Arabian Tales

Prologue:


This yarn has been solely inspired by a gentleman’s thoughts on the blogging column ? ‘Express Your Thoughts’ or EYT as it is better known as. The pertinent query was ? “One can’t purely decide your salary based on the passport you carry?..”. I started off by wording a response to prove stuff on the contrary. But then, I got verbose, as is usually the case, felt that it was a mite too long for a blog, and viola – the result is what follows.


Of course, to add punch and credibility to my tale besides dragging it for a mile and a half more, I went back on EYT to rehash some thoughts of mine. Some of them have been reproduced here more-or-less faithfully. Consequently, if you’ll get the impression that you’ll have read bits of this before; please feel free to yawn. I do it all the time! However, don’t dig your nose – its bad etiquette!


Bear with me – after all, I do have a tale to tell, don’t I? The best part this time is that all of it is true.


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Saudi Arabia: September 1997 – October 1999


My dad had a date with his maker on 13th March 1997 and off he went forever into the great beyond.


His passing away left a gaping void in my life and no matter what I did; there was precious little around that could fill the empty space in me. Every moment at home in Mangalore was spent moping around. I needed a radical change of environs and for that; I had to go someplace that could offer me much-needed solitude. So when a job opportunity presented itself; I summoned the fortitude, jumped like Bugs Bunny and lo – I found myself in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).


Life in General in KSA


Life in Saudi was at best – yawnnnnnnnn?. and the less I yawn about it the better. Work kept me busy the whole day. But, after I’d gotten my recommended dosage of solitude in a few months, that very mainstay became a liability. I used to dread weekends since I had absolutely zilch to do. So how did I hang on to my sanity then? When I didn’t know what else to do besides catch up on my beauty sleep, I used to go for long jogs, pump iron or play Basketball or Table Tennis. I caught up on my reading too despite the fact that English literature was hard to come by. In that connection, I was lucky coz a friend of mine had a Frenchman as boss who fortunately used to read and hand them over to my friend who promptly used to pass them on to me. On occasions when the friend’s boss used to vanish for a couple of weeks to sup and seduce on the Seine, I was stuck with reading the local English daily from front to back. That done and when boredom hit me some more, I read it all over again – this time back to front!


On Freedom of the Press


I tried getting the Times of India (T. O. I.) but gave it up promptly coz the Censor Board in Saudi wasn’t doing their job by the verbal book! In the absence of a written constitution, there is this verbal clause someplace – in Arabic, of course, that says – no indecent exposure. Translation – any foreign pictures that show women with bared arms/legs etc are mandatorily blacked over with permanent marker pens ? the ones from Japan that guarantees the blackness of ink for a lifetime and more. 


All of us know that the T. O. I. always has some glossy pictures of a bevy of beauties right from ‘Hollywood se Bollywood tak’! Oh no! The Saudi censors used to pop their gaskets as they couldn’t blacken out all of that! Consequently, all magazine sections showing women who had ‘exposed’ even a patch of bare skin used to get ripped-off. Forget a hint of cleavage, everything was torn out! I mean, sometimes there used to be no magazine section at all! That was too much even for a cynical nut such as me. I mean, considering the rigid adherence to moral strictures and the draconically punitive measures for ‘offenders’ in the kingdom, even an Amoeba out there would lose sleep about reproducing asexually! Anyway, to cut the crap, I gave up reading the T. O. I. completely and must confess that I felt much better after that!


Now that the T. O. I. was out, I turned to good-ole music in a big way. I brought myself a fancy CD player with some original CD’s that set me back quite a bit, and started belting out ‘Cocaine’, ‘I Want to Break Free’, ‘I Will Survive’, ‘Staying Alive’, ‘Mama I’m coming Home’ (Ozzy Osborne) etc on those high-powered speakers! 


And then, know what happened? When I had mellowed down a bit and got a lil mushy, I thought of listening to Madonna croon – ‘Like a Virgin’. On a weekend, I went to the nearest and only CD store in Jubail and was aghast to see Madonna on the CD label all inked-over in black! I felt that THAT was a wee bit too much! I could sacrifice my non-alcoholic beer, my voting rights, my voice, and pension etc, but I couldn’t bear seeing Madonna inked-up in black! I swore off buying CD’s of all female singers and started belting out Eric Clapton, Eagles, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Santana, Ozzy Osbourne et al some more.


