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Humanity is one Race, one Blood

February 16, 2015

Little Little Experiences In Life

I am against evangelists not christians. Against terrorists not muslims. After 4 years in Malaysia, we are in Middle-East for over a decade now. To speak the truth, even if muslims have job reservations here, Arabs treat Hindus as equals or even better than muslims from Pakistan to my limited knowledge. Talent and hardwork and character are what that finally win friends and accolades for you. We don’t have to waste our energies and time to discredit anyone including Pakistan. That, they can take care! We should let our good work speak for us. (Effect of Paul Coelho sigh!)

In Malaysia we have had nicest Malay and Chinese frineds.  Malays were muslims while the Chinese were mostly ‘free thinkers’ or atheists. Very few were christians or buddhists. Similarly here in the gulf, we move in a multi-lingual, multinational crowd. Avoid Madarasis if we can. Because all our folks are interested in is in knowing what is your bank balance, how many houses in the city that kind of personal info. We get along fine with other state people and other nationalities. Our drivers have been mostly muslims. Our manfriday is always some or other Nepali. When my husband was in Oman, he had a Omani driver who cried his heart out when he resigned. Time to time he would ask for my photo & my son’s I believe and keep gazing at our pic. He sent us the most expensive box of imported chocolates I have ever tasted in life. We feel guilty about it even now. Who says all arabs are oil well owners. This Omani did not even go to his hometown from Muscat for Eid. His family went without new clothes or good food. They were poorest Omanis but had biggest hearts.

With the Omani my husband would be driving through some 800 km of vast desertlands bordering Yemen – thrice a week. He was handling 3 mini airports at a time. Distance between each was some 300 km. Everyday they had to file a tour plan (like flight plan) before setting out into the desert in their Landcruiser. Because arabian deserts are harsh and punishing, it was mandatory to file your official journey plan. Just in case. So that the establishment could send out a search party if need be. You could get lost in sand dunes or be swept away by wild wadis anytime without a warning. Or be just shot at from nearby Yemen. In that one year period, the tall hefty  Omani Arab driver became my husband’s only companion. The 6’4 Omani looked after my husband like a mother hen. Everynight in Skype I would listen about their day in the desert and how the Omani even went to the level of buying Hindi Tamil music to play for my husband. The Arab loyalty is not exaggerated. If they like something, they love it so madly so fiercely…

Similarly the Omani consultants still mail my husband even if he worked in the country for merely an year. One occupying very high office, having graduated from a US university, gave him a great testimonial. I saw a mail from the arab recently that whenever my husband chose to work in Oman, the doors would be open for him. Such a warm and nice people. They never hurt us. Once they spot the good in you, they start loving you like anything. They never forget you. Friendships are forged forever. Trust is the greatest honour.

A Palestinian settled in Canada used to get my husband cotton shirts from there – we know they are imported and expensive. He worked in the client side but was so fond of my husband.  He was holding the highest post, having got his engineering degree in UK. An Iraqi engineer settled in UK similarly lavishes love on my man like anything. What a high respect and regard they have for India. Same with Egyptian engineers. There was once a British Pakistani engineer who was like a father-figure to my husband in one of his toughest projects. He went out of the way to keep matters moving and help my husband professionally. Only because he’s Indian. For no other reason. Where does religion come here. Filipino engineers settled in US are good family friends. They give our son regular career counselling.  One couple is childless – our son is like a son to them. They are suggesting universities for him and we know already if our boy has to study abroad, he has a home to go to. We get regular invites for their Christmas and New Year parties but prefer to attend Indian (Kerala) christian. Turks, Iraqis, Iranis, Germans, Brits – all these people we socialize with. Even Nordic who are doing some projects here. The British consultants always ask my husband to join them in their projects around the world. So far he has declined. This is right from our Malaysian days. They respect brains and execution and do not hesitate to give you a pat if you are doing good. Just like they do not stop from pointing out the shortcomings right in your face. If at all my husband chooses to work with his European friends, he can work in any part of the world.

