Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Saturday, 28th July, 2012: Invitation accepted

I was today invited for the iftaari at the home of a close friend of mine, Mr. Salman Otaibe, who works in the hospital's pharmacy. The invitation came out of the blue, in the sense that I had never expected such a great gesture from a Saudi person. This is not because I do not consider them nice; in fact, they are very helpful people in many ways. I have quite often received bounties from them that I never thought I would. For example, many a times, Saudi gentlemen and even adolescents stop their cars to give me a lift when I am on my way to the hospital. Another example I can give is my home's landlord, who has accommodated me without any fuss after my friend Dr. Shahid left for India last month. 

Thus, it was with a touch of humility and a sense of being accepted among the Saudis that I accepted the invitation. To be honest, I first thought Salman was pulling my leg. I asked him whether his parents or others at home had been informed and whether my presence would be welcome. He assured me it would be, and also informed me that he was inviting his own colleague Mr. Mohamed, and the physiotherapist at our hospital, Mr. Ahmed Obety (whom I also consider as a friend) ... along with me. I was worried about whether I was expected to honour them with a particular attire or something like that, and he laughed and said any dress would do. 

The sitting room with a large chandelier
The large sufraa laid out with varied fare
He came to pick me up at half past six in the evening. Taking me to his house which is located in a more distant part of Al Muwayh which is known as the "Mukhattat", he chatted with me about his family and other similar stuff. Entering his house's compound, I was led to the main house, where I was taken first into the sitting room or the Majlis. After a little while, Salman took me inside to the dining hall, where a sufraa (a large plastic sheet) was already laid out with a large variety of snacks, bowls of dates, and a large tray with jars of water, sweet-lime juice and other drinks. Here are some pictures of the setting I was welcomed into. Gradually, his family members began to trickle in. The first of these was his younger brother; then, two more of his younger brothers walked in, followed by his other guests Mr. Mohamed and Mr. Ahmed. About five minutes before the actual time of the Maghrib azaan, which is also the time to break the fast, the elders came in, including his father, his uncle and his eldest brother. 

Mr Salman Otaibe with the iftaar items ready for consumption
When the sound of the azaan in the adjoining mosque broke the small talk that was taking place, the gathering took helpings of the fresh dates and broke their fasts. Salman's father was effusive in his manner and exhorted me repeatedly to eat, and to eat well. I was touched. The entire group was then busy eating snacks like samosas, "bhajias", "pizza-like slices", 
The ornate ceiling of the dining room
fruit, chicken pattice, and so on. Salman himself was the serving host, and he busied himself filling glasses of water and juice for each of the nine other persons sitting in our gathering. 

Presently, it was time to end the eating and go for the namaaz. We all got up, and walked to the adjoining mosque where we all joined the gathering for the Maghrib prayers.

This accomplished, we returned to Salman's house for the next course of food, viz. a formal dinner. The previous fare was not removed, but we were served bread, shorba (soup), baked vegetables, and a brinjal curry, along with generous and repetitive helpings of black tea.

From L->R, Salman, his uncle, his elder brother and his father

Salman, the serving host for all

Two of Salman's brothers

L->R, Salman's father, Salman's fourth brother, Mr. Ahmed and Mr. Mohamed
The entire experience was, for me, unique in more ways than one; it was, at the same time, an honour to be invited into a Saudi's home, and, an opportunity to see the culture of Saudis in relation to the customs of Ramadan and iftaar. I am attaching a few more pictures of the evening with the entire gathering assembled around the sufraa.

Do comment on this entry and oblige.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Thursday, 26th and Friday, 27th July, 2012: Madinah

It was time to eat some food for the next day’s fast, but I first made my way to the area where there were budget hotels in the company of my new Dubai-based friend. He had made some prior arrangements, and I thought it might be prudent to go with him since he would probably help me get accommodation too at this unearthly hour. It turned out to be a good decision. He and I got separate rooms in the same hotel (Hotel Qasr-e-Gurbani, or the Gurbani Palace Hotel). I took the room for two nights, at SR 200/= per night. It was a 5-bed room on the second floor, and was much like the rooms I have stayed in at Mecca on my previous trips. Thankfully, though, the room was fairly clean and decently appointed. I took a bath, did my ablutions, and then went down to a Bengali restaurant to eat something for the next day’s fast. 

After this, I proceeded to the Haram of the Masjid-e-Nabawi. My first look at this magnificent mosque humbled me no end. It really was a great structure, befitting the great Prophet of our times. Over the next one and a half days, I saw more and more of this and as I write this, I am overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of this mosque.