A Hair Raising Tale


There was this time when I’d been for a haircut. Hang on, let me be honest! I did know the rules which clearly stipulated that all shops/establishments/everything has to be closed during prayer times – i.e., 5 times a day. That was fine with me, but then on that particular day, I really needed a haircut. For me, when I need or want something it is like I need/want it yesterday! Despite the barber’s stern warning that he could spare me only 15 minutes to finish off my haircut before he closed down for prayers, I agreed. I set the stopwatch on my Casio and snip snip?. click click went his scissors.


In exactly 14.5 minutes, off went the muezzin’s call for the faithful. By coincidence (That’s what I prefer to believe) in a minute or two, we spotted some of the Religious Police (Muttawa) prowling around to trying to spot and detain violators. For those in the dark, the Muttawa are officially known as the ‘Interior Ministry’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice’. What happened next is stuff that horror/comedy (depending on one’s viewpoint) is made of! The barber shooed me (yanked is more like it) off my seat and out of the front door, locked the door and scrambled off for prayers!


So there I was – on the pavement attracting unsolicited attention. I don’t blame them at all – I was looking woebegone and downright pitiable with my hair half shorn on one side while flying on the other! In all certainty, I probably must have looked like I’d escaped from the local asylum for lunatics! 


Anyway, in about 15 – 20 minutes, there emerged the barber looking very much at peace with the world after his prayers. He unlocked his door, let me in and finished off what he’d started – my haircut!


Why one’s salary is based purely on the Passport that one carries


Would you’ll be surprised if I told you that the Operations Manager (Let’s call him Bob, white as a ghost, of course!) for say, company Al Xyz, specializing in blasting & painting in Saudi, was previously a poultry farmer in the UK? Would you folks bat an eyelid if I’d vouch for the fact that his highest educational qualification was the equivalent of the 7th standard in India? Would it be so hard to trust me if I told you’ll that his salary was about six times that of an Indian in the same position, besides numerous perks of course? Would it amaze you’ll to know that almost every other sentence of his had to be peppered liberally with F’s and B’s and end with a an inevitable ‘yeah’?


Would you’ll laugh if I told you that at an internal meeting he asked – “What is DFT and how much is 250 microns in yards, yeah”?


I replied “DFT is the acronym for Dry Film Thickness”. He “Hmmmm’d”. I then asked him – “But why do you need to convert microns to yards?”


He replied, “Oh, it’s easier for me to visualize stuff in imperial measures. It’s the Queen’s way, yeah?”


Did I comprehend? Sure I did, yeah! So much so that – Ya ya ya coco jamboo, ya ya YEAH!


I did the math and told him ? “1 micron = 0.0000010936132983377086 yards and hence, 250 microns = 0.0002734033245844272 yards”.


Poor Bob turned even whiter, blinked and blinked as he did his err?. “visualization”.


Obviously, here was a very distinguished and learned scholar from the UK, who somehow had boarded the wrong flight, landed in Saudi and was made Operations Manager in a jiffy! Cheers and God save the Queen, eh?


And that’s not all!


We had a DGM (Ethiopian) in Saudi. He claimed to be a Mechanical Engineer and boasted of a Masters in Business Administration from the Cairo University. Pretty much pleased with his trumped-up academic credentials, oft were the times when he used to proclaim it to all and sundry. Although his spoken English was passable (or should I say ‘bearable’?), his handwriting, infrequent though it was, was an unholy mess! We used to wonder if he had scrawled something in Arabic or Malayalam or both! My nephew had better handwriting at 5! He had scant regard for spellings too and needless to mention, he used to butcher the language mercilessly! All he knew was how to talk at the top of his voice in Arabic and affix his signature on quotations and correspondence. Oh, the signature used to be in Arabic too and was the flourish an art by itself!


One day sometime in the 1st quarter of 1999, he asked me to come up with an order forecast for the year.


I’m no Mandrake the Magician! I don’t have the power to gaze into a crystal ball and divine the future! But then, I decided to humor him and with a well-concealed pretense of innocence asked – “shall I use the statistical model or the Fourier series for my forecast analysis?”


