Monday, May 14, 2012

Flashback: Days 169 and 170, Wednesday 2nd May and Thursday, 3rd May 2012

In my excitement to write about my arrival and first week in India, I have overlooked the amazing two days I spent BEFORE my actual departure from Saudi Arabia. This entry attempts to right that wrong. Before I continue, let me thank Dr. Muhbeen Shaikh and Mr. Rudra for commenting on my last two blogs. It is because of lovely readers like you that I am encouraged to continue blogging. I even received a suggestion to convert my blog into a book. Well, that will have to wait till I leave Saudi Arabia, for we don't want to offend any Saudi National, no matter what the reason might be, do we?

On Wednesday, I was scheduled to call up our hospital's liaison officer Mr. Ali Ahmed to collect my passport from the Muderiya. I had left the hotel room for breakfast at a local, road-side eatery, when Ali himself called up and asked me to reach the Muderiya in the passport office as soon as possible. I caught a dabbab (a local taxi that doubles as a pick-up) and reached Muderiya a half-hour later. Enquiring with people as to where the passport office was, I reached about 10 minutes later; Ali was there. He took me to the senior person in the office and plugged for the release of my passport after I had surrendered my Iqama. I finally had my passport with me! My joy knew no bounds. Finally, at that very moment, my vacation got properly confirmed.

On to Mecca:

After this, I returned to the hotel, and checked out by three o'clock. I took a dabbab to the taxi stand near the city center, and there, I hired a private taxi to go to Mecca, my next stop. The driver charged me SR 100/=, but he took me quite well, thank you. I arrived at Mecca by sunset, and it was a long walk to the hotel area with all my luggage. I reached there in another 45 minutes, and this time, I stayed in a new place which was located in the same general area as the hotels I had stayed in on my two previous visits. The rate for the night would be SR 100/= here. I was unpacking my stuff when the green suitcase, which had served me well so far, finally gave up: its last surviving handle broke apart, and I was faced with the immediate prospect of casting it away and buying a brand new suitcase to take back to India.

I soon left my cubby-hole of a room and went out to visit the Haram for my obligatory tawwafs and prayers. It took about an hour and a half to complete the seven circumambulations of the Haram and the Ishaa prayers. After this, I left the Haram, feeling suitably chastened, purified, humbled and at peace. I then went off to shop for a bag, as well as several other things that I would distribute to my relatives and close friends back home such as "ajwa" dates, worry beads (tasbihs), zamzam water, and so on. I returned to my room to leave behind the new suitcase that I had purchased for SR 180/= before going back to complete my other purchases. Here is the picture of the suitcase that I finally bought.

Later in the evening, I went out for dinner, and then retired to the room to watch a Pakistani CNBC on the TV while transferring all my old suit-case belongings into the new one. I slept a little after midnight, and I slept well.

Thursday saw me visiting the Haram in the morning for the final time before my departure. I checked out by half past ten, and then went to the main road to catch a cab to travel to Jeddah.

Next stop: Jeddah.

I co-ordinated with Juzer Kagalwala, and told him I would come to his home just to leave my luggage and then go off to do some serious shopping. He agreed. I reached his house at about half past eleven a.m. I met Maimoonabhabhi, who was quite busy at the time conducting a  religious class for over a dozen children. I left my luggage, and then went back down to where my cabbie was waiting for me to take me to Corniche, an area of Jeddah well known for its malls, and its jewellery market. He charged me an additional SR 15/= for this add-on trip, but he left me exactly at Corniche, near the various malls. I entered the first jewellery shop that looked decent, but not too big. I chose what I wanted to buy and made the purchases after first clearing each and every purchase by taking photos and transferring them to Hannah through watsapp, just as I had done with the costume jewellery at T'aif a few days ago. 

The entire thing took about an hour, after which I also visited a few other places within the malls to buy other stuff such as dry fruits, some game DVDs for some of the kids back home in Mumbai, and a lot of other stuff. I picked up some eats from the Al Baik store at Corniche and went back to Juzer's place, where we had lunch out of this parcel as well as some of the food they had at home. 

