Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Declare or Dump

Australia has really weird regulations on stuff you bring into the country. Perhaps their fears are justified, but it just seems so bizarre and such suspicious, high-moral ground behaviour that it annoyed me no end. Especially when we had about 10 points on the immigration form where we were asked about what sort of stuff we were bringing into Australia, right from plants and plant extracts (I declared Darjeeling Tea!) to the soil stuck on your shoes!!! Huge posters at the airport announce "Declare it or Dump It". Sniffer dogs come and take a whiff at your baggage as you wait in a serpentine queue that only seems to belong in Indian airports. And it worried me so much because I kept thinking of stuff I may have in my bag that I take for granted which may just arouse suspicion because I never thought to declare it. I was carrying some vibhuti - that sacred ash from Shirdi Sai Baba's temple and it's always in my bag. So I suddenly began wondering whether the x-ray might spot it and then I'd have to admit that yes, it is a plant derivaative after all and okay, please take me to jail!

Since I am not writing this from jail you can safely assume that the vibhuti cleared customs without any incidents! Tata people.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The "Fast" Life

It's Ramadan time. Dubai, being less Middle-Easty than most other Middle East type places, has free zones, such as where my office is, which allow restaurants to serve food during the day though in a place like Saudi Arabia you wouldn't even get a drink of water if you asked for it (which you shouldn't).

Apparently police vans patrol the streets and you can be unpleasantly reprimanded if you are seen eating or drinking in public, even in Dubai. The food court near my office has set up cane screens behind which it's business as usual. As you walk through suddenly narrower corridors, you can catch glimpses of people eating, of hear the clink of cutlery, smell food being cooked, but it's all covert, so you are not seen to be eating, drinking or smoking in public.

I have always known I could never fast. It definitely wouldn't bring me closer to my inner soul or to God or anything but starvation. But I respect people who can do it, even if I haven't always noticed them. Growing up as a majority member in India - a Hindu - in a big city like Delhi, I never had to adjust or accommodate another culture's constraints. At least, it never inconvenienced me before. Muslim friends have fasted around me. Christians have given up a favorite item during Lent. Hindus have gone vegetarian during Navratra. Life just went on.

But being in Dubai during Ramadan, you cannot miss what's going on. Restaurants are closed outside the free zones. There are smoking tents set up in the public areas of the free zenes so that can puff away without offending others. You can't drink water in public or even chew gum. At iftar time it's impossible to get a taxi because most cab drivers are eager to go and pray and then break their fast. There are huge Ramadan tents set up across the city where iftar banquets are served up daily. And when I go for my daily (okay, okay, weekly) evening walk/jog, I work up a sweat even as my nostrils register grilled chicken and french fries cooking at the nearby Ramadan tent. Work ends at 4 instead of 6 and everything is slower because you can just say "Ramadan timings".

Anyway, I type all this as Ramadan goes into the last week of fervour and excitement. It's Eid on the 2nd I believe, and the city is gearing up for a week of holidays. And, I am gearing up for vacation! This post is being written from the AbuDhabi airport, where I will shortly board a flight to Sydney. After 15 hours of non-stop flying while my knees get bent at a 90 degree angle for eternity, we will be welcomed by Anando's brother and family for 10 days of fun, camping and sight-seeing. And of course, food anytime, anywhere. Let the fun times begin. I AM ON VACATION!!!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Unidentified Objects

I was at McDonald's yesterday. And a white man sitting at a nearby table suddenly attracted the attendant's attention. Pointing to a black bag left at an empty table, he said something.

After Saturday's events in Delhi, I froze a little, even though I am sitting safe and sound in far-off Dubai. I was impressed that he was so alert, pointing out an abandoned bag to the staff. I smiled at him.

Only when he looked blankly at me did I realise that he had just been pointing out something that may have been forgotten by its owner. Whereas I sprang to the conclusion that he was being a vigilant civilian pointing out a possible threatening object.

They say we go on. That we are indifferent. That this is oblivion and hard-heartedness. But we change. In small ways. In what we expect. In conclusions we jump to. In judgements we make. And that is the worst change of them all.

