In the eighties, I found myself suddenly in the midst of the leading company in the Gulf, that dealt with luxury baths ( the type that a Cleopatra/Elizabeth Taylor, or the Queen of Sheba, would get into, dishabille ), and other such luxury stuff like chandeliers, or even what the hoi-polloi would use, like ordinary commodes ( wc-s to the prickly and prim British, if you will ) and ceilings.
Amarjeet Singh, terrific turban an all, hot from Punjab, joined up in the ceilings department. I was introduced to him, by colleagues, in the office, a bright Thursday. The next day, Jumme ka Din, I turned up at the quarters in Al Ghubra, a distance away, and being lunchtime and siesta time, was in the drawing room, when a hefty Sardarji, with hair all loosened and tousled up, reaching his waistline, fully washed and shampooed, came and sat opposite me. Human beings of whatever ilk do have the tendency for conversation, even if strangers quite, before becoming bosom chums…and I casually enquired of this gentleman, with hair all askew, about him, and he said that he had joined up in the ceiling department. And brightly, I told him, just yesterday, another Sardar by name Amarjeet Singh, had joined too.
As, dear reader, you would have guessed, when this Sardar told me that he was one and the same Amarjeet Singh, I had no choice but to want to sink into the floor, kaafir in an Islamic country, jaw-dropped by a Sardarji, a sudden persona non grata by any yardstick. The joke was on me.
But the Sultanate, and its leading organisation in the private sector, had me in there, only because I was one speck among thousand upon thousands, that represented a heady mix between the Arabs and Americans over the spoils of oils, long before environmental degradation or protection became a subject of consequence.
And I had my unrecognised baptism in the back-streets of Calcutta, in the communist-oriented, disenfranchised, Vietcong-backing, Mother-Teresa oriented territory, and more than just grateful, when the doyen of the travel industry in Muscat, Mr. KGS Krishnan, of Bahwans, offered me an opening, and which I took with the Bob Dylan note ” Don’t think twice, it’s all right” …..but as it happened, it followed the rest of the verse ” So long, warm honey’d babe, where I’m bound, I can’ t tell” because as I landed there in Muscat, in the wee hours of the morning, in the home of the same Mr. KGS Krishnan in his pyjamas, he told me in so many words, Charliekins, you are required to be in a Lebanese management company, by the management in the Bahwan group, and I can’t have you with me, much as I want to.
Just as any who had drunk of Calcutta’s potable water, inevitably had Leftist leanings, my background was tinged too with the influences of the likes of George Habash and Kamal Jumblatt. So when I did land this job in the Gulf, and specifically deputed to this company oriented from Lebanon, one could be forgiven to think that one was destiny’s child, however short-lived.
But here I would like to relate :
Cat’s outta the Bag – Whimpering Mystery, and Anti-climax
My flat-mate in the Gulf, was Mohamed Saleh, freshly pressed ( to use the wordpress jargon ) from Mangalore, a district in South Kanara in Karnataka. He was in charge of sales for Seiko watches, a Japanese brand I rather think has been overtaken by other majors in the wake of globalisation.
Way past midnight, with the lights off, ( something evil’s lurking in the dark? to use the words in tragic Michael Jackson’s Thriller), and only blackness to be seen with eyes open or shut, the ears could pick up a distinct whimpering, and I asked Saleh, friend, do you hear a cat crying outside the window? The facts became clear as he related – he was playing on his music system, his newly-born kid’s sound-offs, recorded way back in his hometown in Mangalore, before he came over to make his living directly across the seas.
That was his daily staple music to the ears, along with a song ” Dil ke armaan ansuoon sey beh gaye ” ( my rough translation: the heart’s desires flowed away with the river of tears ) a nasal baritone number from the singer Salma Agha, which one could hear once with emotion, second time with a pinch of salt, and third time round, if not actually tear one’s hair, at least feel that life had something more worthwhile to offer.
I was told by others who had the privilege to work in Bahwan’s, that Mohamed Saleh’s story had a positive climax – there was a luxury sedan car worth a fortune to be won at Muscat’s Seeb airport up for grabs on lottery, and Mohamed Saleh had on a whim bought a ticket, lo and behold, he got the car, encashed the sale proceeds rather than drive it in Mangalore, and went back to home and hearth to live happily ever after; one time that the heart’s desires flowed as a river into the sea of happiness.
I contented myself by listening to the another heart-rending song from the same lachrymose movie Nikaah, which goes like Chupke-Chupke Raat-din aansu bahana, rendered by Ghulam Ali, certainly went down better with a pint, and which is what Mohamed Saleh should have been listening to, in the first place.
But I commiserated with Mohamed Saleh more during the month of Ramadhan, when I was disconcerted to see that he took his work as seriously as his fasting. He was as intent in promoting the sales of the Japanese watches with the dealers, as he was in regulating his diet fastidiously with the daily sunrise and sunset as timed for the month. As it is, I would get to see him only on Fridays, and the rest of the week, he worked the interior of the sandy country. I told him to cool off, as far as the work was concerned, and before mid-month of Ramadhan, he collapsed, and had to get on drips. He rigourously counted the days he was on drips, and made up for it post-Ramadhan. He is better off now, spiritually, materially, and every which way.
The Sheikh goes to shake a leg
A young smart Sheikh used to come over to the office and showroom. As it transpired, on one of his trips to Bahrain, he had finally come across his potential life-mate, and had expressed his desire to his Dad Sheikh. And Dad Sheikh had advised his junior, that since Khandaan ki Izzat, was involved, it was in the best interest of all concerned, that he, the Dad Sheikh, should visit the neighbouring country, and be happy with the bona-fides of the bride and family first, before taking this step of life-long commitment of mutual love and trust. You guessed it, Dad Sheikh came back with the very same demure bride, in holy wedlock, with Khandaan ki Izzat intact. Junior Sheikh went slightly bonkers, notwithstanding. We all had a great laugh as we heard this. Haq Saab, who was from Peshawar, says ” Arrey, tab to hamey bhi sochney ka hai ” !