In the evening, I used the few hours in their home to download some stuff from the internet, and at about half past nine, I said my final good-byes and left them to go to the airport with Juzer and his son Abi Talib in their car. My flight was scheduled to depart Jeddah and half-past one a.m. and I killed the remaining hours by drinking a few cups of tea and so on and so forth. Eventually, I boarded the flight at half past twelve, and we left Saudi Arabian land at a little before 2:00 A.M. on Friday morning, 4th May 2012.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Emotions and Experiences

I had always dreamed that my visit back to India would be something of a MEMORY to be cherished for ever. In fact, it is becoming something like that. It was a horrible thing that I declared that I was bringing in gold at the customs desk at the airport: actually, I was bringing less than100 grams of gold - but did not have the gumption to walk through the green channel. And so, I walked up to one of the customs inspectors and told him I had some gold. Oh well, I paid up ... but after "adjustments" ... and in the end, it was so typical, that I finally believed that I was in "Mera Bharat Mahaan" :-)

Nishrin was waiting outside with a lovely bouquet of flowers. I tasted my first "wada-pav", and then we took an airport taxi to go home. The taxi ride from the airport in the heat of the day knocked me hard but I was smiling from ear to ear when I finally met my children at Hakim's Aalim salon at Yari Road, Versova.

The long ride home, the meeting of the watch-men and the other staff inside our housing colony, meeting with the kids playing gully-cricket inside the compound, and the final click and turn of the lock on the house door and the breathing in of the home atmosphere can really work wonders on a tired body, and it was no different for me.

I have had an amazing range of encounters with people in the last six days - and almost every one I have met have reacted with pleasant surprise/shock. Some looked at me with disbelief, and a few even asked me if there had been some problem and why I was back so soon after leaving the country. I saw concern and affection in their eyes, and happiness too, on seeing me. A few patients called too, to ask if I would be available to consult, and I had to, unfortunately, say no, I would not. 

The food and the eats have been exhilarating. All the gastronomic experiences have been unforgettable. At least, I hope that the urge to eat the various foods has been quietened for the next several months!

One week in India over ... looking ahead

Dear Readers,

My first vacation in India began last Friday when I landed uneventfully at the C.S.M. International Airport on Friday morning at 9.05 a.m. I was met by Nishrin, and we drove home in an airport-taxi. On the way, we looked in on Inas and Hannah, who were both at Inas's institute (Hakim's Aalim, Versova, where she is in her last few weeks of training as a Hair-care and grooming expert). I met both my daughters with warm hugs. After a while, I went homeward with my better-half, and reached home a little after 11.00 a.m. 

The next seven days have passed in a whirl-wind, as it were, with visits to several places to do several things: at the rationing office, the travel agent (we are, as a family, travelling to Sikkim for a holiday later this month), the post office, the various banks where I have accounts, at the bank from where Inas got her education loan for the last year of her training as a hotel management student (I am clearing off that loan), various shopping areas and malls, relatives' places, and so on and so forth. For the first time, I am experiencing what many of you have already gone through when you return to India for a brief holiday. Believe me, I have now begun to understand why many of you don't find the time to call us or accept our invitations for lunch/dinner. 

It has been a hectic trip so far, but the redeeming thing is the gastronomic pleasures that I am satisfying every single day. I prepared a list of the almost 70-80 things that I miss in Saudi Arabia, and I began to visit all the outlets where I can get those things to eat. On an average, I strike off 2-3 items off that list, and I think I have already satisfied myself on over 20 of those items! The already-completed list includes pani puri, sev puri, chana bateta, batata wada, kabab with lambaa pav, idli sambar, masala dosa, onion utthappa, poha, fish meal (at Apoorva, with the family), mooli paratha and chhole (at a nice Parathas only outlet near Kala ghoda), vegetable sandwich, seekh kabab with tandoori roti, paya with roti, water melon, guvar ki bhaaji, and maybe a few more items. On the to-do list are chinese and korean items, a meal at Shalimar (Bhendi Bazaar), pav bhaji, khandvi, upmaa, bhel puri, pizza, and many more items. LOL.

