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T.I.A.

5:30 pm local time UAE.

My inflight movie had just gotten over. The display in front of me said that we had another 1:15 to reach Khartoum.

I noticed the flight status display. And then it hit me.

For 28 years, 9 months and 15 days, I had spent my life in one place. The gigantic continent that we call Asia. I looked again at the screen. Our flight had just flown over Jeddah and was just over water.

I opened my window ever so slightly, so as not to disturb the passengers for whom this journey was less momentous, and had chosen to sleep.

I opened my window to view a canvas of shimmering blue that stretched far away and melted into the blue of the sky. This sea of blue was the (slightly inappropriately named) Red Sea.

The fact that I could see water confirmed that I had indeed soared away from home. Having traveled all my life, I’ve never realized that I had a place and a home. That I actually have a place where I can say I have roots with no ambiguity whatsoever. My beloved Asia was gone. Chennai, Dubai, Mumbai, Sharjah, Bhubaneshwar, Muscat .. They were all behind me.

Right now, I could see the blue power of the Red Sea defeated by a coastline, a jagged brown one.

I remembered Leo Di Caprio from the Blood Diamond.

This is Africa.

And I am here.

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Dame Excel

If they decide to expand the cast of “Big Bang Theory”, I’d think I am a shoo-in for the role.  My approach to the whole excerise of shopping is one of great planning and scientific rationalization. I used pride myself about this until very, very recently, when alas the foundations of my well-founded pride were shaken up.

Whether I have had to purchase a car, a camera or a phone my procedure to procure has always been meticulous.

a. First figure out the lingo – are ABS the muscle that cars have? Does the CCD in a camera have anything to do with Coffee? Are phone companies actually talking about the EDGE of the phone? Usually, this means hours of googling, wiking and forum-hopping. After amassing enough information, so that I may be able to hold my own in a debate about the item I am considering, I move onto to my second step.

b.  What’s out there – I create a spreadsheet that captures key features and then compare it across brands. For my phone, I had compared almost 20 models. Suprisingly, for the car, I had compared more.  After I make this sheet, I eliminate models that do not satify on key parameters – no OIS, no Bluetooth, no wheels, etc.

c. Survey – This is usually where I need my fake smile the most. I go to the markets and try and befriend salesmen. I then ask them for their recommendations and include it in my list. Then I get the prices for all the models that I had shortlisted in my sheet and get his opinion on them. I also get to know about offers, deals and discounts. Faker smiles usually do the trick.

d. Elimination round – Now, I come back and relook at my list. Pricing usually gets rid of a lot of brands. After all the dust has settled, that usually leaves around 3-4 contenders.

e. Youtubing – I discovered that Youtube has a suprising number of videos that take you through everything about you want about the product. I send my models on a head to head and narrow the list down to two. To the others, I toss my hair back, point a finger and say “You’re fired”

f. Scientific purchase – Finally, I go to the store (not any of the stores I went to before .. most of them would have banned that smile from their showrooms) and decide between the two based on what I believe to be a myriad combination of various factors. Usually, I pick whichever’s black. 🙂

And I head back home, satisfied that I have bought the best product, at the best price, from the best place.

Yesterday, my mom called me up and told me that I needed to buy some clothes before I came to India. I was in a mall at the time, so I popped into the nearest clothing store.

I have never felt so lost, so redundant, so helpless in my life. I was groping for a store-wise, brand-wise, price-wise pivot table comparison. I began to sweat. How was I supposed to make an informed decision. How do I purchase the right thing? Should I pick what looked good for me? What if another piece looked good on me as well? What about lighting? Would I look good outside? Could I judge what looked good on me? Did I know anything about fashion? Would you wear a green T shirt with an orange pant and mellow that down by using fluorescent pink socks and a bright red cap?

I groped. I had difficulty breathing. I was hot under the collar. I knew my shirt was doing that just to taunt me. I was lost. I had never shopped for clothes on my own before, ever. I thought and thought about how I would do it.

A few minutes later, I was at the check-out counter. My mother had told me to get a couple of bright formal T-Shirts. The shopping lady asked me “Only one black T-Shirt, Sir?”

“Yes, that’s all”

As I stepped out, I had a feeling of relief sweep over. I could see better and my breathing came back to normal. I would be getting married soon. When I tell my wife  “I love you, my sweet excel sheet”, I wonder if she’ll actually understand what  a great compliment I’m giving her.

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And there was light

I’d had a bad office day. My sis had given me a long list of items that I was supposed to stuff down my throat to get rid of a bad depression. It was these items that I balanced in my hands as I walked into my building.

My building has two entrances. The main and more commonly used entrance faces the main road. The other entrance faces another building and is rarely used. A few seconds after I’d entered through the main entrance and made my way towards the lift, the door of the opposite entrance swung open. Just as I punched the button for “Up”, a very cute South-East asian girl* walked in. I didn’t remember seeing her before, but after a bad day my mind was moving in slow motion* in any case.