Without batting an eyelid, he replied – “Yalla, use the Fourier series”.


That’s when I was thoroughly convinced that our DGM’s degrees were printed in some press up some shabby alley in Addis Ababa and weren’t even worth the paper they were printed on!


Nonetheless, I should give it to him; he definitely wasn’t what he claimed to be – academically at least. But he was street-smart and could convince an Eskimo to buy ice in Eskimo land and that too by speaking Arabic! The Lord’s ways are indeed mysterious, aren’t they?


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Qatar: March 2000 ? Dec 2001


Now, that was a great place and I was lucky enough to be working for an American MNC. Things went like clockwork, the work ethics were topnotch, excellent remuneration, work was well appreciated and rewarded and I had no hassles whatsoever. I guess I would have still been in Qatar save for the fact that there were some serious issues regarding Indian Visas in 2001/2002.


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Kuwait: August 2002 ? Jan 2005


A Tryst with Kabeer Mohandis (‘Big/great Engineer’)


I did meet a couple of cartoons at work in Kuwait. Chief among them was Ahmed!  Ahmed was of Syrian origin. The sole reason our paths crossed was coz I had taken a stop-gap job before landing that elusive big one. Like almost every second chap hailing from Egypt and Syria, he too claimed to be a ‘mohandis’ (Arabic word for ‘Engineer’) and had a proclivity for talking on his cell phone with max lung-power. He had a swagger to go with the turf too. Accordingly, his designation was ‘Production Engineer’.


He claimed to be an engineer and since I was/am one anyway, he tried to get inordinately pally with me. Although it didn’t work, he was hardly deterred by it. So what if he hadn’t a clue about Newton’s laws or Einstein’s theory of relativity? Forget the heavyweights; he didn’t know how many inches made a meter. Usually he used to show me a couple of handspan’s for a meter and indicate some piddly distance between his stubby thumb and grubby forefinger for an inch! Ha! If he were to be an engineer then I’d be Stephen Hawking reloaded!


If ever Webster’s or Oxford wanted to use illustrative pictures for the word “moron’, they wouldn’t need to look beyond Ahmed the Syrian! I could hardly suppress my giggles as I used to pass by his cabin and see his name and designation tacked on a brass plaque (Darn, what a waste of metal!) on the door. The only things missing were the neon lighting around it and accompanying music as befitting tributes to his mendacity, stupidity and pompousness! On second thoughts, I didn’t blame him much either! That’s just the way he was – by default! 


I distinctly recall the day when we had received an order to fabricate ‘No Parking’ signs. As per the client’s requirement, we were required to send over a sample for their verification and approval prior to actual production. I routed the job to the concerned department, at the helm of which was Ahmed the Syrian. He was doing nothing much besides alternating between thumbing his prayer beads and picking his bulbous nose while perennially slurping on Turkish coffee. He took it on with unabashed enthusiasm.


In about a day’s time or so, my intercom buzzed and an excited voice gushed ? “Robeen Grease, Habibe, Zample ready. You say OK, we send to client”.


I went to the production shop floor to check things out. Strutting around proud as a peacock after the season’s first mating, he unveiled his creation which read ? ‘No Barking’! (For those of you’ll who aren’t clued in on Arabic phonetics; since there is no ‘P’ in the language, it is inevitably pronounced as ‘B’.)


Time to Scoot


S I G H! As things were, I’d had a torrid time in Kuwait and could never really settle down coz I simply couldn’t find a job befitting my experience and/or liking. I had flitted from job to job – the way a butterfly would flit from flower to flower. Sadly, there was hardly any honey, let alone the money! I suppose Saddam Hussein had taken it all! I wasn’t happy one bit on the job front and I wasn’t happy with myself. To add insult to injury, there I had Ahmed ‘barking’ and re-christening me from Reuben Chris to Robeen Grease!


Awrk! I lost my marbles completely! The wife thought that senility had descended on me quite prematurely! So we decided to call it a day and headed back home.


That was the wisest decision that I ever took in my life.


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After a year’s break in Mangalore, the scorching sands beckoned me again, and off in April 2006, I headed to the Arabian Peninsula ? this time the UAE. And that’s from where I spin my yarns from!


And the saga continues????????..


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Author: Chris Rego- UAE