My unique moments this week have been a) a visit to Nishrin's new parlour where we used to have a joint clinic-cum-parlour at the JJ Junction; she has really done the place up very nicely, and it was a pleasure to visit it; b) a visit to Marol to meet my aging faiji Zehra-faiji and fuwaji Mohsinbhai; c) a visit to meet both the maasis - one at Versova (Zulekhamasi) and the other at Borivali (Sakkamasi) d) connecting with so many people -doctors, friends, neighbours, acquaintances, and even some old patients.

As my vacation enters Week 2, I am looking forward to meeting more of my friends, relatives and others, sampling more foods, and visiting Sikkim on an unforgettable holiday.

Thank you for reading. Please do comment.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Day 168, Tuesday, 1st May, 2012: The road to India

Today, I reported for work as usual, but took the day off after noon, and proceeded home to finish my packing for my journey home to India, which begins within a few days. To be precise, I leave today and go to Ta'if and spend a night here; on Wednesday, I receive my passport from the liaison officer Mr. Ali; then proceed to Mecca; I stay a night in Mecca, completing some shopping, etc. On Thursday morning, I proceed to Jeddah, staying in Juzer Kagalwala's house for the day, and shopping for a few things; in the night, I board the Air India flight to India, arriving there on the morning of Friday, 4th May, 2012.

As planned, I left Al Muweh for my first vacation today at around 2:00 p.m. The mode of transport was a taxi-car driven by a certain Mr. Khalid, a Pakistani person who lives in Al Muweh. Khalid turned out to be a very interesting person. As it turns out, his taxi was a Chevrolet Lumina, year 2001. It is in excellent condition, and the drive was smooth and effortless. In fact, Khalid has already decided to sell off this car for just SR 15000/= and I was sorely tempted to tell him to sell it to me, However, there was just one small problem. I was about to leave for India, and had no cash in my bank account since I had either withdrawn it to carry it back to India or was planning to wire it to my NRI account there. Alas for all this ... but I had to also consider that I still had no driving license. So, my car purchase will have to wait till I return to Saudi Arabia after my holiday. 

We reached Ta'if at fifteen minutes past 4:00 p.m. Khalid took me to a hotel bang opposite the SAPTCO bus stand, where I secured for myself a room for SR 100/= for the night.I paid him his fare ( a discounted amount of SR 150/= ... discounted because he had demanded SR 200/= from me when I had fixed up with him the previous day); and thereafter, I let Khalid go.  The room was under cleaning, and I finally moved in at about 5:00 p.m.

From then on till about an hour or so, I made myself at home; then, I left the room and went to the local Al Rajhi bank "Tahweel" to transfer some of the money to India. After this, I spent time at the local Ta'if's Heart Mall. During this, I window-shopped in quite a few outlets. There was a shop that had an awesome display of costume jewellery. It was closed when I reached there on account of Salaah, so I myself went over to the mosque that is connected to the mall and did my prayers as well. After this, I returned to the shop and took pictures of the items which I liked. Next, I connected with Inas by using the Whatsapp application. I shared the pictures with her, and she, with Nishrin, and through this technique, we short-listed some of the nicer items on display, and I concluded the purchase by paying cash to the shopkeeper when he came back from the salaah. What a great way to make sure that the things you buy are going to be liked by the people you buy them for (read "wife and kids").

In the meantime, I had also contacted Dr. Asadullah, who had my flight ticket with him. He came over to the mall by 9:00 p.m., and took me back to his house to have dinner with his family. His parents are here in Ta'if too, and I was fortunate to meet his father, who turned out to be a very interesting person. Dinner consisted of home-cooked mutton curry with "tameez" brought in from a nearby bakery. 

After a sumptuous dinner, Dr. Asad came to leave me back to my hotel. He is one of the nicest people I have known. I thanked him and he left. Back in the room, I ended the day by watching "Casino Royale" on MBC 2, interspersing my viewing with the writing of this entry, which I finally completed doing around 1:00 a.m. in the morning.