Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mumbai at last: 28th February 2013

Over six days have passed since I landed at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai at a few minutes before 8:00 A.M. on Friday 22nd February 2013. This is my third visit to Mumbai since I left to work for the Ministry of Health of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in November 2011. I have attempted to discuss many facets of my life there in the last 14-15 odd months in this blog.

My first vacation was in May 2012, when I came to Mumbai for about 25 days; during that visit, I also went for an internal holiday to Sikkim and Darjeeling with my family. The second time I came here was in October. My father had just passed away, and I came to Mumbai for about a week to meet my mother and other members of our families to condole my father's death.

This is to be my longest holiday - 35 + days. Also, no long internal holidays are planned this time as Hannah's exams are getting over only a few days before the end of my vacation here. I do plan to meet relatives and friends, of course, and this should take up a fair amount of time.

My first six days have been a bit hectic, as I have been busy running here and there for several domestic matters. I purchased a second-hand Chevrolet Beat as Hannah, my younger daughter, plans to use it to drive herself and/or the family in the days to come.

In other news, I must say that I am surprised that I am actually missing my friends in Saudi Arabia. The first time, I did not, as my ties with them were not as strong at that time. The second time was a very brief visit to meet my family at the time of my father's demise. This time around, there are no hard and fast rules, no serious issues of engagement and I am free to relax and to do what I please in the next month or so that I am going to be here.

After coming to Mumbai, I have begun to go to the Mazgaon Garden for the morning walks. So far, the progress has been fair. My family and I went to see a movie and ate out the same evening at Ling's Pavilion, the restaurant behind the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower near the Gateway of India. The food was delectable, but the Mongolian chicken preparation was really, really HOT. We had to have it between sips of water.  For those not familiar with this Chinese eatery, it has a lovely milieu and interiors, a running stream with large fish in it under one's feet, a multi-level seating arrangement and great food. To reach this place, one has to enter the Cafe Mondegar Lane. The restaurant entrance is tastefully made, and eating within is a pleasure too.

Which movie did we see? Oh yes, we saw the movie Kai Po Che (the guttural cry made by kite enthusiasts in Gujarat when they manage to cut and set free another flyer's kite ... it literally means "Have cut it!"). This movie is adapted from Chetan Bhagat's "The Three Mistakes of My Life". Rating: 4 stars.

I performed Hajj last October, so I am also distributing a "hadiyah" a token gift of dates, zam zam, and a small memento to all my relatives and close friends. In connection with that, I have been busy too, making the parcels and then going to each one's place to hand these over with respect and love. 

Will continue to update my experiences in the days and weeks to come ... 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

More than a year away from India

Mixed emotions arise in my heart when I think about the time I have been away from India. Of course, I haven't always been away, as I visited India after 5 months and then, again after 11 months after my shift to Saudi Arabia. In fact, I will be re-visiting India next week. Thus, although I am not totally divorced from my society back home, I do feel detached. The reason is that gradually, one gets used to staying away from the family.

Many years ago, there were no fancy contraptions like smart-phones, laptops and so on. People who went away from their homes had no way to contact their family except through phones. In those times, calling international numbers needed the agency of operators who often took their own sweet time to connect loved ones with each other. These calls often had scratchy quality, got cut off mid-way, and cost a bomb. In India, they were called "trunk calls" and one had to often book their calls hours before the expected connection came through. People stayed at home, often skipping their daily routines because the operator could not connect them with their loved ones in time. In addition, most homes did not have a phone, so often these calls were made from phone booths, neighbours' homes or relatives' place. 

Today, we can dial any number from anywhere, and chances are that you would get connected in a jiffy. In addition, we have other forms of instant communication like Skype, Facebook Chat, Google Chat, Yahoo chat, Whatsapp, and what not. Thus, during these last 14 months that I have been away in Saudi Arabia, I have used one or the other forms of communication to stay in touch with my family, friends, patients, well-wishers etc. 

Usually, I start missing my family every day evening and try and reach them by phone. Once a week, or sometimes, less frequently, we Skype. Most of the days, my daughters and I are in touch through Whatsapp. I try and talk to my mom as often as possible. I also randomly try and reach out to my hundreds of friends by call or chat.

In addition, social networking on Facebook or Google Plus enables me to reach out to my friends, audience, and those I admire but probably will never be able to meet in this lifetime because of their location in relation to mine. I have some excellent friends all over the world thanks to these modern conveniences. 

