’ll let you go. It’s from the Friday sermon. There was a beautiful, young woman, who situation at home was deteriorating. They had no food, money was scarce, and people were sick. So she approached a rich man to see if he could provide some assistance. He said that he would help her, if she would help him. He asked her for the usual awful favor that an evil man would ask for. She said that she wouldn’t, and would endure her situation rather than commit this deed. Several days passed, and he situation got worse. She went back to this man, hoping that his mind might have changed, but regretfully was given the same request. This cycle happened several times, and the woman would decline his offer, because of the fear of God. Then one day, her situation had gotten very bad, and she decided she would accept his request, because it seemed like the only way out. She went to him, and he told her to close all the windows and curtains of the house, while he got the room ready. So she began to close the curtains, one by one, while the man got the room ready in anticipation for this evil act he was about to commit. As soon as he was ready, he called out for her. She said that she was almost done, and would be there shortly. Several minutes passed, and the man began getting impatient, and called out again, only to receive the same response. This dialogue went back and forth, until the man yelled out in anger about how long she was taking. She said that she was having trouble with a final curtain. He furiously asked her, “Which curtain could this possibly be that you’re having trouble with?” She said, “I have closed all the curtain that the people can look through, but cannot close the curtain that Allah looks through.”

Goosebumps. May Allah help us be steadfast, and base our faith on fear and love for Him. Peace.

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