I first joined in the morning prayers (the Fajr’), and then awaited the opening of the door that would take me for the first look at the tomb (the resting place) of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). There were huge crowds and a lot of pushing and jostling, and it was some time before they actually opened the doors, so that I was being gradually crushed by the pious and eager men around me, all here to pay their respects and pray before the Holy place. The policemen had a tough time controlling the crowd, but, at about 5.55 a.m., they finally stepped aside as we all rushed in to file past the grave of the Prophet and his Most Favoured Followers, Hazrat Umar and Hazrat Abu Baker.

We got seconds to gaze at the tombs with reverence and then, the policemen urged us to move forward. Past the exit, I was guided next to the main entrances of the ancient grave yard where the family members and others of past ages are buried, viz. the Jannat-ul-Baqi.

As I ascended a ramp to reach the main gate of the graveyard, I had mixed feelings: what, after all, could a visit to the graveyard achieve? And yet, I moved on. My first glimpse of the graveyard was of a level piece of ground with small mounds of soil topped with pieces of stone at one end. The area covered by this looked so small. There was a huge board here with messages to the faithful in several languages. The gist of these messages was to ponder about Death and about the Holy people who had gone to Allah before us. It (the message) implored us NOT to kiss or fall at the feet of the graves, and exhorted us to simply send our “salaams” to the Dead Ones. It taught us not to pray through dead people as they had no power to grant us our wishes. It told us that Allah alone had such powers.

I moved to where a spiritual teacher was addressing a crowd of men in chaste Bengali. I could not understand him and moved on. Just a few feet ahead, and as I climbed a little, the panorama changed from this being a small graveyard to being a HUGE one with more than 25000 graves all spread out over an area of more than 5 sq. km.  According to Wikipedia, the graveyard was annotated as such by the Prophet himself, and continued to expand as the years went by. Several of his family members including sons, grandchildren, wives and others, and his companions are all buried within the graveyard. Before 1925, there were several mausoleums here, but they were demolished by the ruling King of Saudi Arabia in accordance with the tenets of Islam as it is practised here.

I suddenly, and inexplicably, had a moment of epiphany, and before I knew it, I was mourning the Dead along with the other faithful devotees. I cried for a while, then moved out, and walked back through the Mosque to reach my room, where I went to sleep for the next several hours, only to wake up after noon.
The rest of the afternoon I spent visiting the mosque once again, and praying the other salahs. At about half past four, I hired a taxi (for SR 100) to take me to all the places to visit in Madinah. The taxi driver, a kindly Saudi soul, was very co-operative, and took me to see the Jabal-Uhud, the Jabal Reemah, the Masjid Quba, the Masjids of the Trench (six of them in one spot, including the Masjid Dhul Fatah), the Mosque of the “New Qiblah” (Qiblah-tain), and the Masjid of Hazrat Hamza. My tour of these places took up about 2 hours. It was interesting. The first two were adjacent hills where battles had been fought against the Qurayshi warriors. There was a holy ground here where about 70 warriors laid down their lives for the Prophet. There are no graves, but the area is cordoned off and surrounded by a steel and iron enclosure. I had a prayer book with me which assisted me in praying special prayers at some of the mosques I have listed above.

We returned to the Masjid-e-Nabawi half an hour before Maghrib. I saw something here that I will remember always: the immense preparations for the breaking of the fast of thousands of devotees. People sat on huge plastic sheets, and were served by people with water, food, fruit, drink and dates. The devotees sat patiently, and the servers came one by one, bringing with them packets of the various afore-mentioned items. When the Azaancame on the air, thousands of us broke the fast, and partook of the food and water etc. served to us. In about ten odd minutes, the entire congregation was through with the “iftaar”, and all moved towards the mosque interiors or other areas to line up for the Maghrib prayers.

After this, I went out, back to my room to relax, and returned for the Ishaa prayers after an hour and a half. I skipped dinner as I had already eaten my fill at iftaar. I roamed around the mosque, and finally returned to my room by half past ten to go to sleep early in order to get up in the morning for the next day.

The next morning saw me go again to the Mosque for the Fajr’. After this, I entered the Rowdah area of the tomb of the Prophet (PBUH) and did my prayers in accordance with my prayer book. This was accomplished by joining, once again, the hundreds of devotees clamouring to go in to do the same as I. Prayers accomplished, I moved out and visited the Jannat-ul-Baqi once again. This time, I lingered on for a longer time, taking photos and doing prayers for the Dead.