What can we do? The media were complaining that people just pick up the pieces and move on. But what would they want us to do? Sit at home? That's not life. So if moving on, if making a few phone calls to check that our loved ones are fine, before going back to our lives means we are immune, then so be it.

Yes, we pick up the pieces. But some pieces are shattered so fine that we never find them in the aftermath of a tragedy. We just rebuild with some chinks and carry on. For some of us the chinks are chunks of emptiness. For the rest of us, they are still chinks, thankfully. And may they remain that way.

Friday, September 12, 2008

An Important Parcel

He strode into the lobby of a small-time Dubai hotel. Approaching the reception desk, he said "There's a parcel left here for me by a colleague who was your guest last week. It's addressed to ___" The clerk rises to his feet, looks a little confused, consults with some others, and says, "Just a minute, Sir."

The young man waits, impatient. There's a taxi waiting for him outside and his wife is in it. He really needs that parcel in a hurry. He's had to go out of his way to pick up this package, and he can't afford to come again. The one-week wait has been long enough.

Meanwhile, the clerk and a few others are looking puzzled and unsure of what to do. The young man receives a call and wanders off to a corner of the lobby as the hotel staff buzz without arriving at a conclusion. Finally, the call ends and they approach him worriedly, "Sir, it's in the store room, and the key can't be located." Without waiting to see if this angers him, they hurry to assure him, "But we've called for the carpenter to come, Sir. He's on his way. He'll break the lock."

The young man nods and looks at his watch. His wife peers anxiously from the taxi into the lobby to see what's taking so long. The taxi driver grumbles a bit, then turns to the radio for solace. There has been some trouble in his country and a shrill-voiced woman protests in Urdu that the only way to stop men like these is to have someone like Phoolan Devi to stand against them. The wife is intrigued, forgetting about her husband and the parcel and the long wait.

In the lobby, the carpenter has arrived. The clerk briefs him, he nods. In a timely manner, the senior manager walks in. "What's going on?" he asks, as if to establish that he is the problem-solver in the building.

The situation is explained. The man looks annoyed and produces a key from his pocket.

The door is opened. The parcel retrieved. The young man receives it with thanks and hurries out. His wife asks, "What took so long?" He outlines it briefly and asserts, "But we got it."

She's looking at him in shock. "You'd have let them break the door?" she asks.

"Sure," Anando replies. "He brought the packet all the way from India for me, as a favour."

"But still!!!" I protest. He shrugs. I understand, I am compelled by the same attraction for the contents of this package as is Anando.

Obviously, nothing gets between us and our Sunfeast Glucose biscuits.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Standing Together

They could spend ages on the balcony, staring at traffic and life passing by till the day darkened and they came back indoors, to turn on the lamps, switch on the light in the prayer room, and get busy with an evening routine. The old woman would prepare dinner. The young girl would study for a while or watch TV before getting up to help with the rotis just before dinner. Long chats, family gossip, histories, mysteries, nostalgia, curiosity.

It has been a year now since the girl stands alone. Or at least, so she thinks. She hopes. She prays. And the face that flickers on the photograph by the memorial candle smiles knowingly.

Teppan-yaki, Teppan-yummy

Sukh Sagar opened near our house a month back. Anando and I had watched with keen interest as the shop was readied for its opening, droolingly anticipating a homely food experience in Dubai. We kept track of when the tables were set up, when the tablecloths were laid, when chairs were brought in. If one of us walked past the restaurant we'd report the visible progress to the other.

Finally it opened, and a friend who had eaten 3 meals there in 2 days urged us to try the "all you can eat Teppanyaki dosa", recommending it highly.

"All you can eat" is always music to the ears, and yesterday we strode purposefully to check out what all the fuss was about. To watch the teppanyaki dosas being created, we perched on bar stools, banana leaf covering our plates kept on the bar counter, as the chef deftly served us rounds of a mind-boggling dosa variety! Mushroom, spinach and cheese, Szechwan, rawa, and so many more I can't remember. I was quite excited about the whole concept of teppanyaki dosa now that I could smell it, and peering over the counter, I watched as the man cooked up the crisp marvels.

