Thursday, January 30, 2014
There is learning for me: In mid-forties adapting to a new place isn’t that straight-forward and easy as compared to when younger. In your twenties the body can digest even leather (not actually but I meant almost anything) before age wrings in arthritis, gastro enteritis, and of late even a depression as in my case. An individual need not compare himself to his neighbor and feel shortchanged, even the memories of your past seem distant as to belong to someone else. Even a narcissist like me can’t gloat over any past memories; the present is the only thing that matter.
In these twenty days in Abu Dhabi I have not seen anything except the airport and the roads leading to Electra Street where my office and my accommodation in its proximity. I been planning a few sightseeing trips on Friday holidays but my diffidence and lethargy kept pushing it to the next. This week I promise to visit the Corniche – supposed to be a beautiful walk close to the Persian Gulf and greenery – and improve my self-image. There are malls everywhere but what shopping will I do when my base is Besant nagar?
I stay in Al Naeem Building which houses LLH Hospital staff of which my advertising agency is a group company. It is a five storey building and in a rectangular part of the city where residential apartments abound. Here there are miles of 20 storied buildings and each almost kissing the other where even a human being cannot stretch his arms on either side at the shoulders, like that heroine’s pose in Titanic movie, without hitting on either side. So the eye only sees acres of building in different paints and geometrical shapes. I particularly love a building that has a sphere at the top on the Abu Dhabi skyline and a chopped out sphere of the Etisalat towers. In the nights there is a bulb at the top that glitters from these sky rises and sparkles every other second. Each side of the road is three lanes and the cars zip and halt at the traffic signals almost every 500 metres away. Even as a pedestrian you wait for the signal for couple of minutes with a timer countdown of seconds that changes to green before you can cross. Jay walking would attract a fine and in this city of expats, the public does fall in line. Away from your home country, every individual is a law-abiding citizen I feel. There is no percentage in getting involved with the authorities!
I get up at 5:30 in the morning and straight away sit for half an hour of pranayama breathing exercises after brushing teeth. At home I would prepare Nescafe coffee while here I found doing a few stretches, I found, induces the morning ablutions. I am a firm believer that suryanamaskaram is good for a mind recovering from blues, so at least four rounds gets endorphins to the mind. I have a single room to myself which is a luxury in Abu Dhabi where four executives staying in a room is very common. It is called “bed space” and, believe it or not, the market rate is 800 dirhams (multiply by 17 for Indian rupee conversion). “Bed space” is for South Asians immigrants and you find advertisement stuck on notice boards in hotels or even on the electricity boxes at road crossings. The rental for a single room is as expensive as 40,000 rupees in Indian currency. So this accommodation from my company is huge saving. By now the time is 7:00 after a bath and washing the essentials it is time to deck up in the day’s formals. The clothes have to be hung on the terrace as I hit the elevator from the first floor to the fifth. There is a lot of sunshine and a chill breeze as I attach the colorful plastic clips on the underwear, socks, and kerchief of a cable clothesline. That reminds me of the weather; first two weeks I was wearing a jerkin as the scales climbed 12 and even 10 degree Celsius. This week the temperature is a good five degrees hotter and there’s no need for warm adornments. As soon as you open the elevator and step into the fifth floor my nostrils is drowned in a draught of mutton odour. I go back to my room saying my day’s prayers while putting my sneakers on.
As the time on the watch shows 7:30 I step into the streets. There entire one kilometer square is sandwiched between two busy roads in Central region of Abu Dhabi or as an American would say, downtown. So you find a lot of parked cars amidst giant stores. Each building is 15-18 storied and you invariably find a restaurant on the ground floor. Being a vegetarian is expensive and quite a ten minute walk to Eldorado cinema which takes you past Emirates General Market, a convenience store, then a landmark five star Sand’s hotel, and at Greenhouse another convenience store where you wait for the pedestrian signal to turn green. There is small restaurant run by a Gujarati that serves Idly/Vada and tea – small to the extent of just 8 tables and swarming with 5-6 boys in white uniforms and a surgeon’s skull cap (to prevent hair follicles from falling into the serving plates). There is Sachin here and he’s smart as he takes the orders and entrusted with the cash box. He wears a Brazil national flag imprint on the T-shirt under the white uniform and must be in early 20s. There is a Tamil cook who greets me and I wish him “good morning, Elango” with a wave and a fading smile. Here in the restaurants they provide tissue papers at the wash basin; you crumple them to dry your hands and drop then in bin underneath.
Back to the room and pop a tablet. I lie down for a while and wait for the watch to grow to 8:40. Office is just a 7 minute walk and a pedestrian subway to cross Electra Street which has been renamed as Zayed the First Street. My office is a rotund building – spherical for a 360 degree - with Al Ibrahim restaurant at the ground floor. My agency is on the mezzanine floor and the day brings me in contact with four colleagues: Safeek, Sabeesh, Haider and the boss. We have a lot of banter and fun in the course of over 9 hours in the day.
