No comments

If Popular Science can, so can I.

If you have something interesting to tell me, do email me at umm.of.on@gmail.com. Because I really do love a good discussion and chat. I don’t always enjoy trolls, even if some are cute.

Also, comments on blog posts are not really needed, because it’s just my personal opinion and also… this is why.

Some posts I may still invite comments, so do so kindly.

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 06.54.31

The long kiss goodbye Qatar… Part I

Last night, in an ill-timed attempt at domesticity, I burnt a hole in O’s choir uniform. It’s 9pm Thursday night. She is flying to Germany with her group on Monday, and I had a flight to catch early this morning.

Disaster. But not quite.

Thank goodness this is Doha. I hailed a taxi and ran out of the house. It was 9.15pm. The Uber guy sensed my frenzy and offered to wait at my many stops. So I hopped from one fabric store to another – Mansoura, Muntazah and finally the souq. And found the fabric I need, and a tailor who was open past 10pm.

This would be practically impossible in most places around the world. I know that these conveniences come at a cost. Overworked salesmen at the souq and tailor shop; but a happy customer means a few riyals more in their savings. This is Qatar. It’s not a flat, homogenous society. It is an intricate weave. Yet, people live in silos with little or no recognition of what lies beyond their immediate living and work space.

I have friends who live and work in West Bay area. But for the Airport, they don’t have any idea of life on the other side of the bay. Over the last couple of months I’ve been tracing memories of my 17 years in Doha (and instagramming it), taking advantage of the great weather, and walking around the city. You see, that’s how I discovered its many nooks and crannies when I first came here in 1999, taking long midnight walks with my new husband.

My very first home has now been swallowed up by Msheireb Downtown.

My second home, once a sparkling new 2-storeyed apartment is rundown. It is still precious, both because it was the first home I ‘set-up’ (and almost burnt down learning to cook), and because of the landlord. A kindly old Qatari man who was so inordinately fond of my husband and me, the second year of contract he reduced our rent from QR1500 to QR1300. Yes, once upon a time rents were that low.

I would spend muggy evenings on the terrace looking into my neighbour’s courtyard. About a dozen ‘single‘ men sharing an open-air communal kitchen and the rooms circling it. There was a rhythm. The pathans would cook later, after prayers; the others from the Indian sub-continent would cook earlier and make something more elaborate. The smell of frying onions and seasonings would hold me in good stead as I ate my own awful culinary experiments. Did they know they had an audience? A kindred homesick spirit, only with a little more privilege? That I noticed their meal got simpler towards the end of the month?

Walking around the city is how I discovered the many lives that it helps build and vice-versa; the lives that remain invisible and in the shadows of the city’s glitzy facade. The neighbourhood grocers and cobblers, the ‘orange taxi’ drivers (some of whom spoke a little too much) and the friendly old Qatari proprietors who sat outside their shops with a sheesha, down Abdulla bin Thani road.

Which makes me wonder, how many of us who live here really see it? Do we mindlessly take for granted or whinge about life here? So I ask you, Qataris and expats…

When you drive past the Corniche or walk through the Pearl boulevards do you pause to think who makes this happen?

And those who grew up here, nationals and rest, how much do you really know of this country? Its history and its topography? How often do you get down from your cars and enjoy a pedestrian view of your home? Do you ever take a dhow ride just to admire the bay?

When you have to give your Qatar id card at every stop, from office towers to residential compounds, do you feel like you are in an Orwellian play? What are they really keeping track of?

When you say Qatar is boring, do you ever wonder it could be just you, not the place?

Have you ever been to the Inland sea and been unmoved by its beauty and by how we trash it?

Do you shed any tears when the few trees around are brought down to be replaced by some concrete monstrosity?

Those of you who chose to move to Qatar, with privilege, is it really such a bad thing that it isn’t  ‘just like back home’?

And how many of you nationals really bother to understand the sub-cultures that the foreigners bring to your land?

Can we learn to criticise without malice? Can we receive criticism as interest and not an attack?

And Qatar, maybe it’s time to press pause on your rebuilding? It’s way too much too soon. Take a deep breath…

Pssst! I will continue the photo tour on instagram

PS: I wrote this post on my phone at the airport, to which I attribute the embarrassing number of misplaced punctuations and typos. I finally read the post, on a phone again, and have attempted to fix it.

IMG_5219

The One in Which I Am Moving, But Not Moving Back.

