25 April 2007

Arabian Nights

Na main moman vich maseetan
Na main vich kufar dian reetan
Na main pakan vich paleetan
Na main andar bed-kitaban
Na main rehnda bhang-sharaban
Na main rehnda mast-kharaban

Bulla ki jaana main kaun
-Bulla Shah (18th century Sufi saint)

March 2004, Hyderabad
In the beginning

“Is this Ravi Lobo?” someone had called me on my cell.
“Yes?” – I asked.
“Ravi, I am calling from Polaris software, we have an opening in Bahrain for the post of SQL Server DBA, if you are interested I can arrange for a technical interview?”

That’s how it went. I was not very keen on a job opportunity in Middle East. My room mate suggested to ask for a dream salary, so that the target company will reject me eventually.

I did the same thing, I cleared the interview and asked for a ridiculously high salary. To my horror and later surprise Polaris accepted the salary what I asked for and that’s how I ended up in Bahrain!

I had never been outside India and I didn’t know where Bahrain located, on the map. I searched for Bahrain in Atlas and could not find it, that is because it is a very small country. It is the smallest Arab nation in the world!

Later I searched about the country on the net and found many interesting things. Bahrain is an archipelago with 33 islands. It is such a small island, that you are never far from sea.

The word Bahrain means 2 seas. There are sweet water streams in Bahrain, and the country is surrounded by salt water. That’s why the name - two seas.

The population of the country is slightly more than 6 lac, out of which 2 lac are expatriates. There is literally no cultivation, the land is arid with less than 1% farming. Desert constitutes 92% of Bahrain!

Bahrain was once, proposed as the site of the Biblical Garden of Eden!

It is the first country in Middle East to discover oil. Also it is the only country in Middle East to host Formula one race.

It has the best exchange rate for Indian currency after Kuwati Dinars. One Bahraini Dinar is almost 120 Indian Rs. Can you imagine winning a lottery of 1 lac Dinars? You will be a millionaire!

On air
Nothing happened on air, except for a very funny accent of air-hostesses. For a brief moment I was under the impression that the in-flight announcement is in Arabic. Later when I listened carefully I found out that the announcement is in Hindi!

Air-hostesses speak Hindi in a very funny accent. I have visited almost all the Hindi speaking parts of India but never heard this kind of accent!

There was an interesting demonstration of what needs to be done in case of emergency landing on sea. I watched the demo carefully, I didn’t want to be the - Ignorant, if such an event occurs!

April 2004, Bahrain
“Salaam Alaikum” – Immigration officer said.
“Pardon me sir, I know only English” I said politely.
“Welcome to Bahrain” he said.
“Thank you!”
That’s when I decided to learn at least few words of Arabic, in case I am lost and need to ask for directions.

Eagle has landed
First thing I noticed when I came out of airport is that, Arabs drive on the wrong side! This is the first taste of so many things the Arabs do in opposite ways compared to rest of the world!

The roads are straight, spotless and beautiful! Vehicles move with a very high speed.

The country is full of shopping complexes, sky scrapers, beautiful roads, but almost no greenery. It could be boring sometimes away from nature.

I have never seen so many mosques in one place. The country is full of them. Interestingly there are prayer rooms everywhere even in shopping malls and movie theaters. You can pray there during the prayer time or for that matter anytime.

Arabs are well built, good looking and have large families.

Most of the Arabs are simple minded and easy going people. You will rarely see an Arab - advanced Java programmer!

I have never seen so many people in Burqa - anytime, anywhere!

Day to day life

The climate is extremely hot, except in December and Jan. You can not walk the smallest distance. There is almost no rain! In three years that I was in Bahrain I had seen rain less than 10 days.

There are lot of massage centers and fast food corners. Arabs love both! Food is cheap and nutritious. Non vegetarian food is cheaper than vegetarian food!

And the cheapest of all is black gold - Petrol! The one thing, that has made all the difference. The one thing, that has given the Arab region, a presence in the outer world. The gift from God for all the heat, sand and ignorance!

Elephant song
“Have you seen an elephant?” An Arab asked me once. “I mean a real one, not in the TV”

There is virtually no wild life in Bahrain. It has only one zoo, which doesn’t have many animals.

“Yes” I said. “There is a temple back home, and there is one in the temple”

“Have you touched it?” he asked. Touching an elephant!

“No. I didn’t know it is a privilege!” some times Arabs can be funny!

Grand mosque
Grand Mosque is the biggest mosque in Bahrain. I went there with a Muslim friend and was surprised to see that the whole place is almost empty.

“Where is the God? I mean are there not any idols?”

“We believe God doesn’t have a form” my friend answered.

Interesting concept!

Bulla ki jana main kaun?
Once, while shopping one of the persons at the counter asked me – “Are you from Pakistan?” My God! Of all the things!

I have been confused for a North Indian, a Hindu, racist, extremist, atheist etc. etc. In a worst case I don’t mind some one calling me child molester, wife beater, homo, gigolo, nymphomaniac and all those unpronounceable meaningless words, but a Pakistani?

I didn’t know what to say. I lost words.

Politely told the guy that I am not from Pak and no Indian likes to be called as a Pakistani!


Arabs like Hindi movies. They even hum Hindi songs without knowing the meaning. “Have you seen Mera Naam Joker?” One old Arab taxi driver asked me once.