It was nine o’clock when I returned to my room, and after this, I changed into my street clothes and checked out of the hotel. I walked the short distance to the local bus stand, but, upon being invited by a taxi owner who was looking for one passenger to go to Jeddah, I accepted his request and boarded his cab. My co-passengers were a Nigerian family of husband, wife and their two children, who all sat in the back seat of the SUV. We reached Jeddah uneventfully at around 1.40 p.m. 

The purpose of my diversion to Jeddah was to pick up a small parcel sent by Nishrin through a lady passenger who had arrived in Jeddah from Mumbai the same afternoon. I got off their taxi near Juzer’s residence, but on the opposite side, and I called him to share with him my arrival. Next, I called up the number given to me by Nishrin of the person I was supposed to collect the parcel from. Imagine my horror when the recorded voice told me that the number I was trying to reach was out of service.

I called Nishrin, and after some frantic calls by her, I was given the information that the number I had been given was wrong. A fresh number was given to me, and I then called up one Mr. Uzair. He asked me to take a cab and guided the driver to his place. We picked up the package, and with this, I then asked the driver to take me to the Saptco Bus stand at Corniche. 

I got into a bus at 4.00 p.m. After a long and tortuous journey of nearly eight hours (instead of the printed 5 hours and twenty minutes), I finally reached Al Muwayh just before midnight. The reason for the delay: the driver took us all to a restaurant on the OPPOSITE side of the road for iftaar. After having the food, etc. he drove us BACK towards Jeddah … almost a hundred km, before finding the bridge that would allow him to execute a U-turn to go back towards T’aif!  

Thus ended my three day pilgrimage.

Wednesday, 25th July, 2012: Trip to Mecca and then Madinah - I

The idea of a trip to perform the Umrah came to me when Ramadan started; the intention to do it for the sawab of my father occurred to me a few days after my dad was re-admitted to the hospital for infection secondary to the central line that he had in his veins for the haemodialysis. I conferred with a few knowledgeable people who informed me that such an Umrah was indeed possible provided it would not be MY first Umrah. As it was a distinct possibility, I decided to go ahead. I took a day’s leave from the hospital. I realized that this was also a good opportunity for me to go to Madinah as the next two days were also off for me, and hence, I packed my bag with a few extra things like an additional pair of clothes etc.

Ordinarily, I would have tried to hitch a ride with a truck driver from outside one of the hotels that are located behind the house on the main highway (and I have done this before), but the situation was different this time: it being Ramadan, the hotels would be closed for the day, and no truck driver would actually stop here. Hence, I decided to wait for an ambulance to take some patient to T’aif. Imagine my good fortune, therefore, that a patient was about to be sent to T’aif at just about the same time as I reached the hospital!

Thus, I went in the hospital’s ambulance, reaching T’aif at about half past twelve. I got off at the point where the ambulance turns right to go to the King Abdul Aziz Speciality Hospital (KAASH, in short). From here, I took a taxi to go to the taxi stand near the Gazzaz Mall. Here, I got a cab for Mecca for SR 30. It was a fairly comfortable ride, and my first halt was at the miqaat, where I went in to change into the ehram. We left the miqaat after about half an hour, and then, in the same cab, I arrived in Mecca at about half past three.

Mecca was the same, but the mosque and the area around the Haram was too crowded to be comfortable with. I trudged onward, past the teeming multitudes of people from all over the world, and reached the area opposite the King Abdul Aziz Gate in another half an hour. I located the lockers, and deposited my bag for SR 10 for 5 hours. Thus unburdened, I went in after completing the compulsory ablutions, and was inside the main structure in a few minutes.

Proceeding to the central courtyard, I began the Umrah in earnest, reciting the necessary prayers at each juncture. I had already taken the niyyah (Intent to Pray) in dad’s name, and my Umrah continued with no problems at all. As the crowds were dense, it was sometimes impossible to circumnavigate the House of Allah (Baitullah) with impunity. I took nearly 45 minutes to complete the seven rounds. At about five minutes to six, I completed the rounds and then proceeded to the Safa area to begin the second part of the Umrah, the obligatory seven trips between Safa and Marwah. It was after about 3 perambulations that it became the time to pray the Maghrib, and I had to pause the prayers and break my fast with about 30-40 thousand additional devotees. There were literally hundreds of volunteers who stepped forward to serve dates, water, juices, and the ubiquitous Arab hot drink, the kahwa.