My husband’s best Malaysian friends are until today Chinese. There is a punjabi sikh from KL who is another bestie. One who speaks Tamil especially the Madras bhasha! Even now he is calling us back to Malaysia in consultant capacity. The language barriers, the regional barriers, the religious barriers all are crushed in this case. Eating Idlis and Dosas with this family are sweetest reminders of how friendship triumphs over all differences. Non-stop urging from Malaysian friends to buy an apartment in KL and get a PR for 10 years. It is well within our capacity. Its true we have some good Malaysian Tamil friends as well. Yeah taking  a Malaysian PR is not a bad idea – well worth considering. We have not ruled out the option: Malaysia is a dear country, I love it as much as I love India. I love Qatar too the same way. My loyalty now is for 3 nations in equal measure.

When you mingle with international crowds for long, you get to identify your own faults; and others’ pluses. Indians are the best – no denying that. Our children have one of the highest IQ as I am seeing in middle-east. But lets be humble with every step we take forward. Our kids are becoming morons – spoilt totally, not at all lovable. We are getting arrogant by the day, and we are already hated by some for this show of indecency and pomp. Just last evening I heard a man reel out to the audience on stage his professional achievements. He worked as engineer with US corps as well as UN. From Chennai. Immensely talented. I started squirming in my seat listening to his self-praise. Who do you want to prove to and what. That you are a successful engineer? Successful man? He could have still pulled it without blowing his own trumpet to my distaste. It was indeed an ice-breaker where one had to talk about himself/herself. But there are ways we can do it without sounding unabashedly gloating. There are people from all walks of life from all parts of the world attending such gatherings. We should not even inadvertently make any of them feel smaller or inadequate. So stupid, I hate this kind of mean mentality. Ashamed as an Indian by the attitude and conduct of some of my fellow citizens in international forums. Humility is most obviously not one of our virtues.

Yesterday, winning over Pakistan in world cup cricket was equated with conquering their women by some Twitterati. So what shall the reverse mean dear Indian men. Indian women are not anymore ‘Draupatis’ you can pledge or bargain with. Why bring women into this first of all. What is your problem. A game is just a game.

You are judging their women looking at Veena Malik and Meera. I am seeing the actuals here.

Once when my son was in class 7 I think, we both switched flights in Dubai. There I got chatting with a gujarati mother with a small girl and an elder Pakistani MIL who said she had 3 sons. 3 hours flew away like 3 minutes. From clothes to shopping we left no topic untouched. Then I realized something: there was not much of difference between the gujju woman and the Pak lady. I told them this too. They could have easily passed for desi MIL-DIL! They said they both felt more like a nation. Truly it was I, the south Indian, who felt like an outsider!

When the flight was announced, the gujarati woman’s daughter wanted to use the restroom. There was none you could use of once your security-check got over. So she called me with her and both of us requested permission from the airport officials to go out and use the next immediate bathroom near the gate. After a frown, looking at the baby girl, the officials nodded their assent.

I had had no need to use the restroom. I went only because the girl – who had almost become my friend – called me, and because she was a young mother who looked scared. The Pakistani woman assured me she would keep an eye on my son who was 11-12 years then. I left him with his passport trusting her. When we were in the restroom, I heard a door slam. When I came out I saw that the gujju woman had ditched me and left without a word. Shocked I rushed back to catch my flight just in time. The gujju woman was way up the line. But the elderly Pakistan woman had my son by his hand and was standing with him at the end of the queue waiting for me. We were the last to board the plane. Í would have asked them to wait for you. Or if it came to that I would have safely taken your son in flight and handed him over to your husband – just in case.’she said. The gujja woman I spoke to for nearly 3 hours did not even turn to see what had happened to me. The connecting flight was a small one. Within an hour we reached our destination. Even alighting from the flight, the gujju woman did not turn to my side. She stood next to me retrieving her luggage but looked straight through me. I was wondering by now whether we really had such a sweet and interesting talk in Dubai.