And then, I realised, this wasn't new at all. I had been eating teppanyaki dosa since the age of 9! The school canteen cooked dosas in front of us at lunch time! Back then, being given money rather than a lunch box was always a special occasion, with the pride and maturity I felt at being allowed to handle money to buy a meal. I'd check my pockets all day to make sure the coins hadn't fallen out. If it was a note, it would be carefully tucked in my pencil box. And at lunch time, trying to appear nonchalant, I would enter our high-ceilinged, bustling canteen.

I still remember the faces of those dosa-makers. tall, dark, moustached - they would scoop out the dosa paste with a bowl, tap it on the griddle to create a small, puffy circle of not-yet-dosa, and then, flipping the bowl over, would use its base to spread, spread, spread the paste outwards, creating a solar-system shaped, crisp dosa that was brown on the outside and white on the inside. A quick two-scoop of masala aloo, and my dosa was on my plate, and drowning in sambhar before I could voice my objection. I watched that process in fascination for 7 years, growing from the tiptoe-height of the flame to a height where I could look down on my lunch being prepared.

Sometimes it would be Narayan making the dosas. Versatile Narayan - who was my bus conductor on PV 11 when I first joined school, and assured my parents I would reach the correct classroom, who brought in trays of water glasses during exams, grinning conspiratorially at the kids taking advantage of the temporary break to peek at other papers or sneak in a quick consultation, who updated us on cricket scores on days we were unwillingly at school while cricketing history (or so we thought) was being made elsewhere, whose moustache is finally turning grey and whose hair is at last thinning.

So what made the dosas last night especially yummy was the memories that sizzled off the griddle and wafted me back in time - when bliss meant having a jingling 2 Rupees in your pocket for a hot, hearty meal.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Elevator Etiquette

He was on the phone as he entered the elevator. It was just the 2 of us. He hung up and both of us watched the floor-display like our lives depended on it. As his floor arrived, he stepped out briskly, but not before smiling widely at me and saying "Have a great day then." I was taken aback and said "fjghafklgh" with a feeble smile but by then he had left already.

Our Bombay apartment had one of those old-fashioned, sliding grill-door lifts, which had a one-track mind. So if Floor 5 called it, and on its way from Floor 1 to Floor 5 it also registered a request from Floor 3, it would ignore it happily, gliding in its transparent empty splendour, mocking the waiting passenger on Floor 3, before drawing up - a worthy, loyal chariot - on Floor 5. Floor 3 and 5 would then play a game of one-upmanship. Once Floor 5 got in and slid the door shut, the lift was fair game for everyone. So if Floor 5 hesitated even a second before hitting the "G" button, and Floor 3 hit the "call" button first, the lift would forget all about the Floor 5 passenger standing in it, and fly off to Floor 3. Of course, if Floor 5 hit "G" first, Floor 3 could "call" the lift endlessly, but the lift wouldn't deign to go to it before safely depositing Floor 5 at G.

So when you come from a place where the person in the lift is your rival, and has established their superiority by winning at "First-press-first-serve", politeness in lifts is a bit alien!

Elevators are funny places. Everyone tries to find a little space for themselves on the ride. Of course, it's the four corners that get occupied first. Then the middle, then the middle back, and then middle front. Anyone who comes in after that destroys the balance and necessitates a collapse of public space boundaries that most people find uncomfortable. (Of course, if you've done 5 years of higher studies hanging in a DTC then elbow room is a luxury, so I'm more relaxed than many.)

But what I find even funnier in elevators in Dubai, and elsewhere outside India, is the social code. The Westerners usually nod/smile/say good morning. The Indians rarely bother. The Arabs never do. The others fall somewhere / anywhere in between. And so, I am never sure whether to say it first. I have on occasion brightly smiled and met with a blank face. I have tried to strike up conversations and realised language was a problem. And then I feel really stupid. Like, who tries to make friends on a 15-second elevator ride anyway? And come on, isn't it totally mechanical to do this anyway? I don't get the whole smile-when-you-get in/stare-at-your-feet/ watch-your-phone/stare-at-the-floor-display /inspect-your-nails/smaile-when-you-get-out funda. I mean, really it's just a half-hearted social thing to do. In India, with how many people and for how long do you just smile and move on? Sooner rather than later they will find out whether you had an arranged marriage and where your family is from.

