The last day I spent at my cousin Juzer’s place was remarkable in two respects. In the morning, Juzer took me out for lunch to a place called “India Gate”, a Hyderabadi-run restaurant, where he ordered a veg thali for me, and roti and palak paneer for himself. I ordered some masala fried surmai as well, a dish that was cooked nicely and was quite tasty. We also had curd with the food. The thali was utterly enjoyable, except that the sambar was not too authentic. There was a mixed vegetable, dal, sambar, rasam, a green leafy vegetable based beans curry, rotis and rice on my thali. The palak paneer that Juzer had was also very well prepared.
After lunch, Juzer took me on a long drive around the coast-line of Jeddah, and it was only at around half past five that we returned to his house. Jeddah is one of the older cities of Saudi Arabia, and Juzer informs me that it was built by the then ruler of the Kingdom in a modernistic way to rival the big cities of Europe. The modernism shows itself in the way the buildings along the coast are constructed. At every turn-around or major traffic junction one sees huge, elegantly designed and constructed sculptures, with abstract motifs, and the use of metal, discarded rig or ship parts, cement and concrete, and other material. Here are some pictures that I took, through the car’s windshield in some cases, of these beautiful sights.
Once home, I prayed the Maghrib salah, and linked to Mumbai to see Nishrin, Inas, Hannah and Manish (with a cap on his head) on the thaal to celebrate the thaal-nu-varas and the new Hijri year 1433 eve. They had come to the tail end of the thaal, and were all chomping away at what I think were tandoori chicken legs. I called Juzer to the computer so that Nishrin etc. could wish him and thank him for the hospitality he and his family had bestowed on me, and for the new Hijri year.
The call having ended, Juzer beckoned me to their own thaal, in which they had served a total of 26 dishes. Almost half of these were fruit and dry fruit, and in addition, they had a chicken curry, a piece of fish, lachko of two kinds (one with gur and the other with sugar), and several other items. We ate modestly as I had had a big lunch just a few hours ago, and Juzer’s family, too, had eaten a late lunch at home.
Immediately after dinner, I prepared to pack and leave to return to Ta’if. Juzer and his family were to go to Memuna’s father’s house to wish them and to join them on their thaal. Accordingly, all four of us climbed into his car, and within ten minutes, I had unloaded my bags and got off at the local taxi stand.
I was immediately bundled into an empty taxi by the over-zealous driver, and I chose to sit in the front passenger seat. It was a long and interminable wait for the remaining three passengers, complicated by the fact that this driver had a companion driver with his own car who was partnering him in the entire exercise. Thus, the next two passengers were made to sit in the other fellow’s car, then one in mine, then one in the other car and so on. It was nearly 8:30 p.m. before our car was filled, and our driver kept trying to get the remaining customer for his friend’s car. The four of us - one Pakistani, two Indians and myself - kept urging him to start, but it was only after another 5-10 minutes that he actually did. Moving ahead at a slow pace to allow his friend to catch up, our driver kept driving me nuts. He would often leave both hands off the steering to call up his friend, and would keep at this almost till the end of the journey. On a particularly straight stretch, his speed went up to 160 kmph! At 120 kmph, he was easily able to drive just to the right of the central barricades, and he would often do this with both hands off the steering wheel! At one place, he stopped at a petrol pump to allegedly fill petrol and offer namaz, but actually, it was to call up his jodidaar and figure out where he might be. At this place, he took the charges of SR 50 from each of us.
After starting from this place, he turned the car around and began driving BACK to Jeddah, while talking to his partner all the while, and all the four of us began to sweat under our collars. My co-passengers, who are older in this country and wiser in the ways of the Saudis warned me not to say or protest as he had already taken our money and was free to “bundle us out of his car” if we angered him. I therefore chose to keep my own counsel, but was seething inside. After about 10-15 km., the driver turned the car back around, and we started to go back towards Ta’if.
We had nearly reached Ta’if, when he met his partner standing by the side of the road opposite a restaurant, and here, he simply got out of the taxi, removed the key from the ignition and walked out to talk with the friend. They crossed the road and went into the restaurant without the courtesy of even informing us that we should wait for them to return. I have not seen such arrogance in any taxi driver in India, and I was indignant but helpless in the face of what looked to me to be insurmountable odds. Presently, he returned, and after a little posturing and burping from him, we were on our way. He asked us where each of us wanted to be dropped, and when I mentioned that I wished to be deposited at Mukhattat ul Visam, he demanded an additional amount of SR 10 from me. I had no choice but to agree, as I would have paid nearly the same amount if he were to drop me at Abbas.
He dropped me first, and then he was off with the rest of my co-passengers, at about half past eleven. A journey that should have taken from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. had taken me four hours and a lot of mental stress. However, I was safely back in my house, and that seemed to me to be the most important thing.
Juzer called me from time to time during the journey, and I kept updating him. I gave him a call after reaching home to tell him of my safe arrival, and to thank him once again for his help and guidance along the way.