It was such a betrayal – in front of a Pakistani. That was what hurt me most.But the  kind and elegant grandmother overlooked my embarrassment and shame and tried to make normal conversation with me. She by-passed the gujju mother and child and stayed with me until my luggage arrived getting me my trolley.

I said ‘bye’to the Paksitani mother as she was picked up by her son in the old airport. My husband had come for me and my son. We both thought of exchanging phone nos. She was babysitting her grandchildren. But the moment passed. She said, ‘world is such a small place, don’t worry we shall be bumping into each other very shortly in some mall!’ But I never saw her after that.

The gracious way the grandmother conducted herself, how kind she was to my son as if he was her own grandson still stays fresh in my  mind. Only 3-4 hours. That was enough to teach me an unforgettable lesson in life.

We have friends who worked in deserts of Oman some 25 years back. Even now the place is dangerous. Imagine quarter century back. Indian companies were first and foremost who got roads laid into this most inhospitable region which is why Omani gratitude to Indians is great. They understand how much the expats have helped shape up their nation. In the deserts driving 400-500 km directionless more or less, say our friends, without mobile phone in those days, they could have easily gotten lost. Besides, food was a major issue with them.There was one single Pakistani roti/chai shop like a blessing in the sea of sands. The 2 men would not touch beef. One was a vegetarian. Even now the men say how the Pakistani shopkeeper always managed to keep pure dal roti for them. And some chawal. Not mixed with beef or any other non-veg food. Also endless cups of chai. Its not matter of money. Its the ways of humanity. Priceless. Our friends from Chennai who do not know a single hindi word until today still gratefully acknowledge how for some 4-5 years their lifeline revolved about the roti-chai shop run by a thoughtful and kind Pakistani.

I don’t want to mention which airport this happened. But 2 years back when I went for security check-up in transit flight, the 2 security guys there were Pakistanis. At that hour the place was deserted except for me and a couple of arab ladies. The men chuckled as I came along after the Arab women to place my hand luggage for screening as one with an impish smile said ”çhod do ise!’ Then very reluctantly he took my bag and placed it in the belt pulling a face, like he wanted to give me exemption as a concession! Immediately I burst out laughing and the guys laughed with me too.  Men far younger than me. Have had very many encounters like this. In one during a short busride in an airport after a connecting flight, 2 well-dressed Pakistani men cut short their conversations, gave their seat to me and my son, standing up. They were talking about a demo in Lahore or somewhere. Looking at me they said, ‘lots of action in  Delhi too’ and burst out laughing. In the 5 min busride I could barely control my laugh. I really enjoy these little episodes. Such a precision in timing. So spontaneous. So harmless.

Whereas last year I went shopping with a friend. Daytime. I wanted to buy a notebook for a friend in India from a mall. A srilankan tamil salesman came forward to help me. I thought he was a mallu first because he looked fair. When he spoke Tamil and said he was from Lanka, naturally we switched to Tamil. He matched prices and brands and chose the best deal for me – was a very sharp fellow. My friend left me with him to try jeans in the next shop. The salesman started asking questions about me. He could not have been over 28-30. He billed finally a system and I paid for it and came back. He set it up with India timezone and gave me the anti-virus. In fact I was just starting to lower my guards – just then another srilankan tamil passed by us. To my shock the first guy asked laughingly to his friend, ‘kanna laddu thinna aasiyaa?'(buddy you want to eat laddu – this is also the title of a comedy tamil picture). Immediately both laughed out aloud. I have never felt such a shame all my life. I wanted to slap both the men right there. I could have easily reported the incidence. I thought of the consequences. Both would be packed back to their native country and most probably their passports would be stamped with the reason. I thought about their families, their future and controlled my emotions. The way I choose to dress is my wish. If you don’t want to see you can close your eyes. Both of us girls were dressed in tight shirts and jeans that day.