Here, you could smile at the same woman in the lift everyday and never go further than that. And I am never sure what the other person expects. I guess this comes from my whole personality flaw of always wanting people to like me. So if I decide to smile and the other just looks taken aback, I feel silly. Or if I decide to just look at the wall the other will turn out to be a social butterfly and give me a happy grin and make a general remark about the weather, and then I look anti-social. Me anti-social? ME? ME? I am then seized by the urge to restrain them from leaving the elevator, talk to them about a while to establish just how social I am, and then let them go their way. Thankfully I have not tried it yet.

Too much pressure. What do you do in the lift? I know, I know, all you sane people out there will say, just smile anyway. Reminds me of that T-shirt "Smile at a stranger, it'll scare them silly." I'm not sure I really want to practise that.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


from A Muser

Someone once told me that every blogger is extremely self-conscious while writing, because you know that the world is reading what you write. I completely agree - after all, every individual who gets out of bed every morning is a self-conscious being, "preparing a face to meet the faces that you meet...", dressing a certain way, speaking a certain way, being a certain way. Even if you profess that you don't care what people think, that too is a face.

And so, when my blogging face gets a really cool recognition like this, it sure makes me smile! I started this blog on an August evening in 2004. What is this blogger deal, I had wondered. Candy was already blogging at a different location and she is the first blogger I knew. I can write, I thought, so why not start this? And so I did. And then it carried on, very slowly and sporadically, until I found myself in Dubai last year, newly married, newly freelancing, newly questioning how I wanted to live the rest of my adult "settled life". And then I wrote, jerky writing at first, but soon my thoughts flowed faster, I wrote more, and I found some great, likeminded people on the web who were generous with compliments (so important for an aspiring writer) and seemed to find the time to read my ramblings.

There is so much about my life that I keep private on this blog, using it more as a platform to present thoughts and observations through my writing, rather than my innermost secrets. But I guess if you're still reading myramblings you've liked what you have seen, and A Muser has decided that I deserve this. I had been seeing this award on other blogs and was wishing, hoping, rationalising. "It's not so different, my template." "I don't blog that often." "I'm not doing anything new that earns me this award." I consoled myself!

And then, this morning - taraaaaaaa!

Now, to do my bit by passing it on to at least 7 others:

  • Tharini: Who writes with love, wisdom, and that mix of knowledge and curiosity that keeps me coming back! I love her template, the way her photos have wavy edges, and how pretty her blog looks.
  • Itisha: Whose blog design is so perfect for the sort of posts she writes - cute, but often wry and amused at herself - that the upside down flower cannot be beaten for aptness.
  • Sandeepa: Who I am sure has been given this award before. Because she takes the best pictures of food and has such an eye for color in the way she puts up her photos, and whose recipe for pineapple malpua makes my mouth water even though I read it a year ago and have never tried it!
  • Orange Jammies: Who can make me laugh at feel jealous with her writing skill and her control over words.
  • Kathy: Who cares for her 80-year-old father and has still not let him realize he has Alzheimer's, keeping his spirit and dignity intact, and also helping others find information and a laugh nearly every morning.
  • Eve's Lungs: For articulating what often seem to be my thoughts!
  • Kiran: For her ability to laugh at herself - supermom and super-exasperated mom at the same time!

Well that's it from me, regular transmission will resume from tomorrow!

This award is for blogs whose content and/or design are brilliant as well as creative.The purpose of the prize is to promote as many blogs as possible in the blogosphere.

1. When you receive the prize you must write a post showing it, together with the name of who has given it to you, and link them back
2. Choose a minimum of 7 blogs (or even more) that you find brilliant in their content or design.
3. Show their names and links and leave them a comment informing they were prized with ‘Brilliant Weblog’
4. Show a picture of those who awarded you and those you give the prize (optional).
5. And then we pass it on!

Blog winners, you know what to do!