You are moving back? Are you going back home?

I am not. But that isn’t completely true.

I don’t know how to give an honest answer to these questions.

The place I am moving to is not one I am familiar with any more. It is not home either.

Every time I go ‘back’, it’s a little bit more unfamiliar, a little bit more indecipherable. I seem to fit in a little bit less less with every landing. A little bit more acclimatised with every take-off.

Yet, there’s no conflict in my mind or heart about moving to India after 17 years of living in Qatar. It seems the right thing to do, to expose my daughters, especially the teen, to another way of living. Pleasures and challenges that would be very different from what Qatar offered us.

Doesn’t that make India home? Then why doesn’t it seem so?

I am frequently asked if Qatar is home after 17 years.

Not in the least (this is one reason why). It’s a place I am comfortable in and find myself defending fiercely against ill-informed assumptions. It is not home either. And I don’t think Qatar wants to be the home for it hundreds of thousands of foreign residents. At best it wants to be a  comfortable transit house. At worst…

So then, home?

It is where my children are. And where I have access to MY people. Sometimes it is a messaging app. Home is in that rip-roaring laugh of a friend. A hug so tight it squeezes out all the melancholic thoughts. It’s watching my 7-year-old caress my 76-year-old mum’s wrinkled neck. Home is often in three simple words over an international call: “Are you alright?” Home is in all those moments, in all those memories. It is not a physical space.

Just because I don’t feel at home in any one place, doesn’t mean I feel estranged.

I started writing this post at an airport terminal… The closest to feeling a sense of belonging, I’ve now realised, is in spaces such as this. Departure terminals. Be it at airports or rail stations or bus stops.

When you know you’ve left, but have not arrived yet. In that suspended physical space of myriad possibilities I feel truly at home.

PS: Check out my instagram account @vanishforever for some #LongKissGoodBye posts on Qatar. This is not my good bye post, that will come in due time.

FAQs

1. Where are you moving to?

Bangalore

2. When are you moving?

End April, early May

3. Why are you moving now?

Because O is going into high school, and if not now, then when?

4. That means you are going away for good?

(This question always throws me off a bit) I will still be in and out of Qatar for a few months longer, as the man continues here for a bit and I still have ongoing projects/work here.

5. Will I miss Qatar?

As much as Qatar would miss me.

51zDMW4XrrL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_

[BOOK REVIEW] The Migrant Report by Mohanalakshi Rajakumar

51zDMW4XrrL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_It was with some trepidation that I started on The Migrant Report by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar. A murder-mystery set in a Gulf state (**shush!**), involving lower-income migrant workers.

These were my 3 main fears:

  • The book would remove the invisibility cloak migrants in the Gulf don, only to reveal a negative characterisation.
  • It would tug at the stereotypical emotional strings of the migration narrative. 
  • It would dehumanise them.

Two of those fears were completely misplaced. And, yes, there were those emotional strings of family, ailing mother, poverty, but only to the extent a work of fiction demands.

First with the good stuff:

  • Every character in the book is sketched with great sensitivity and nuance. As in her earlier works, Mohana’s brings a lot of insight and layers to her male characters. Be it fresh-off-the-boat Manu, or the well-meaning but always in trouble Daniel, or Ali, the Qatari cop, and even Nasser who only makes the occasional appearance. She wills us to fall a little in love with these strange men.
  • Not one for great details or long-drawn out scenarios, the author still manages to vividly represent the many relationships in the book. Cindy and Sanjana, Maryam and Daniel, Daniel and Sherif, Manu and Santana, Maryam and her family, Maryam and Ali. She brings out daily frustrations and stifled aspirations even within brief exchanges between the characters.
  • It requires courage to write a book such as this. Not just about migrants, but the secret lives of expatriates, while still being one. That she has done well, mining the experiences of her many years living in a Gulf state herself.
  • The book manages to not bracket migrant workers as being completely helpless, and shows them as resourceful people. Without being patronising, it manages to show them as strong people, even if in weak situations.