I told my friend on the taxi ride back home. She was very angry and said we should have reported the men. I never told the incident to my husband. I only was worried about one thing; about the men making the same mistake with any other Tamil girl with their luck running out. The transformation in the sweet guy who spoke to me first for half an hour was startling. Suddenly he had become an ogre – so mean. Its always those who speak my language, who come from my place who offend me the most. Its fellow Tamils who are worst in my opinion. Even in Malaysia, we would rather trust Indonesians, Chinese and Malays over Malaysian Tamils. Most dangerous of all.

We lived in Puchong, a KL suburb before moving to Terengganu. A locality notorious for Tamil gangsters. Once I was with my son at a friend’s for sleep-over at Klang, near KL. My friend dropped me at a salon so my son could have hair-cut and left on some errands. In a few minutes I saw 3-4 large goon like Malaysian Tamils down the shutters. A shiver ran down my spine. It was a Tamil shop. But I had the presence of mind to call my friend urgently in her mobile asking her to get back the next moment. I said my life could be in danger right in front of the men. The men went aghast, never expected this reaction. My friend, a malaysian Tamil, came back running but the men were annoyed with both of us. They argued with my friend I was making a molehill into a mountain. They said they downed the shutters as the day was getting hot. They wanted to switch on the air-con. Klang is a well-known Tamil area in KL, also known for its crime rates. Very soon the men sensed I was from India and I was new to Malaysia. My friend was puzzled by their attitude and did not trust a word of what they said. At my request she did not report the matter to anyone. We left the place in a huff.

Similarly those were VCR days. When I went to change the cassette the owner a middle-aged Malaysian Tamil started openly talking raw to me. Shocked I ran back to my flat. After that I never left anywhere in KL alone by myself. Scared not because of chinese or malay, but scared to the bones because of men who spoke Tamil, whose origins/ancestors were from Tamil Nadu, India.

This is our mirror image. This is how crass our men are. Our men are incapable of retaining the faith reposed in them. Even our women that way as it happened with the gujju girl in the airport.  You may trust a fellow Indian at your own risk.

But I think of the days when there were 10 Paki-Bangla men living behind our villa in Terengganu. From day 1, all they had for me was respect and affection. We spoke different language, came from enemy countries, followed different faiths. The men were about my age or older.

Even now there is a friend’s husband here who makes passes at me. Can any woman tell her husband about his friend. First time we came to Doha, we had a Tamil driver. (My husband drives whether its Oman or India or Malaysia or Qatar still he has a couple of drivers assigned to him). Much, much, much down the line. He was frequently adjusting the car mirror to look at me. Few times I have been dropped by him but I found his gaze menacing always. But did not tell my husband – it was a lean period and if my man did not want him, the driver risked being sent back to India. We women think a lot about these things. We think how our actions could affect others. Then by God’s grace, the driver was assigned to another head. Recently my husband told me in a disbelieving tone, the man’s character was suspect. He had a weakness for women. My heart skipped a beat. Ín that case’ I said, ‘never send him for picking or dropping me.’ Now a mallu muslim is our driver for over 5 years. Almost like an younger brother to me. Such an affection. He gets me wild honey from Wayanad, sweets from Kerala everything. All I give him is a cup of chai. His eyes get moist even for that. Because being treated as human and equal itself is something not many people can hope for. The wife of his boss making him tea always moves him. (Iam told no one else does that. I do because I am from Mylapore.)

After my experiences in foreign countries I no more believe in things I took for granted until my 30th year. Back in India, all prejudices rush back to get at you right at the airport. Human race is one. Human language is love. There can be no reasons for loving someone. You can love someone just like that. All it takes is giving others the respect and distance and affection they deserve. Rest assured we shall get it back doubled or tripled.

I think all Indians must get a chance to work and live abroad. A holiday overseas hardly gives you the real picture. My fellow citizens need to see people other than themselves in day-to-day life. Only then we shall come to know how pitiable our own plane of existence is. How narrow-minded we are becoming day by day. And how boastful. We are seeing quiet achievers here every single day who go about their work without a word.

