Watery Graves, Terrestrial Thuds, Fanciful Flights

The ambivalent relationship, even torridly erotic love-affair, if you will, that South Asians ( you better take the liberty of naming the countries, if you wish to be country-specific ) have had with the ones in the Gulf, oil-rich, and petro-dollar rich, all but culminated with the turn of the century, not just with some Twin Towers in a global commercial capital  crumbling to smithereens, but because that very relationship, slowly but surely, soured; the pipers with gold-laden pipes may have called the tunes, but just ask anyone who has had even an iota of the experience there, and the unanimous conclusion would be that, far from the Goras, it is the Arabs who have driven South Asia together as one ilk. The oil-economy, even if environmentally degrading, would sustain for a few more decades, but the  deed was done.

In the early 80s, when most of my college mates, and all of my relatives, had migrated to the greenback currency country, and I found the opportunity to get to the Gulf, I clutched at it as would any man in water a straw. Objective: get rich quick !

I found myself in a Lebanese-managed company, when that country was in the news worldwide, ( cannot take the luxury of judging “for all the wrong reasons”) and today has the unique distinction of having more of its citizens living outside its geographical boundaries than within it, giving an entirely new interpretation to the writer Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat”.

But I digress.  As dusk set in on 31st October 1984, and I trudged my way back from work, in a darkening Ruwi High Street, several tall, dark, well-built people came to me one after another, and whispered ” Aaj India-waalon ka din bahut bura hai, bahut kharaab hai ” etc.

To elucidate, these bipeds like me, were, unlike me, all Pakistanis, unlettered, barely seen the walls of any kind of scholastic institution, and people who toiled by the sweat of their brow, far away from their home and hearth, and they were commiserating with me, and I most certainly did not have my nationality emblazoned on any part of my anatomy, for the unexpected killing of the Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi.  When I rack my memory, I think this could be the second time that I felt, yes, man could be deemed a political animal, not just merely a “rational” one. For, perhaps, emotion rules the roost ?

The first time, that it occurred to me that man could indeed be a political animal, was as a toddler, winding my way home from school, when inadvertently I found myself in the sprawling Calcutta maidan, on a wintry evening in 1971, again as dusk was setting in and the street-lights were not on yet, and a personage by the name of Mujibur Rehman, later affectionately called Bangabandhu, astride the Ochterlony Monument, later named Shaheed Minar, thundered the words “Amar Shonar Bangla” ( My Golden Bengal ) , words that were penned by the Bard of the same Bengal, whose hundredth anniversary of being the first Asian personage to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, is being marked, as you read this ! That he refused to have the honour, returned it in fact, that the Prize itself was being bestowed in the name of the Alfred who had the pricking of conscience, in that he had created something that was destructive in nature, for humankind and other creatures on the planet, and finally, insult to injury, the Prize actually, has been purloined several years ago, theft of the first order, without it being retrieved, guilty possessor unknown, all tells of another tale, which are but incidental to the proud Bengalis themselves, whose hearts yet resonate with his rendering of word, so do the incidents really matter ?

So this blow-hot-blow-cold of the South Asians revealed itself in telling ways, and some may well be worth recounting.

Dr. Rahim ( err, I took the liberty of changing his name here, though not his religion, as he is now one of the most eminent practicing Doctors in Saudi Arabia, and I would be less than prudent in dropping it ), in the couple of days he would visit his home city in India, would in the brief time he spent with me in my office before getting back, recount without emotion any interesting event that would transpire back in his work-place in the Gulf.

On June 6, 2007,  Typhoon Gonu made landfall in Oman, a country that was relatively a stranger to cyclones. There was one man, an indigent bearded Bangladeshi worker, who predicted this three days prior, about floods and destruction following the typhoon, and no one heeded it – why should they? it was an unknown factor in its recorded history, even from the time of Sindbad the Sailor.

But when events had it that this unlettered character from Bangladesh, was deadly accurate in his prediction ( more than 50 Omanis perished with Gonu, and over a billion dollars worth of assets destroyed ), he was promptly incarcerated, for both in the Kingdom, and the officially declared Faith, such predictions were not in consonance with the Law of the Land, the Sharia.   My own aside on this : a Bangladeshi, especially from the coastal regions of the Bans and Chittagong and so on, has a sixth sense about when there is a chance of water overpowering land, and this man had voiced his feeling, maybe even concern.  No doubt he is back in his homeland, where he feels more at ease and comfortable, today, in home and hearth, probably in the coastal area off Chittagong.

The next incident that the Doctor related to me, by which time he had moved to his current practice in Saudi Arabia, transpired on the 25th November, 2009, in Jeddah;  enormous and unexpected flooding occurred in the city, never known to have transpired in recorded history, and this time, it was a Pathan from Pakistan, who saved no less than 14 nationals of the country of which he was an expatriate, before perishing in the engulfing waters himself. They got his name this time: Farman Ali Khan. And his family was amply compensated for his valiant effort that saved others’  lives. But what the good Doctor told me is, that this time round, this unlettered Pakistani’s name was emblazoned for the knowledge of posterity, on the very road where the Saudi nationals with their imported luxury cars, were carried away by the current. Naming roads, just like building statues, may not particularly corroborate to the tenets of Islam, which encourages neither. Hopefully Farman Ali Khan is remembered in both the country that he left, with the objective of improving the circumstances that his family were in back home, as well as the country to which he went to work, or would the waters have washed away the memories of his sacrifice too ?

Now, to relate the third incident, which transpired in Dubai, that too, at the Burj Khalifa, still, socking it skyward, touted as the tallest building in the world; a gentleman who is connected with servicing the machinery for global giants, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s and the like, recounted this to me, and dear reader, if you got this far, you need a solid heart to stomach this. He had to visit Dubai in the course of this work, in May 2011, and when he had some time to spare, went off to visit the Burj Khalifa. To his consternation, when asked where he hailed from, and he said India, everyone, Arab and otherwise, stared at  him agape. When he inquired why his nationality should stir up such attention, he was told that barely a couple of days earlier, a long-time employee of Indian origin, had taken the extraordinary step of ending his earthly existence by catapulting off the Burj Khalifa. One reason ostensibly given was that he was not granted leave of absence to be with his family back home, by his employers. This carrot and stick theory in an Arab ambiance, with homo sapiens originating from South Asia but who find themselves in that particular geographical region,  that may well be described as the relationship between the dispossessed and the masters, is no doubt pejorative, and may even be passe.

Be that as it may, Thereby Hangs a Tale !!

Thumbs up, you buggers from South Asia, I think I will throw my weight behind you ( and I don’t have a choice, either ) !!