Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tryst With Omani Driving License

Petrol... petrol... give (pronounced G-EVE) more petrol...

Do not hold the steering so hard... If you required so much of strength then no women would be driving a car...
Give indicator....... stop the indicator baba!
Do not look behind while taking a left or right turn... even if Sultan Qaboos is behind you, he will stop!
These are some of the dialogues that one has to get used to hearing if he has to take classes to get a Driving license in Oman.
Muscat is a friendly place and for me it was all the more friendly as it was full of old friends. The piece of inside news that I received after landing at Seeb International Airport was that having a driver’s license was like having another degree. I was quite excited at the idea of giving a test without having to study for long. I smiled to myself and said it must be as easy as a blood test! But the reality struck me quite soon.
Our family never owned a car but my father had a Government car at his disposal which it used to be parked at our house. I never saw him driving but mother told me that she has seen him on a rare occasion. When I was in junior school it was a Wyllys Jeep with a soft roof and I used to seat in the driver seat and play with the steering wheel which unlike present car would freely turn even if the engine was not running. Later on Wyllys made way for a brand new Red color Maruti Gypsy. Whenever he was going for a trip I used to see him off at the airport and it was much later he realized that it was me who was driving the car on the way back.

Unlike Dubai, the driving license industry in Muscat in those days was not an institution but was operated by licensed individual Omani instructors. One had to get into a contract with one instructor and get going with lessons and once the instructor was confident enough, he would let his student drive for the test. Now there were two type of agreement that was possible with the teacher. A lump sum amount for all classes till you obtain the license or on an hourly rate and you stop once you get that piece of plastic. The most respected and hence sought after instructor in our circle was a gentleman of Balouchi origin and his name was Ali. Once there was a slot vacant and I had the required money at my disposal, I had the opportunity to meet Ali. I expressed my interest to be his student if he was willing to take me in. He agreed but declined to quote a fee before he checked me out and as I could move the car he decided to charge me approximately 1000US$. Deal done and got started immediately.

In those days giving driving license test had a uncanny similarity with have whisky… after 3 you do not count! Its always the 4th. I have heard people giving as many as 17 tests before being successful. Now I could move the car but I could only do it in my way and that did not necessarily meet my teacher's expectations nor would have made the examiner happy. But I have a reason too. Firstly we drive on the other side of the road, right or wrong don’t count but it is different. The joystick in the middle that we call “a hand brake” was not available in our cars and if there was one visible it was never used. The two mirrors at either side of the front doors are thought to be part of the car decoration and only occasionally used by the local Romeo to fix hair and have a final glance at his sunglasses while he was trying to impress a girl. The owners of the car usually keep those mirrors folded. And who has used a indicator in the eighties and nineties in India?
But passing the test is never easy ... particularly when everyone around (who already have the license) advises you.... When you go for the test follow the following sequence... fasten your seat belt and then check the side mirrors and then the rearview mirror inside the car.
Someone warned me...
"Be vigilant. When the police man sits inside the car he might touch the mirror. You are supposed to set it right."
Another one of my friends warned....
Make sure the police man had fastened his seat belt before you move the car..."
Advises kept pouring in as the day of the exam drew closer. It happened so that my test was on a Wednesday and we had planned to go for a overnight camping at the Turtle beach on the next day. While there was a big meeting in our house planning minute details of the trip over glasses of scotches, I was nervous wreck thinking about the test the next morning. Finally I decided to say good night to all and hit the bed, hoping to wake up fresh in the morning. One of them taunted...
"You are off so early to bed tonight. Oh... You have a test tomorrow. Don't worry it a bit worrisome at the first time and you will get used to it!!"
That was some encouragement!

But it happened so that I passed the test at the very first attempt to the astonishment of the most and the many. And there I was behind the wheels of a land cruiser cruising towards Ras Al Hadd on the way to the Turtle beach. I did not get the plastic till next Saturday but that paper with the examiners signature was enough to negotiate with my other friends to get my share of time behind the wheels! A journey that I will not forget for a long time to come………..

Thursday, January 28, 2010

koii dost hai na raqiib hai

koii dost hai na raqiib hai
teraa shahar kitanaa ajiib hai

Soon it is going to be three months that I have stepped into this new country and this how I can describe this place today. The line above is borrowed from a poem which has been immortalized as a gazal by the famous singer Jagjit Singh. For those who are not conversant with √úrdu I would like to translate it into English.
Your city is quite a strange land where there are no friends neither are there any enemies… now Raquib is a word which cannot be truly expressed by saying enemy. Enemy poses a threat to you and might hurt you or inflict deadly blow. While one’s raquib is the man who is loved by the girl you have fallen for. This can be a cocktail of a competitor and an opponent. … so it is quite an intense word ... isn’t it!
I am having such a feel about this place because I find people here are too busy with their own life and their circle of trust. I still haven’t figured it out if this is a big city syndrome or a small city effect. At first it was while I was searching for an apartment to rent, it was so difficult to even get an idea about which locality I should concentrate. It was a bit stressful at one point but then asked myself ... “did you see anyone living on the footpaths on your way to work or back?”
I said “No”.
“So why do you worry!”
Reassured I went up to the face book and posted a link of another song Ek Akela Is Shaher Mein´” which sings about a lonely man looking for a home in a big city!
(Face book is another strange place that brings distant people closer, every day people are making new friends or getting connected to old friends but unfortunately I do not see any one chatting to each other once friendship has been restored.)
But this time I got an assuring response with an extract from a Gazhal……. “Main akela hi chala tha jaanib-e-manzil magar, Log saath aate gaye aur kaaravaan bantaa gayaa.” (I set out alone towards my goal, but others kept joining me on the way and a caravan was been formed).