At 1:00 pm I walk to Sangeetha for lunch and only occasion in a day where I find rice and my sambars and rasams even if it is garlic and the curry, curd, appalam. In these twenty days I have befriended Shanker or Dinesh who take orders and they come dressed in a smart trouser and a dark green tie. I eat like a hog for I am ravenously hungry that a Idly breakfast does not entirely fill the stomach. Eating thrice a day is not something my Chennai stomach is used to, I would squeeze in tiffin somewhere. I like the ten minute walk from office to Sangeetha where I cross the traffic lights near LLH Hospital which must be 25 storied and golden tinted windows. The afternoon sun is just right with the sun in mid twenties scale and the winter chill a sneaking companion. Abu Dhabi for all practical purposes is full of people from Kerala. If you don’t see this opulence of three way lanes, foreign cars, skyscrapers you may as well mistake the place to be Kochi and Ernakulam. Arabs would be around 20% of the population and you spot Indians everywhere. In the mornings I see a lot of Filipino women at the bus stops in tight jeans with asses struggle to breathe and perfume so strong as to linger after they have trodden past especially as I breeze down the stair cases of the pedestrian subway. I have seen so many white skinned, glossy, smooth texture and lip stick painted women here and they don’t make any impression on the mind. I am growing old and wiser.
There is a beauty that stems from fortitude in the people I meet in the day. There is Basit, the office boy who has a cherubic smile on his plumb face. These are people who sleep eight to a room and scrimp to send something back home. You will find Mercedes taxis but they are driven by impoverished men from South East Asia. They bemoan having to leave their wives behind in their country while earning here. They have to up and running the whole day and not park anywhere whether engaged or not. All these for an earning less than 100 dirhams a day (say Rs.1500). Abu Dhabi is a rich city with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. All the newspapers add a dash of spice on bollywood gossip and splashed pictures of western models in their Caucasian complexion baring and daring more than the thighs and cleavage splitting gowns.
I wait as late as Haider and Shafeek’s work to end as we close the shutters at the office. By 7:00 the day at work is over and another trek to Sangeetha for fried rice or vegetable noodles. Sometimes I vary it with a Punjabi Aloo mutter and naans. This week I was reading a Harry Potter tale, my first and it serves as an aimless time-filler. 9:00 or 9:30 in the night and I slip under the mattress. Actually each day resembles the other to a Xerox copy. I am planning to join a library and must learn some shopping. For starters I could be well served with a haircut and a hair dye. Maybe this Friday holiday.
Am I happy? This office gives me more company than I had in the second half of 2013 at Besant nagar. It is still one day at a time kind of mind frame and praying for it to gather strength and swagger. Another insight: ten years back I was jumping out of my skin in Bahrain. Now older, tottering, and cautious as age boxes us all in.
Monday, January 27, 2014
2013 really stretched me beyond my ability to handle. Especially December
I was happy in India Cements; humour and banter flowed thanks to excellent colleagues. But that system never gave me a chance. Placed at the bottom of the hierarchy, a bulldozer for a reporting manager, three persons to a job, and my impertinent tongue drove me to a situation where I felt walking out was honourable. Being the least ambitious person, I was content with India Cements chiefly for three reasons: proximity to residence, Saravana Bhavan lunch, and job security of a large group. But a cartoon of a manager ensured it was just the writing material for office humour pieces (Damien Bosses).
Six months of lying idle and the spirit broke. Not even being signed by a prestigious client in Bangalore in November got the blood circulation flowing. My mind was clear on this aspect: money though important would not be the main diet or oxygen. I needed human company in the day. For how long would my existence linger on friends at the Eliots or Theosophical or interaction with the cook? Being in a house for a long period of time reduces your own self-esteem to a pauper and derelict.
I knew this Abu Dhabi job was in the air, I took an assignment in Kaar Technologies as a content writer on a ONE month basis. The job came with inherent incompatibles – working on a software subject and being at the other end of town. But somehow I psyched myself for my need for human company was greater and besides I needed a rehearsal for the gulf job. For the first time in 8 years I slipped into a mild depression. Thanks to sister’s support and Manisha I am on the recovery path.
I left Chennai for Abu Dhabi in the first week of January with my heart in the mouth and primal fear churning the stomach. A new place, new colleagues (I must thank Haider Sheikh in particular) and anti-depressants have got some of the colour back on the cheeks. It is winter here and the scale goes as low as 10 degrees in the mornings. I am gaining in mental strength and I hope this new place and new people add something that Chennai crossed out. Quietly optimistic