Shortly, the prayers began, and everyone was ready in a few minutes to join in. As soon as the prayers ended, a team of well-trained and extensively co-ordinated cleaners descended on the floor of the Safa-Marwah corridor and, cordoning off the crowds, began an exquisite ballad of mopping, drying and sweeping the entire corridor. These were uniformed employees, supervised by a team of aggressive, shouting seniors. They literally glided across the floor, sweeping the trash ahead of them on long brushes. As soon as the trash was shifted to the side, electrical cars with bottom-mounted brushes came in and cleaned the floor and dried it, all in the same liquid motion. Within 5 minutes, the entire corridor was scrubbed clean, and the pilgrims began their perambulations again. I completed the seven trips by half past eight. After this, I went outside the Haram. I visited a barber’s shop to get a tonsure, and then, at a snack stall, I purchased a dish of rice and chicken cubes. I had this on the pavement, sitting atop a small box-like structure. I also drank a can of Pepsi, and then, left the area to walk down to the main road from where I would catch a taxi to go to Madinah.

My initial plan had been to stay overnight in Mecca, but I decided to alter this plan because I had already completed my Umrah and there was no further reason to halt here. It was quite fortuitous, therefore, that I espied a bespectacled young taxi driver with a beard who saw me at almost the same time as I saw him. He asked me across the road if I was looking to travel to Madinah. I hailed back in the affirmative, and he beckoned to me to join him. I went across to his cab. He quoted a charge of SR 75 and asked me to sit in the back as the front seat had been already taken. I put my bag inside the trunk and went into the cab to occupy my seat. In the meantime, he also took in two other adults with two children to sit with me in the rear. I got to keep my one seat, while the two men sat next to me, one child with each one. They were Pakistanis, and they were travelling to Madinah to join their families which had already gone ahead in a bus. The man next to me was in his early forties, and while the daughter was his (and she was really cute), the boy with him was his sister’s son. The  old man next to him was the younger man’s father in law. They were really nice people, and I had a good time travelling with them.

The man in the front seat turned out to be an Indian from Dubai. He is the general manager of a hotel property in Dubai, and the driver was involved in a deep conversation with his front seat co-passenger as he was interested in securing a job for himself in the Emirates. Thus, while the two men in the front seat kept up a banter between them, the five of us in the back seat remained aloof as the discussion in the front had become a little lurid and sex-oriented. Engrossed with his passenger, the driver drove at a less than break-neck speed, if 120 km/hr may be referred to as a sedate pace.

We stopped at a road side hotel for snacks, tea and so on, and then went ahead towards our destination, napping off and on. It was a little past 3.00 a.m. when we finally reached Madinah.

More about this and the next few days in the next post.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Week later ...

Readers will discover this post when I go back into public mode. The last six or seven days when I have been off-public and in private mode for certain reasons have been routine for the most part. I continued to be on-call this week, and have had a fair share of calls in the evenings and nights. In the day-time, though, I have been free to read and do other stuff on the internet. This week was bad from the point of view of studies: I scored low in many multiple-choice-questions that I tried to answer, and this has firmed my resolve to read more.

Dr. Mohammed Abdel Jawad, one of my resident doctor friends from Egypt, brought my Mastercourse books with DVD when he returned from his holiday in Cairo, and I will be indebted to him for getting this book at a much lower price than its mandated price. So, I have begun reading this with earnest.

I also did a fair amount of cooking this week, making a vegetable mix of bottle-gourd with carrots, a boiled potato bhaji, mutton masala, and sprouted Bengal gram. Also made rice and other stuff off and on. Breakfast wasn't very formal but I did make poha (a dry snack made from beaten puffed rice) one of the days and it turned out to be quite nice. It missed a dash of sweetness which is what I like to get into it when I have it in Mumbai. The chapatis I brought from India have served me well, and I am now worried about what will happen once the stock runs out! Thus, I economise on their consumption, varying them with rice, bread or other stuff.

Ramadan started on Thursday here, and I was looking forward to the new OPD schedule that went into place from today, i.e. Saturday. From today till the end of the Holy month, we will be attending a split duty from 10-1 in the morning and then 9-12 in the evening. This enables us to be in the home the entire afternoon and evening, a sort of blessing since it is so hot anyway. As I write this, I am preparing for my first ever evening shift which is to start in an hour.