So this is my life in poetry my friends!

This a U-tube link to the song for anyone who would like listen to it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Republic Day

Today is a day of national celebrations… our Republic Day. India was declared a Republic on 26 of January, 1950. This day has inspired me throughout my life…. So here I am dedicating some time to my much neglected Blog Space. Probably I needed the inspiration as much I needed the time!

Poster of Incredible India in a foreign country makes us proud
There is a strange relationship that a child shares with his mother. The same is true between one and the motherland. Since childhood the Independence Day (15th August) and the Republic Day (26th January) has been very special to us. On these two days we used to hoist the national flag in our house without fail ... We were taught that each and every citizen had the responsibility to hoist the Tricolor in their house. The flag had to go up before the sun rises and come down at the sunset before it gets dark. While the schools and Governmental bodies used to have permanent flag poles we at the household always used to improvise.
I have some fond memories from my childhood days. We had to leave the bed early in the morning in spite of it being a holiday and put the flag up. Then we used to get dressed and accompany our father to the parade grounds. Even though the ground was very close to our house, we used to go by the Jeep, as these were a very formal official affair. The time for the flag hoist used to be 8 am when Chief Minister or the governor used to pull the flag up and there was a shower of rose petals which was wrapped within the flag. As a child we used to get very excited watching the petals fall and the march past by different divisions of the Armed forces and the Para military personals and all saluting the flag when they marched past the podium. The best part was the armed forces band.
There used to parties in the evening but we only got to see the invitation card and never got to go and see how much fun it was!

Happy Republic Day to All of you out there … Let Peace Prevail in our country.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

This New Year

Best Wishes for 2010 to all my friends and your loved ones.

The absence of both the eves from my home turned this New Year’s Eve into quite a boring state of affair. These days I am the whole and sole moving creature in my home and moving so fast at work that it leaves with neither time nor the temperament to jot down a few lines for my blog. Initially I had decided that I would welcome the New Year in a deep state of meditation sitting in the serene posture of Buddha. That did not happen but instead I found myself reflecting on the changes I witnessed in my lifetime. Thoughts were drifting and swaying in all direction till I started to think about New Year greeting Vis-√†-vis sending cards and letters.

The world of this small-town boy was finite and very small as I grew up. We had a few friends but fortunately they were real to the letter “l” (pun intended). We would meet at least once most of the days and we could touch, feel them, hug them and even fight with them unlike the virtual and at times artificial friends that we have these days! We never used cards to wish our friends for Christmas or the New Year. Occasionally we used to send one to the class teachers! Parents did use postcards to write to the relatives and most of the time privacy was not an issue and if it was, there was always an envelope.
The world started to grow bigger during the college days. Having moved far away from home I started to write letters regularly and that was the only affordable channel of regular communication. During festivals we had exchange of letters among cards with childhood, school mates and pen pals.
Life took another turn as we graduated from college and stepped into the more materialistic (real) world. Handwritten letters started to make room for printed cards that required only a signature before it could be sent to post. With the personalized message missing, it was the beginning of losing touch with dear old friends while making lots of new acquaintances at the workplaces and in the tinsel town.
Come mid nineties and our world changed again and this time it became extremely small while remaining massively BIG. We were ushered in to the world of the internet. All of a sudden old friends and old flames started to appear back in the horizon. Friends separated by thousands of miles became closer than ever, responding to each other over enthusiastically within moments to receiving an email. Tagged along came the chartrooms where friends were waiting eagerly for the most important event of the day... the Big Adda (chat) at the cyber coffee Shop.
By this time “the obituary” was already written for the era of “hand written” letter and “Seasons Greeting card” was fast becoming part of the history. At the same time we were getting used to receiving emails informing an E-card waits for me should I decide to follow the given link. They were coming in huge numbers around the year celebrating every occasion and commemorating the “Friendship day” many times a year.
We turned another corner by the time we stepped in the latter half of last decade. The emails and the e-cards started to disappear as fast as they came in. While friends decided to abstain from writing meaningful emails, our fellow human beings from Nigeria took that task to ensure that there was no dearth of spam mails in our inbox. On one side the E-card sites have started to charge money trying to reap what they had sown while on the other hand it was the advent of the social networking sites that provided new platform to celebrate festivities with family and friends. Writing a simple statement of what was in my mind was sufficient to wish all of the friends. The ultimate level of achievement in efficiency and energy conservation!
The phone calls, SMS and emails have taken away the waiting for the joy of waiting for the mailman/ postman. If they come they get only the bills and sometimes periodicals. But I have one “hand written letter” that arrives by post once in awhile. That is because there is this only one person with whom I still have written communication and we both cherish it. A little while back I received a letter which has arrived here via Dubai and now it is my turn to reply!

A pile of post that came in today

Only one handwritten letter