What could have been different:

  • The book is self-published, hence does not have the advantages and resources of a publishing house. It could do with a good bit of editing and proofing. Chronology of events is mixed up in places. Also, its Gandhi, not Ghandi (Americans!).
  • The book covers a wide range of plots and lives and the author seems to have rushed through it in many places. Spending a little more time on some of the scenarios would have enriched the book the mysterious happenings at the labour accommodation; Manu and Sanjana’s relationship; Maryam and Ali’s interaction; the disconnect between Cindy and Paul.
  • At several instances it seemed like the writer thought of a great idea, but instead of developing it, just drops it there between the pages, running away to meet the next shiny idea. Maybe that’s what a sequel would address. Maybe.
  • While the expatriate environment and that of the Arab household has a sense of familiarity, the brief look into Nepal and the labour accommodation seems borrowed. More research would have helped.

I am not sure I would classify it as a crime-thriller. Not yet.

Do pick up the book, it’s definitely a good read. I read it in just a day and a half. That’s not to say it’s an easy read. The loneliness of the characters, their struggles and the faint reflection of our own lives will leave you thinking about the sequel.

PS: May I also suggest you pick up Love Comes Later & Dohmestics by the same author? They both give rarely available insights into life in the Gulf.

[BOOK REVIEW] Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama

51b2TjcrtxL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_The book was first published a quarter century ago (edition I read was the 1998 one with a new foreword) and much has happened since.

Over the last few months I have been reading several books on Buddhist philosophies, and to my surprise this one impressed me the least.

Maybe it’s in the telling, more than the teller, but there were contradictions that even on the premise of the ‘middle path’ seems too strong to ignore.

On the one hand The Dalai Lama believes that politics and religion go hand in hand, and expects (rightfully) that the world pulls up China on its b***s**t. On the other, he distances himself from global politics that beg reprimand. After all, he is not just a religious leader, but the head of state, albeit in exile.

Or maybe because I expected to know more about his journey as a Buddhist, not just his journey. Clearly this reader was seeking philosophical answers, not political discourse.

What I enjoyed most about the book are the stories from his childhood. The escapades of the little boy – newly-discovered reincarnation of the the 13th Dalai Lama – in a monastery full of ageing men.

Once his political journey begins, with the Chinese and then away from them, into India, the story lost me.  His, in comparison to his compatriots, has been a privileged life, and he acknowledges it quite openly. Because there just isn’t enough depth to that part of the story, and enough insights into Buddhism when things are toughest, I felt a little cheated.

It’s probably time to read the other books the Dalai Lama has since written, and as a compendium his story and philosophy would make a greater impact.

 

Me, me, me

This is a long overdue post. Doaa Jabir A.K.A Hungrybirdsdoha tagged me a while ago, and I finally got down to it.

What is your blog about?

I don’t know. It’s just my verbal incontinence finding another  platform.

How important is it to be blogging in today’s world?

Any form of expression is welcome. So blogging at any level is good.

How do you inspire yourself on a boring routine?

Honestly, I don’t feel or get bored. In fact, my problem is the opposite. There’s way to much to be done, that’s interesting, than time could permit. I blog when I really feel a need to say something, that I can’t do on the work platforms.

What motivates you to keep up with your blog on a writer’s block phase?

My earlier answer applies here?

What would you change in your early 20s if given a chance?

The correct answer is ‘nothing’. Right?

I wish I hadn’t been so careful and had taken some reckless decisions. Owned my sexuality, indulged in my health and tripped a bit more… More of that here.

What is your favourite post?

This is a tough one. There are a few.

One that made me question my role in everything I criticise.

The one on how I fell in love.

The one on making big changes.

A short story.

Favourite form of social media?

Twitter.

Favourite travel destination?

There are so many. But one that is very personal, and was about me alone. Bhutan.

Suggest a new book to read?

There are plenty. And the book reviews should offer suggestions.

One that I am completely hooked to now is The Monk and The Philosopher.

What is your favourite quote?

Look top right. That was the first thing I added when I started blogging.

 

So now I am supposed to:

 

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their site (Check!)
  • Write a post answering the questions you were given (Check!)
  • Nominate 5 – 11 other bloggers for the award (let them know you have done so!) and come up with a set of 10 – 11 questions for them to answer (All of you reading this, pretty please answer the questions below? And tag me if on your site, or leave it in comments.)
  1. If tomorrow you could wake up in a different place and situation, what would it be?
  2. If you were to woo yourself, what would you tell yourself?
  3. Your favourite song at the moment?
  4. How are you feeling today? Describe it in the minutest details… It’s therapy.
  5. Where in your body do you physically feel love?
  6. And pain?
  7. What would you want to be doing at 80?