“No, I have not seen it. It is an old movie”

“We used to watch Raj Kapoor movies during those days, Fridays mostly. He was a good actor” he said.

Good old days.

Quid pro quo
The theatres in Bahrain are small, unlike India not crowded. When Mani Rathnam’s YUVA came to Bahrain I was the first to suggest for a movie outing. As usual I was the co-coordinator, so I took the responsibility for booking the tickets.

When I reached the advance booking counter, it was empty!

“It will take some time” the person on the counter said “There is some problem with the computer”

“I know a little about computers “I said “Do you mind if I have a look?”

I went inside the booking cabin and found that one of the databases was not getting started. I solved the problem and also booked the tickets for the group.

Normally I go for a movie well in advance, that too if it is a Mani Rathnam movie I will be the first one on the venue, but that day because of the delay from our group we reached the theatre 10 minutes late. The movie was already started. Except our group there was no one else in the theatre.

I went to the booking counter and introduced myself as the one who solved the database problem.

After pointing that the theatre is empty except for our group politely requested the guy to restart the movie from the beginning!

The guy got convinced and started the movie again. You can not think of doing this in the smallest theatres, in India!


King Fahd causeway is a land link between Saudi and Bahrain. It is 26 KM in length, and is one of the engineering wonders.

You can go for a long drive on this road with maximum speed. The night drive is simply wonderful.

There is going to be a link road between Bahrain and Qatar soon. This will be the longest link road in the world!

Tree of life

The tree of life is a lone tree in the middle of the desert. This is a 400 year old tree! The source of water for this tree is a mystery!

The only reason why I didn’t go to see it is because of the thousands of trees I had already seen in Kinnigoli!

Malabar confusion
Once an Arab asked me “Are you form Kerala country?”. Middle East is so much crowded with Keralites that many of the Arabs are under the impression that Kerala is a country!

Most of the Keralites speak fluent Arabic. I have also seen some Arabs speaking fluent Malayalam! Tit-for-tat!

The most difficult period in Bahrain is the holy month of Ramadan. Everything moves slower during this period. Muslims fast during the day. It is a tough time. They don’t even drink water.

No person who follows fasting can work more than 6 hours per day according to Muslim law. Arabs start working early, by noon everything is closed.

During one of the Ramadan days, Arabs celebrate Gabga. Gabga is an occasion where close members of a family meet to break the fast in the evening. I was invited once for Gabga.

Gabga is celebrated with good, delicious Arabic food. The guests are greeted with Gava, Arabic tea. If one is interested he or she can enjoy shisha, a kind of Hukka.

Arabs prefer khuboos instead of chapattis. They prefer less masala and less spicy food. After the food a good game of Domino follows. Some play chess. Good Arabic music follows and a long night ahead.

In Arabic, Hawar means baby camel. It is also the name of a small Island group belonging to Bahrain. It’s a tourist place almost 45 minutes by ship from the main Island. I went there with wife and fell from a jet-ski in mid sea.

We were floating in mid sea for almost 10 minutes till the coast guards saved me and my wife. That’s when I came out of the rat race and slowed down. Also I wrote my first article on Kinnigoli.com based on the same experience.
King of trivia
Siddartha Basu came to Bahrain to host a nation wide quiz. Naturally I was very enthusiastic, unfortunately my client was not. It was very reluctant to sponsor the entry fee. They were very sure that we were going to lose.

In fact no one came to cheer us for the finals. I along with my partner studied day and night for the quiz. My partner was a kind of eat-drink-and-sleep quiz guy!

We managed a second prize!

“You must be very ill!”
“Yeh” I said “I should have come earlier”. We both were in the hospital. The guy who asked me that question was waiting for the doctor, like me.
“Look you can go ahead of me, I am not in a hurry” That’s how I could see the doctor before him, even though he had come earlier. I met the person later and thanked him again.
“Where are you from?”
“Badin” he said.
“Which part of India it belongs to?” I had never heard of the place.
“It’s not in India”
“It is in Pakistan”

Call of the wild
In between I got US visa. Finally it was time to wind up and move.

Insha Allah
“Salaam Alaikum” – The immigration officer said.
“Wa Alaikum Salaam, Shlonek Ente? “ I said, now not a stranger to day to day Arabic.
“zen, al humdulla. Will you be visiting Bahrain again?”
“Insha Aallah” God willing, I said “some where in future”

From the flight I could identify some of the buildings. They were miniature images becoming smaller. After sometime I could see only blue sea, white clouds, azure sky and finally nothing.

Jan 2007, Kinnigoli
A promise to keep
I have reached Kinnigoli, met my friends, and had some good time. There is not much change. I am on vacation so not much to do. I roam around unknown places on my old bike.

Once I was roaming on my bike and was suddenly forced to apply breaks on a blind turn. And there it was in front of me, blocking half of the road, the mammoth – elephant.

It was a kid, still it was huge! I was bit nervous because here is a giant, if it likes, can lift me easily with my favorite bike and throw aside putting an end to my miserable life!

I didn’t know what to do. For a brief moment our eyes crossed. What is going on in this mammoth’s head?

Before I could do anything, it just forwarded its trunk, may be expecting food. I was bit reluctant, nervous, scared, out of my wits, pushed my hand forward mechanically and finally just touched it.

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