About Charlie Hebdo I have this to say: I hope I am not inviting problems with this. Lots of tensions in this world will ease if we try to understand others and others’ way of life and culture. The French are very liberated. They  think its very well within their rights to satirise or criticize others. They wouldn’t be offended either if you are to make a sorry picture out of them the very same way. That is no indignity to them at all. Rather they ‘d come to enjoy your perspective.That kind of thinking is possible only if you attain their kind of maturity. Their sense of independence and freedom is what makes them give amnesty to thousands of refugees and ethnic groups who make France their home.  Its a way of expression for them. Canadians nurture the same philosophy as well. Individual rights, human rights and freedom of expression matter most in these nations. Its the cornerstone of their democracy – their very ideology. Think of AIB Roast, why do most of us not find it offensive. Why do most of us especially Hindus favour PK so much? We do need to laugh at ourselves sometimes.  May be in India we have such a healthy scene (despite my take on PK that is. My own son is nearly an atheist).  We need those amongst us who can challenge anything and everything, who can touch taboo subjects, who can nurture the most perverse of ideas. Nothing is censurable. Sky may be the limit. Some on the otherhand may find such an idea offending. Unfortunately.The fault lies with both.  The liberated as well as the chained. The insensitivity of the mature and the intolerance of the ignorant both result invariably in tragic incidents.

*******************************

This time took the direct QA flight. My next seat in the aisle was unoccupied until almost the flying time. Then a 65 year old lady from my own Chennai took my next seat arriving huffing and puffing. She was carrying a heavy hand luggage. Only 6 kg cabin bag is normally allowed but I think the guys in the check-in had had enough of her. The bag weighed nearly 10 kg and was without trolley wheels. Throughout the flight she kept chatting to me nonstop. A typical Madarasi maami. I tuned in a tamil picture for her to watch and opted to take a nap. I saw her struggling with the bag when the flight landed. I retrieved it from the cabin overhead and hauled it for her right from her seat. It was a huge weight. I cursed the QA for allowing it as cabin bag. Obviously she had nuch more luggage checked in. Taking pity on her I lugged her bag all the way until immigration – ignoring  my husband’s warnings not to handle anybody’s baggage. Her age made me to.

The new airport is vast. Even in escalators it was not easy to carry the bag. The grandmother said she carried sweets and namkeen in it besides 20 ‘mozhams’ of fresh jasmine flower from Chennai for Pooja in her daughter’s place. I myself had only my handbag.

All other passengers had gone past us. She was also walking slow. I walked with the poor woman thinking of my aunt. No way she could have carried that weight through so much distance. She had not even put in request for wheelchair.  She said thanks. I said it was my duty. Her son lived in America and daughter’s family lived in Qatar. Took me nearly 30 minutes to reach immigration with her. Slowly. By the time my husband had called over a couple of times. In escalators, she was about to slip. I held her by hand throughout.

We went next to collect our luggages. I got her the trolley. Her luggages arrived first.  I picked up the heavy suitcases and laid them in the trolley for her. I found a young guy from Chennai standing with us. I asked him to drop her at the gates after customs and also pull the trolley for her until the point, he agreed to my relief-  the elderly woman did not insist upon waiting for me. All her gratitude evaporated in matter of minutes. She left happily with the man without turning back once to look at me, not even thanking me for the trolley service.  Then I remembered she asked nothing about me, where I lived in Doha. It took a few more minutes for my bags to arrive. My husband said he spotted an elderly woman walking out with huge luggages with a young guy pushing 2 trolleys – noticeably from Chennai. She was picked up by a man (must be her son-in-law). I said it was her. ‘The one you mentioned in the phone? I thought you both would come out together. She walked out over solid 10 minutes earlier than you!’ he exclaimed. I said, ‘this is the world we live in.’

I thought of the kind Paksitani mother then. The sight of her holding my son’s hand and passport and waiting for me still stays fresh in my memory.

 

 

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