The lift had begun its slow journey from the 9th floor and I was wondering if there was something polite that I could mention to the lady once we got in. My hopes were dashed when, as the lift passed 5, the main door opened* and an Indian guy about my age wearing a green T-shirt walked in and stood to my right. For some reason, I could see the girl out of the corner of my eye on my left, looking at me out of the corner of her eye*.

The lift broke the uneasy silence between us as it Ting-ed and showed us its interiors. The girl got in first and headed to the far left corner. I let the guy pass me and stand near the buttons at the near left. I walked in last and moved into the near right.

He punched 5*. My hands were full so I said to the guy, “Could you please push 4 for me please,4 ?”
He hesitated but then he did. Since the girl was away from the button I waited for her to call her floor. Instead, she stood and stared at the floor.

Like she didn’t know where she wanted to go!

My mind was confused. I almost was about to ask her which floor she wanted to go to, when I noticed the guy staring at his feet as well.

Oh!

OH!!!

The lift Tinged again at 4. Neither of my journey companions moved. Neither of their of eyes left the floor. I got out.

Everything is Illuminated.

In case you didn’t get it, go back and read again.

Pay attention to the *s.

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One of the unstated purposes of this blog is to ensure that the readers are exposed to certain topics which they may not have come across in the normal course of the day.

In my earlier article, I had discussed about the ironical twist that while Saudi women were beginning to a semblance of freedom, the women of the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan were slipping more into dark ages.

Pakistan’s neighbor, the Taliban over-run country of Afghanistan has taken the deploration of women’s rights to an all new low. The President of the country, Hamid Karzai, signed a law that legalizes rape of women in the country.

This is not a gag, he actually did that.

Article 132 of the law states that a it is legally permissible for a man to have sexual intercourse with his wife whenever he wants even if she refuses it.

Women therefore have been reduced to mere objects like a plate or a pair of slippers which can be used by a man whenever he would want to. Using the term women’s freewill in places like this would be an oxymoron.

In case you are wondering whether a legal / political system in Afghanistan did not object to this before the President signed, it is interesting to know how the bill came to his table. The law was debated by 249 members of the Lower House, which incidentally had 68 women also, some of whom (get ready for this) voted for the law.

It is even more saddening to go a step back a little more and understand why this happened now. The bill had been lying dormant for more than a year, when suddenly it was pursued with renewed interest by the President. Not coincidentally, the elections are right around the corner and passing this law would ingratiate him with the minority Shia community and thus strengthen his allied stand in the elections. The law was not read in the Upper House (1) and when the members of the lower house voted for the bill they had no idea what they were voting for(2).

burkaWomen in Afghanistan, are required to wear blue burqas wherever they go. They are not allowed to be schooled. Now if they want to leave the house alone, they would have to take the permissions of their husbands. If all this was not enough, they have been reduced to nothing more than a cigarette -to be used whenever the pleasure is desired and snuffed under the foot immediately after.

One can completely agree with the statement of Afghan parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi, “In Afghanistan the sacrifice in political games in women and children.”

Do you think there is any hope for the women Afghanistan? Where will it come from? Have you seen any other instance where women’s rights have turned around for their betterment? Share your views.

(2) CNN
Picture reproduced from http://peacecorpsonline.org/

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Abra forever

This post has nothing to do with any item of clothing. Go back here for what you were searching for.

“Two roads diverged in the woods and I,
I took the one with the lesser toll, and that has made all the difference.”

I have been in the UAE for more than a year now. Yet I have never ventured to the famous Dubai Creek. It brings back a lot of childhood memories. Memories that have faded now, but stuff that comes back sometimes. The Dubai Creek is a passage of water of that divides two very important parts of Dubai – Deira and Bur Dubai. While one can use many of the motor bridges and tunnel to cross this passage of water, there is one way one way which brings back too many memories. That way is the Abra.

The Abra is a small motorized ferry service to cross the creek. Made of rickety wood, it has been in service ever since people can remember. There are many of them that pile up on either side to make the short journey from one side of the river to the other. All kinds of people pile up on the Abra. Men, women, children, Pakistanis, Indian, Americans, Europeans. Everyone is equal on the Abra for the short 5 minute journey. Everyone is one dirham. What a wonderful world that is.

I usually try to make it to the temple in Bur Dubai on the weekends. This weekend I parked on the Deira side. I was afraid to ask where the Abra taxi point was, as this was as common knowledge as knowing which country you were in. I mustered up some courage and asked a super-polite Bangladeshi who pointed me in the right direction.

When I reached there, I asked a Filipino lady if I had to get a ticket. She raised an eyebrow, then smiled when she realized I was genuinely asking and smiled when she told me “Everyone pay one dirham, go past!”

Just when I made it to the taxi point, a boat pulled up. The tamil guy driving it jumped out as it bumped its way along the quay to come to a halt. He whistled and everyone ran. Not like for a Mumbai train, no! Everyone ran in a line. I prayed I would get the seat in front. I intended to click away to glory. I was lucky. The guy walked around and collected his

As we made away across the beautiful, glimmering waters it struck me that I was the making a journey made by another man roughly my age some years ago. I choked on the thoughts, but a boat passed us, and the people waved and took our photos as we returned the favor. The sun was setting fast and the long fingers of sunlight caressed the water as our boat patiently cut across. All around boats were going up and down.