In other news, I must update that as Dad's blood levels suggested a fair control of his kidney functions after his 7-8 sessions of dialysis, he has been advised rest for a week or two. He had developed some catheter infection (he had a intravenous line in one of his neck veins for his repeated dialysis), and this line was removed on this Friday. Inas is doing fine at her job, and Hannah has settled into a good routine at her Management studies. Nish is good as ever, but a little overwhelmed each morning because of the hectic start. Mom is keeping well, but getting exhausted after looking after her own self and her husband, my dad. However, the good news is that they now have a helper, a 17-year old boy, who stays with them from 8 a.m. in the morning till 7 p.m. in the evening. This should make Mom's condition a little better. 

I continue to live alone in the large house I "inherited" from Dr. Shahid after his departure from here, and to tell you honestly, it is a good thing, because I have a free run of the house and can "do as I please", with none to share my physical and emotional space with. The downside is the fact that I have to bear the entire rent and also that I am all alone and sometimes feel the lack of company.

That's all for now. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Weekend passed, new week begins ...

As I write this, I notice that citizens from 42 countries have now visited my pages on this blog, with Australia being the most recent from all over the world. I am now convinced that the only way one's blog can become popular is by posting in it every single day, by writing something new and interesting as much as possible and by staying in contact with the regular readers. 

I am so thankful to all of you for returning again and again to my blog and checking up on my well-being and perhaps looking for something of note that may have occurred in my life in the previous few days. 

Today, I just finished my first on-call week. Although the first three or four days were light and I could sleep undisturbed through the nights. The next few days, though, were busier and busier, and today was one of my most busy evenings in the E.R. I reached there at a little before 8 p.m. and was unable to extricate myself until nearly half past one in the morning. I had my "dinner" after reaching home at 1.40 a.m. After this, I checked my emails, and browsed FB. Thereafter, I wrote this blog entry, and have now decided to call it a day and go to sleep.

For the first time in so many months, I did not have a single meal outside. I had an egg omelette for breakfast, bhendi for lunch, and dal + rice + chappatis for dinner ... all cooked by me except the chappatis, which I had to simply heat over fire. The experience was, alhamdolillah, very nice. Let's see how many days I can successfully stay away from the hotels for food.

Ending here and requesting you all to keep returning and reading. If you wish to comment on this entry or any other, feel free to do so. Check out the "Comments" link on the page to add your opinion. You may be asked to provide simple parameters before they will register you as a commenter. Thank you once again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Day 240, Wednesday, 11th July, 2012: Starting all over again

Moving back into my old house felt like starting all over again, except that this time, I had a house with about 75% stuff already bought by me for my own use from Dr. Shahid. The remaining 25% I would have to buy over the next few days or weeks or months. For the last three days, I have been going over the things I needed desperately and I began stocking my house with those first. Thus, I purchased a stainless steel 3-burner stove, but it was not up to the mark, and I had to return it and get a cheaper but more reliable iron 2-burner stove. I had to go out and buy a water jug, salt, turmeric, vegetables, some dals, some plates, some spoons, an onion receptacle (plastic), chicken (machine-cut into pieces), lamb-mince (kheema), salt and pepper cellars, milk, curd, cheese slices, etc. etc. Finally, I finished the tasks today afternoon, and then prepared dal to eat for dinner. I also retrieved three chappatis from the freezer and re-heated them and kept them aside for the night.

I have yet to arrange my books ... but that is going to be easier than it looks. After all, I have to just remove them from the carton and stack them side by side in the glass cupboard. Do you think that might be tough? Let's see.

In other news, nothing really. I am planning to resume serious walking in a day or so ... I am really neglecting that one for now. Yesterday, I managed only 3 km. The day before, nothing. Today, so far, it looks like nothing much will be possible as I am still in the house and it is past 7.30 p.m.

Of late, I have been reading and interacting a lot on the Times of India website; they have made the site interesting with rewards in the form of badges etc to those who comment, forward and share their articles and so on. Sort of like a mini-social networking ... do check it out here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Going back to my old room ... now a house, nay, my home

It is nearing midnight on Day 238, Monday, 9th July, 2012. I am writing this post to describe how I returned to the old house I was at before I was sent packing about a month ago. My ex-room-mate, a surgeon by the name of Dr. Shahid Hasan broke the news to me after a day of my return from India: his family was coming to visit him, and I should therefore search for an alternative place to spend my next few weeks. In the event, I could not find a reasonable accommodation, and got relief when Dr. Shehabeldin, the medical director of the hospital, allotted a room within the hospital, to spend a few days till I found a place to shift to.