In conclusion, I want to say that although I have so many ways to stay in touch, and I do so without hesitation, I wrote this post to just say that sometimes, I don't miss my loved ones so much and prefer to be alone.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A month later

I have been so busy with this and that, that I have, for the first time, neglected my pet - this blog. For that, I apologise to my readers.

Having said that, I must say that life has been quite busy. I have been reading, studying, watching TV and such other "usual" things, but, also, I enrolled in an online study course on Primary Health Care three weeks ago. This course will run for a few more weeks. It is online, free, and from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Our teacher is a seasoned Primary Health expert, Dr. Henry Perry. The course itself requires less than 2 -3 hours of your viewing/listening time, but one can spend endless hours interacting with fellow-students on the course discussion forum. I am pleased to report that as of today, I am the discussion board leader in terms of total posts of mine recommended by others.

At the end of week 2, all students were required to write an essay that would then be assessed by 4 of your fellow-students. An average of the marks you got from the four colleagues would be your score for that essay. I haven't yet got my results ... they are due after about 3 days.

Also, there is a 10-question quiz at the end of each week. We are allowed to take the quiz up to 4 times each time without incurring any penalty. The questions are designed to refresh your memory of the lectures and videos one saw during the previous week of study.

What this course has done for me: it has, of course, taught me a lot about primary health care. In addition, I now have a lot of new friends, and, I daresay, new admirers, but most significantly, I am able to see myself joining a big PHC project in my later years to render service to the most marginalised sections of the society. Let's see what comes of this ...

Cooking has been intermittent. I did speak about my culinary experiments with Dr. Paresh Shah in my previous blog entry. Nothing that unusual is now up, but I keep making food in slightly unusual ways just to try new tastes.

I have now been to Ta'if twice in my own car. The first time, Dr. Gofran accompanied me, and it was good, because I wasn't that confident of doing this alone. The distance to Ta'if  city center is about 215 km. I went in the morning and returned the same day in the evening. The second time I did it alone, again returning the same day. The traffic inside Ta'if is heavy and it took all of my driving and cautionary skills to not get killed by wayward drivers who think nothing of shouting at you, abusing you and even hitting you from behind if you don't offer them the right of way.

I gradually improved my driving by practising longer and longer drives the whole of the previous month. Venturing out on the highway for 15 minutes the first time, I gradually increased the duration/distance till I was comfortable with 100 km at a stretch of drive to/return from a certain reversing point. I drove towards Ta'if, towards Riyadh (in the opposite direction to Ta'if) and to other directions on motorable roads. On my first drive to Ta'if, Dr. Gofran and I stopped at a mid-point to have breakfast and tea; we did so on the return journey as well. On my second drive, I did stop, but only on the shoulder of the road to rest for five minutes; and, on the return, I drove without break the full distance to Al Muwayh. This was indeed a break-through in my driving stamina, and I am confident I can replicate this again and again. My car underwent several repairs before I did go on long drives. I changed the engine oil, heretofore neglected by the car's previous owner (the oil was black!); I changed the oil filter, both the front tyres, and several small tweaks to make the car weather long drives. If possible, I will change the remaining two tyres as well in the near term. 

I spent the last two days in Zalm, substituting for their lone pediatrician who had to go to Ta'if urgently for family work. The two days being Thursday and Friday, there was hardly any work. However, the internet was terrible, and therefore, I requested my Indian colleague, Dr. Parvez, who is a pathologist, to allow me to spend the second night at his place. His house is too good. He has a completely furnished home, with gadgets and stuff that I would never dream of investing in while trying to save money. He has a BOSE home theatre, a projector (wall-mounted) and a white cloth sheet that forms a screen in his sitting room. We saw a recent Hindi movie "Table # 21" on his home theatre screen. It was just like watching a movie on the large screen in a commercial cinema house. The movie itself was good, a game show that is not actually a game show but something designed to teach the main protagonists a lesson. 

Apart from these events, life has been the same.

My family's earlier plan to return with me to Saudi Arabia to perform umrah etc. fell through because of problems with the dates of Hannah's final exams. Hence, I had to reschedule my return flight (paying SR 100 extra) to time it with the end of my holidays at the end of March 2013. 

That's all for now ... bye and thanks for reading.