Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why Me (Incident # 2684982)

I had an Anamika episode this morning. That's about all that can explain the "why me" feeling I frequently experience.

I eventually reached office, unscathed, a free woman - my dignity creeping back to normal. Thinking, "Well, of course I will blog about it, but I don't have to go out of my way to tell Anando." And I get a call from him. The man actually snickers on the phone and says "tsk tsk...chhee chhee...". And I know. Word has got around. Oh well. I wait. "How did you find out?" I ask.

"I was in the gym, and the guy at the reception came and told me, 'Sir, your wife is stuck in the bathroom.'" Of course, Anando in his oh-my-god-my-poor-wife sympathy (NOT) asked "still?" I can just imagine him barely blinking or missing a step on the machine as he received this report. His only concern, is the ordeal over? And, how many of the fellow gymmers heard this guy make my wife sound like a 2-year-old?

I plead guilty. Here's what happened.

Anando and I usually get to the gym around 7.20 am. This being Dubai, there are separate halls for men and women. I walked in, smiled at the lone girl in the gym whom I see sometimes, and walked ahead to the locker area. She was not wearing earphones, I noted. And that knowledge helped when I was screaming my lungs out about 80 seconds later.

Aside: It's a boring gym. Very few people come in except for the aerobics sessions in the evenings. Mornings, especially Thursdays, are very quiet. The music player only works when the staff handle it, the air-conditioning makes a lot of noise, the water heater is often out of order, but in these recessionary times I guess we'll take what we get.

Okay, so I got to the locker, put away my bag and stepped into the toilet (got to get rid of that 500 ml of water I drink first thing each morning). Now, I have a horror of getting locked in a public toilet so I always check the door lock before shutting myself in. Did that too. Then I turned towards the toilet and realised it wasn't quite usable. (Let's just say the previous user had poor civic sense.)

So I turned to get out and enter a different cubicle, only to see that I was locked in! Hmmm....Let's try this one more time. No, it really doesn't work. So I am actually locked in.

First thoughts: embarrassing.
Second thoughts: thank goodness that girl is on the treadmill outside.
Third thoughts: She may have walked out.
Fourth thoughts: Her bag was in the changing room, so she will come back.
Fifth thought: EXCUSE ME....
(As you can see, by now I was thinking aloud. Very very aloud.)
The fifth thought turned into a sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth...nth....And finally I heard someone approaching.

Anyway, it was all under control after that. The guy at the reception was called in. He took a look at the door and me (there's a crack between the door and door frame) and said "I'll just be back." (I thought then that he went to fetch help, but now I think he went to tell Anando.) He came back with a spray (no label) and sprayed it at the lock from outside. I couldn't believe it. I thought it might be some sort of acid that just magically, MI-3' ishly melts away metal. But then he passed it to me through the gap between the door and the roof, and asked me to do the same. I still don't know what he planned to do with that. When that didn't work, he went off again.

Eventually I rescued myself. I discovered that the knob was loose. So I pulled it out entirely. And went at the screw below it. And a few seconds and half a fingernail later I was free. Just as the mechanic was walking in. Hah! I dusted my hands and looked a bit aggrieved in an "it's okay" effect. And said nonchalantly "You had better put an 'out of order' sign on that door."

Profuse apologies followed from the staff. When they left I admitted my desperation and offered profuse thanks to my knight in shining armor. (Okay, so she was a girl in stretch pants.) She said she had barely heard the sound over the noise of her treadmill. (Next person who calls me loud please take note. I can't be loud to save my life. Ahem) And first thought it was coming from outside. I am so glad she chose to stop, catch her breath, and investigate. If she hadn't been at the gym this morning I'd have been stuck in the loo till I don't know when. And it wasn't even a clean loo. If I'd been there all day, I might even have cleaned it. My office would have missed me. But I don't know if they'd have called Anando. And so I may have been there till, let's see...tomorrow's Friday and the gym is closed on Fridays....

Okay, I'm alive. Let's celebrate that this weekend.

And oh, these embarrassing things have happened before. Enjoy.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Desert Rain

...has a surprise element, and so it fascinates and energises the spirit more than monsoon rain.

What can be more pleasant a surprise than to wake up on a Dubai April morning, when summer is mustering its batallions to plague us, and find the pitter-patter of raindrops on windows, to open the doors expecting a blast of hot air, but to be caressed by a seductive breeze instead, to dash for shade from the harsh sun, only to find clouds dogging your steps as you dodge puddles and let the raindrops kiss your arms.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

India Helps

A classic example of getting started. I am humbled by the quiet determination of the people who have put this organisation together in the last 4 months. Please spread the word.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Here Kitty

My description of the exciting jungle safaris in Zambia appeared in today's Business Standard, on page 10. Do take a look! Unfortunately I don't know how to show you the epaper, only people who are registered can see it! So this is just the web version.