I lingered on for almost three weeks, making a plea that I be allowed to stay for a longer time as I had a genuine problem, not of my making. In the third week of my stay, I went to T'aif, and after the weekend, to Jeddah, for different reasons. When I returned on the following Sunday, I was told that I had overstayed and needed to leave the room that same day. I shifted all my stuff to the room of a locum anaesthetist Dr. Taher (my homonym), and requested him to allow me to spend one night in his room. He agreed readily, and in fact, gave me the entire room to myself and went off to sleep elsewhere in the hospital. The next day, I proceeded on substitutional duty at Zalm, leaving the unnecessary luggage in Dr. Taher's room. 

For the next five days, I was at Zalm, and the problem of my not having a place to stay had receded to the back of my mind. However, when I returned on Saturday 7th July, I was once again made aware of the problem when Dr. Shahid informed me that he was leaving the same day, but not right away. He said he had some more winding up to do, and that he would let me know when he was finally departing. I kept my fingers crossed. It was at about half past three when he called me to tell me that he was on his way to the hospital to meet me. Eventually, he came at around 3.45 p.m. He handed over the house keys and then we said our goodbyes. He apologised for the problems he had caused me, and asked for my forbearance. I readily complied with his request.

After this, I reached the house to find it full of lots of trash and things lying arounds house. I called two wardboys to come and clean the place. They worked hard that evening, as well as the next, and removed a huge amount of unnecessary and useless stuff, including, but not limited to, dozens of old clothes, accessories, broken toys, old papers, and mostly, just dust - from the windows, the curtains, the flooring (rugs or tiles), and so on. 
It was on the second evening that I started arranging all my stuff  in the most easily accessible pattern. I had already purchased a new gas stove yesterday night, and I arranged my kitchen in the most aesthetic way possible. Later, after the Ishaa prayers, I called the local taxi driver Mr. Khalid, and he helped me take my empty gas cylinder to the local trader, and bring a new one in its stead. I installed the gas and ran a trial. The stove worked well, and I now have fire in my house. 

I ended up spending SR 300 to set my house in order, besides the money spent on water, detergents, mops, cloths, and so on. In the end, though, my home became liveable, and I will now continue here all alone, or perhaps welcome a partner just as Dr. Shahid had done over 8 months ago, when he took me in as a partner.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

A reasonably well-read blog or simply a sign of courtesy?

I have crossed 10000 views and my blog has been viewed most in the US of A, followed by India, Saudi Arabia, and 38 other countries. I pause here to ask myself what it is about my blog that has generated a reasonable viewership. In fact, after my last posting yesterday of my five-day stint in Zalm, my blog has had over 20 views. Not bad, eh? However, a niggling doubt in my mind made me write this post.

I have a good number of friends and well-wishers who visit my blog as soon as an entry has been made and then announced on Facebook. Among these are my net-friends, off-net friends, relatives and some acquaintances, who, nonetheless, are concerned for my well-being and keep returning here to "check" on me. I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart.

In addition, I am sure there are several visitors who are my "friends" on Facebook, but not really good acquaintances or friends, just casual ones, who also come to my blog. I would love to know from them their reasons for visiting, and their response to my entries. Some of them do "Like" my post on Facebook, and occasionally even comment on the posting there itself, and to them also, I extend my thank you. Others perhaps read the post and "Like" it, but have no time to actually visit my blog. To these worthies, my humble request is to come and read the blog. I guess I write okay, and my posts - or at least half of them - are above average in the quality of the writing and have something that touches my reader (s). 

You don't need to be a Google member, you don't need to even disclose your real ID, and there is no moderation or requirement of  any kind to post comments in my blog. Hence, I request readers to post comments to my blog within the blog. I would really appreciate that.

I would also urge my readers to check out the photographs that are posted in the other "pages" of this blog. The link to the pages is to the right of the posts just below the animated "Voki" that welcomes you to the blog. I have photos of people, places and Nature posted here, so do visit these when you have the time (and the bandwidth, LOL).

Finally, if it pleases you, do visit my other blogs too. The links are all on the right of the main posts, a little lower down. Although I am not too active on those blogs, it might prove to be a valuable diversion for you, dear reader, to see, perhaps, some photos of nature, some information about my family, some thoughts on human behaviour, or descriptions of some of my travelogues on these varied blogs.