I reached the other side and found that the Abra taxi point on the Bur Dubai was very close to the temple. It actually dropped one of right in the middle of a renovated souq area.

I was expecting the journey back to be even more breath-taking. I wasn’t disappointed, not in the least. The sun had left for the day, and the moon was out on patrol. While I couldn’t have the pleasure of a full moon, there was still enough of it to lighten things up. As we made our way back, lots and lots of gulls flew past our boat, forgetting that we were there, and changing their flight paths only at the last second. As the light completely withdrew, formation after formation of gulls made their way across the sky.

The lights were on all over. The big boats that were looking so dull when I had arrived, had now lit up with colorful lights. They offered Dhow cruises – a night dinner for people, while driving gently along the Creek.

You can see more pics of the trip at my photoblog.

As I reached my car, I realized that the trip has been wonderful for one important reason. In 2 hours, I had traveled my land, sea and air. I drove my car, rode the Abra and my heart soared.

When I came back home, I searched for the one pic of that guy who had made his way down the creek years ago.

~ From ~

Somebody Sr.

~ To ~

Somebody Jr.

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Q: What does your home say to you?

A: Everytime I get home, I scream “Honey, I’m hooooome!!!”. Unfortunately, I live alone and the honey bottle in the fridge is aware of this. I imagine that bottle of honey let’s out of an unconcealed sigh of despair, and tells everyone else in the fridge who cares to listen – “When will that guy grow up and get hitched to someone?”

Dumb answer, you think?

Won me 250 AED (Rs 3,375) worth of furniture from a call-in contest at the local radio station.

Joy! Joy! Joy! 🙂

On an unrelated note, here’s a nice one:-

Barry Marlow married Stephanie Mary.

They had a daughter.

They named her Rose.

Rose Mary Marlow.

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Bank on us, please

We were at an internationally reputed bank yesterday, where I have my personal account and more to the point, our company has it’s corporate account.

We, meaning the finance manager of our company and I, were chatting with the relationship manager of the bank, when he suddenly thought it would be a good idea to get the bank’s corporate wealth manager to present some ideas to us, which according to him, should be able to show some innovative ways in these tired and difficult times. Not that we wanted to hear him, but it was pointed out to me that we had some more time on out parking meter, so we thought it would be a good idea to stick around.

The Corporate wealth manager (CWM) came in and the conversation went like this:-

CWM:- Pleased to meet you. Bad situation these days isn’t it?

Me:- weird opening, but I’ll tow the line Yes, it is.

CWM:- People losing their jobs everywhere and companies going through a crunch and all that

Me:- maybe he’s chatting me up Yes, very bad. Very, terribly bad. (Trying to be Hugh Grant-esque)

CWM:- So how is your company doing? Must be very difficult, the times are just not right these days for business.

Me:- Okay, he’s fishing for info (I was wrong – he wanted me to say we were in a bad position) We’re actually doin okay.

CWM:- That’s nice. I’m sure these days a company would consider a flat line to be a sign of growth.

My finance manager chuckles

Me:- Well, to be very honest, we’re growing pretty well actually.

CWM:- Looks like he’s seen the ghost of Benjamin Franklin on a dollar bill Really, what business are you into?

Me:- Well, toiletries and cosmetics. You know, soaps and stuff.

CWM:- Well, people must have their bath, mustn’t they? Laughs at his bad joke which is usually my bad joke Good for you! But our people are really suffering these days. The economy is in real bad shape. The government here doesn’t realize that when our brothers leave here, they take their money and go. Their family also goes. That is a big blow to the economy. Which bank do you bank with , other than our bank?

Me:- Actually, all our money is with your bank. You guys have been our number one since we opened shop and we haven’t seen the need to change thus far.

Such a statement would deserve some chest puffing from the CWM but I was surprised when he went

CWM:- Oh! with such a pained look – Why? That became clear later

CWM:- Yes things are very bad. And there are ways to make it better…

Me:- Here it comes. I could see a master at work. The perfect salesman chatting up his customer to the point where he would make his offer-that-I-couldn’t-refuse sales pitch. Being a salesman myself at many levels, I was eagerly waiting for the pitch to come with the best dopey expression I could muster on my face.

CWM:- I would tell you to invest in the stock market. But actually, you shouldn’t trust someone who asks you to invest in the stock market, especially not in this country. You can never really trust what’s going to happen here. I wouldn’t if I were you. But there are better ways of course…

Me:- I can’t for wait it!!!

CWM:- Actually, the bank is trying to increase it’s liquidity position and we are looking for new accounts and fresh deposits. Is there any way you can consider increasing your deposits with us?

That was the sum, the substance and the entire tragic gamut of his sales-pitch to us.

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