Edited to add: Now that it's old news, read it here:

A thrilling hunt for big cats in the tranquil jungles of Zambia.

An inattentive passerby might ignore the innocent patch of Nile cabbage on the swampy lagoon, as it mysteriously moves towards the shore. But in the jungle, survival depends on sharp sight. So I focus my city eyes carefully on the limp leaves, watching in fascination as an enormous, slimy, blubbery back rises out of the water in the semi-dark, pushing the cabbage aloft, and a hippopotamus heads off to sleep, ending a busy day spent soaking in the mud.
This watering hole which we are scouting for wildlife lies in the South Luangwa National Park in north-eastern Zambia. Lush green and thriving along the sluggish and impossibly winding Luangwa River, the park has a tremendous variety of birds and animals living in 9,050 square kilometres of protected forest, full of baobabs, mopane, leadwood and other trees. It offers near-certain sightings of four of Africa’s “big five” — lions, leopards, elephants and buffalos. The notable exception is the two-horned rhino, found elsewhere in Africa.
We start to ask a question when a shrieking yellow baboon destroys the silence of the rapidly darkening forest, followed by a sudden, low growl. Paul, our forest guide, announces, “Leopard,” and starts the engine.
Moses, his assistant, beams a powerful spotlight in an arc before us, splitting the blackness as his namesake once split the sea, and our necks swing in tandem, following the light. The anticipation mingles with slight fear… it could be anywhere in the dark, on top of the baobab tree, for instance, that we’re driving below. As the engine slows over a bump, the leopard growls again, closer, and the baboon repeats its warning. “Mating call, that means we might see two leopards,” Paul comments. Sheer foolhardiness, says my cautious self, city mortals actively hunting out a big cat in the shroud of darkness. There’s no question of a stealthy approach; the engine roars as Paul drives through the tall grass, dodging bushes and revving over small shrubs in pursuit of the elusive feline.
Then we turn a bend, and come upon the leopards lying in a clearing, unsurprised.
I realise they are waiting for us. And I feel small and insignificant before them. They really don’t care. They could have disappeared by this time, alerted by our noisy approach and human smell, but they don’t dignify our presence with an escape. Our intrusion is the same irritant as the fly they swat with sheathed claws. One blinks drowsily in the light, and when the paparazzi camera annoys, it rises majestically and merges into the bushes just beyond, inviting his mate elsewhere. There are babies to make and a magnificent lineage to continue. And we are left, with silly grins, a few beads of sweat, and some dark photos.
The next morning we are greedy again. Zebras, giraffes, hippos, crocs, check, check, check, check. Elephants, check. Buffalos, check. Leopards, check. What about lions? Poor Paul has never been far from the forest for longer than three weeks and loves each animal equally, showing us a microscopic bee-eater bird with as much excitement as he devotes to the gangly giraffe blocking our way. But bloodthirsty city-dwellers that we are, we want our money’s worth. “Where are the lions?” we whine after politely photographing an endless variety of impalas, pukus, and other herbivorous, harmless forest residents. “Look, yellow-billed oxpecker,” Paul says, to distract us. My brother grumbles at the back: “South Luangwa Bird Sanctuary.”
Then, as we sulkily watch a bunch of grazing Bambis, the wireless radio crackles and Paul throws the gear (and us) into reverse. The previous day he has told us that the 11-seater, modified-for-the-jungle Landcruiser can race at up to “100 ks” (no one in Zambia says kilometers). Today, we take his word for it, especially since the speedometer is broken, showing zero even as we whiz through speed-blurred, thick forest.
When Paul races past a lilac-breasted roller bird without pointing it out to us, we know he’s on a mission. And after 10 minutes of silence as we speculate on where he’s leading us, we turn into a clearing and see the Big Cats for the first time.

It is a pride of 12 lions from far-off Bushcamp Lodge, which has surprisingly found its way to Mopane Spur, Paul informs us. They are feasting on the remnants of a zebra. Well-fed, they stagger over to the shade, while white-headed vultures start circling overhead for the feast.
Four safari cars are parked haphazardly and cameras click crazily. While the younger lions stretch out lazily in the sun, belly up, the older lions watch us, wary yellow eyes making sure we don’t try any primate business. After several minutes, they all disappear for a nap into the innocuous shrubs behind them. Show’s over. Half-heartedly, and with many backward glances, we turn away. We have left the lions in their home, and now it is time for us to return to ours.