Thank you all for reading. If my blog is interesting or controversial, do let me know by pressing the comment button; if this is only a courtesy visit, be counted so that I know who you are. Let me know with just a few words of appreciation or encouragement. If you are one of those who came here because you are surfing and you never knew me before, why, thanks a lot. Let me know who you are, and provide me a link to your blog, so that I can return your kindness.

My 5-day stint as a substitute Pediatrician at Zalm

Monday, 2nd July 2012 saw me going to Zalm to substitute for theiresident pediatrician Dr Hani, who was to proceed on a 5-day leave. Earlier, I was to go the previous week, but a change in Dr. Hani's schedule pushed this to this week. The request had come for five days, and I accepted this because I was, in any case, homeless - so to say - for the entire week, as I would be able to move into my own place only by Friday or Saturday. The in-charge of the ambulance drivers is a man called Mr. Sattam, and it was he who took me to Zalm on that warm, sunny Monday morning. 

Zalm is a small village located 50 km ahead of Al Muwayh as you go from T'aif to Riyadh. In fact, it is almost equidistant from Jeddah and Riyadh. I had gone for a 3-day duty here in March, and this was my second occasion. Ideally, my partner should have gone, but he requested me to go this time as well as his wife is in her last month of gestation.

Upon arrival, I met and interacted with  Dr. Talal, the Medical Director. I then met Dr. Hani, and went up to the quarters to take possession of one of the well-appointed rooms. Presently, I began my stint as Dr. Hani left. My first afternoon saw me seeing just three patients, and the next few days were no busier. Food was on the house. I had five breakfasts, five lunches and five dinners. Most of the times, the food was monotonous; for example cheese and halawa sachets were ALWAYS given at breakfast, along with the ubiquitous khubz and tea. Lunches and dinners always had khubs, a piece of roasted or fried chicken or fish, a zucchini vegetable curry and so on. The main positive thing was a sealed 600 ml of sterile water with each meal. In the end, I was able to save 5-6 bottles to take back home (to Al Muwayh) with me.

I got more than enough rest and long afternoon naps; in addition, I was able to study quite a bit. There were sufficient numbers of patients in the ER in the evenings, and the reason for this was that the locals, especially the women-folk, were more comfortable with the late evening visits that avoided the formalities of creating/retrieving a file from the Record Office and avoided the heat that existed outdoors. 

There was just the one delivery, and just the one admission of a child with gastroenteritis. All in all, it was a good stint. It also gave me the chance to meet all the resident doctors here, esp. Dr. Inam Bari, Dr. Afaq Khan, Dr. Fadwa, Dr. Farzana, and Dr. Kareem. (Except for Dr. Fadwa, who is a Sudanese, all the others are Pakistanis. For some strange reason, Zalm has many Pakistani resident doctors!)

P.S. I skipped one night meal from the hospital and went out to the Pakistani restaurant (New Punjab) and had kheema and roti. It was quite nice!

P.P.S. A surgeon also started his substitutional duty with me to Zalm. He is Dr. Tariq, a Syrian surgeon. In the quarters, we occupied neighboring rooms, and we also had access to an empty and working refrigerator and a fully working, multi-channelled TV set with the relevant modem.  This, and the internet, helped me pass the time. 

That's all for now.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Day 230, Sunday, 1st July, 2012

I woke up to realise that it was Doctors' Day today. Checked my inbox to find a few messages wishing me a happy doctors' day. One was from the insurance company I have invested in, and another from a patient of mine. None other. When I was in India and practising, I used to get no less than 15-20 greeting cards either by email or in person through the medical representatives, and I miss this as I write it. 

The morning was quiet, but in the afternoon, I received a call from the hospital director. He asked me to vacate my room (where I had been staying since the last 3 weeks, gratis) today itself. I had no options left. I sought refuge in the room of the Pakistani anaesthetist Dr. Taher (my namesake) for the evening. In fact, I also sought his help to go inside the town, to visit the Indian restaurant for dinner and to also go to another place (across the highway) for a glass of hot tea in the night. Dr. Taher was so kind that he, in fact, allowed me to sleep in his bed for the night while he went off to his office room in the hospital to sleep off the night. 

I called up Dr. Narendra to seek his advice before shifting in with Dr. Taher. He was sympathetic but had no real suggestions to offer. In fact, I came to know afterwards that the hospital director had, in fact, asked for the key to the room yesterday itself while I was in Jeddah, and today's call was, in reality, a continuation of the event that had transpired yesterday in his room.  I say I had no options because even the three weeks that I did stay in the hospital room was a gift to me, as I had no right whatsoever to stay here ... and I had been extended a privilege that I had clearly exceeded!

In the night, I talked to my family on Actionvoip and they advised me to lie low and not create any further trouble. I also learned that rainfall in Mumbai has been scant so far, with a month already past. I later called my parents. I was heartened to know that dad's health has improved somewhat after nearly six sessions of dialysis. Mom accompanies him once a week to the hospital, while on the other day, one of my two brothers take on the responsibility. Things, it seems, are looking up for dad, and I have you all to thank for it, dear readers, for your prayers and good wishes.

I slept at around mid-night, after watching an episode of "Lie to Me". This serial is based on the theme that when people lie, their facial expressions and body language give them away. The main protagonist of this serial is an expert at this, and his company, named after him, assists the police in detection and solving of crime in its various forms. Today's episode was on the killing of the teenage daughter of a female sitting Judge of the High Court, also a presidential nominee for a chair at the supreme court. The story took the viewer to the girl's school, then other places, and so on, till the surprising murderer was revealed. Try to download this serial from You Tube, and see it. It is awesome.

Thus ended my "doctors' day".

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Day 229, Saturday, 30th June 2012: To Jeddah

Readers of this blog  are probably astonished to realise that over the last seven days, I have travelled a lot: twice to T'aif, and once, to Jeddah. In fact, when I was chatting with the family, my daughter Inas asked me if I was working in the hospital at all! I explained that I could get leave on a day-to-day basis by exchanging six "call slips" for one holiday. Let me explain this further. When I am on "call", I am often asked to go to the hospital to see patients. Each time we do this, we are given a slip of paper with the signature of the ER in charge. In lieu of six such attendance slips, we are given the privilege of one day off. Of course, it also depends on whether or not your co-pediatrician agrees to look after your work in your absence. 

Thus it was that I remained in T'aif for two days last week in connection with my attempt to pass the driving licence exam (read my previous post about this, Days 225 and 226). I returned to Al Muwayh on Wednesday night, and did nothing much for the next two days, except reading and so on. Today, I hired a private taxi to first take me to T'aif, where I would attempt to pass the licence test once again ( I was already scheduled to go there today); later, I would go to Jeddah to submit my application for the MRCPCH examinations due in October. My taxi driver was Khalid, the same person whom I had hired for the trip to Al Wabah a fortnight ago. He came over to pick me up at half past five, and we set off shortly afterwards. About a km ahead of our starting point, his car's engine suddenly stopped. I waited while he patiently tinkered with the wires inside the hood. He explained that he had just gotten possession of the car a few days ago, and he was, in any case, planning to take it to T'aif for a complete overhaul of the electrical and wiring systems as the wires had become stiff and were likely to break.

After about ten minutes or so, he re-attempted to start the engine, and, to my utter relief, the car started. We drove warily, worried that the car would stall again over the next 180+ kilometers, but thankfully, it did not. We reached the licence place at about eight a.m. I paid him his fare and said good-bye to him. My second attempt to pass the licence exam bombed as well, as I could not drive smoothly around the circle. Dejected, I left the place, went to the Gazzaz taxi stand by a share-a-taxi (only SR 5/= for over 25 km of driving), and took a share-a-taxi to Jeddah. 

I reached Jeddah at about a quarter of one in the afternoon. I called up the MRCP office to get directions for the place, and arrived there about half an hour later. The "place" was the Department of Medicine" on the second floor of Building No 10 within the King Abdul Aziz University Hospital in Sulemaniya district of the city. The person who helped me fill the forms etc. was a Chinese named "Ching". I finished my work here and immediately left the premises. A professor of medicine gave me a ride to the nearest point where a taxi could be found. My driver this time was a Pakistani man who helped me reach a place called the Nirala Restaurant, a famous and reasonably priced Pakistani restaurant in downtown Jeddah. I ate Bhendi masala and tandoori chicken breast with tandoori roti and finished off my meal with a small container of "kheer". 

After this, I took another cab to "baab Mecca", and then, yet another one to go back to T'aif. From there, a dabbab finally brought me to the SAPTCO bus stand, and from there, I returned to Al Muwayh, reaching my home at about half past eight. The owner of the place where the bus stops for half an hour just 17 km from al Muwayh gave me a ride in his car to drop me to the hospital. 

I had a dinner of the food I had had at lunch in Nirala (I had parcelled half of the bhendi), and then retired for the night.

I was sad at not getting my driving licence, but also glad that I had taken the first step towards qualifying for the MRCPCH Part 1 examinations.