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Travel Tales-I

Airports, railways stations, bus stops are stations of life’s teachings. So many things can be learnt just by siting in a corner and watching people. Trust faith, adjustments all can be learnt on travels but yes, you do need to have an open mind.

 

‘Malayalee aano?’, a  man asked me while I was waiting for boarding call. I could see that he needed to file a form. I got irritated. ‘No’, I said and moved away. I get very irritated by this question. In the Gulf every other person belongs to Kerala and Bahrain is often joked to be an extension of Kerala albeit separated by a sea. Many locals who have dealt with Keralites since decades now speak Malayalam, signboards are in Malayalam, caution notices on the road are in Malyalam and whenever I step into a shop because of my looks, I am asked, ‘Malayalee anno?’. I get irritated. Why can’t they learn to speak English or Hindi, I ask myself.

There is another cause of my anger. They flock with their own, if there are vacancies in the place they work, they fill them with their own. shopkeepers have special prices for their own, etc etc etc.

So I moved away. After some time I returned to find a boy of about 9 years, helping the man with the form, speaking Malayalam. He didn’t look Malayalee. After they finished, the boy took a stroll and I met him and asked, ‘You are not from Kerala, so how do you speak Malayalam?’

‘Who doesn’t know Malayalam in the Gulf’, he said with a smile,’ I am a Gujju by the way. He needed some help, I helped him, that’s all’, he said and walked away.

A fact put forth simply. And I stood there my head bowed down in shame.

An ordinary life-Savitri

Mrs.Desai hurried, as much as her arthritic leg could take her. When she raised her eyes to look at the entrance to the temple where she used to go to help out, she saw a figure huddling with a bag with her, just around the corner, face all covered. She was in a hurry so she hurried away.

She returned 2 hours later and yet again saw the woman, rather heard her, as she was weeping.

Mrs. Desai hurried on but her conscience… she returned and asked, ‘You Indian, what happened, why are you crying?’
She wept some more.
‘Are you hungry?’
‘The woman nodded, Mrs. Desai knew that it was not proper, the woman might be a runaway, a thief anything but she could not let that woman just stay on the road and so took her home.

Mr. and Mrs. Desai had been in Bahrain for 30 long years, where he ran a jewellery shop in The Souq. Their kids were born here but were now in Canada, well settled. They both planned to retire soon and return to Vadodara in a years time. Mrs. Desai was a were pious woman and a very helpful woman, helping out the less fortunate in whatever way she could. And so today she brought the woman home.

She gave her food and then the story what she came to know, shook her.

Savitri came from Machlipatnam, Andhra Pradesh, her husband was a truck driver, she looked after her old mother in law and her 14-year-old daughter.

Now Machlipatnam is a place where there are often floods, cyclones. Still they lived there because her mother in law insisted that she will die in that place only- the place where she married and came.
One fateful day 5 years back, her husband had an accident, one of his legs was crushed, another badly wounded and so he was bedridden, Savitri now was forced to work as a cleaning lady- cleaning the fish caught by the fishermen, cutting etc. But her earnings were not enough.
At that time a neighbour who worked in Bahrain suggested that she too get the help of an agent and get some work as a maid in the Gulf. So Savitri went and met an agent, who asked her to give him Rs 25000 and he will arrange everything, no no need of a Passport.

So Savitri gathered whatever little possessions she had, sold them of and gave the money to the agent. Two weeks later the agent came told that her passport was ready, and luckily a position was open in Bahrain and that she was to fly in two days. At Hyderabad airport, he handed her ‘PAssport’ and sent her along a group of people because it was her first trip and she didn’t know any formalities.

In Bahrain Airport she came out and stood for some time, another agent came said that he would drop her to her employer but meanwhile he had to go and show her Passport and show it to his ‘Boss’. Naive Savitri gave her passport. The agent was not to be seen again.

Three days she spent in and around the airportuntil a fellow Andhraite rescued her and took her home. She was afraid to complain at the embassy, as she would be questioned as to how she landed here at the first place and besides she needed the money. And so she worked incognito taking care that none of the officials saw her or asked her identity card. Luckily her employers were kind and they helped her. She sent money through hawala.

Meanwhile her mother in law died and after some days her husband too because of infection. Since then she did not hear from her daughter too.

Now Savitri was stuck, she couldn’t stay in Bahrain because she was an illegal worker and she did not want to return to India too.

Suddenly her employers had to wind up their work and return to India because of some family emergency, they tried to find her a suitable job but could not and so that’s how she had landed up at the temple premises

Mrs Desai was moved and convinced her husband to find out a way to make her stay legal.

It so happened that Mrs. Desai’s neighbour an Indian only but very jealous of the Desais smelled something fishy and informed the authorities. And so one day, Savitri was arrested and put to jail.

Mr. Desai had some ‘connections’ and so could bail her out and immediately sent her to India, because of LMRA’s ( labour market regulatory authority’s) Easy exit scheme.
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There are innumerable illegal migrant workers in the Gulf and I suspect elsewhere too, some who come in “khalli balli passports, some whose passports are stolen etc. LMRA has tried to help many to leave the country but many still remain because they do not want to return.

An ordinary life-Rambabu

Rambabu came out tired, perspiring and very very sleepy. He had got up at 5 am to start on work. Then after he finished work at 4 pm, he did odd jobs, to finally finish by 9pm. The moment he lay down on his bed he would be dead to the world.

This had been Rambabu’s routine for the past 6 months. He was a carpenter with a construction company in Bahrain. Married four years back, his wife was living with his mother in Kakinada( a town in Andhra Pradesh). He was scheduled for his bi annual vacation next month. He was hoping to start a family this year and so the hardwork. He wanted to please his wife…

Suvarna-he thought and a smile came on his face. Suvarna his wife, all of 22 years, so petite, so lovely, a bit impulsive and childish but his her loveliness eclipsed everything.
Six months back when he had mentioned his wish for a child and she had said that she wanted a gold mangalsutra and not the thread thali which he had put around her neck on their wedding; this trade off of a gold mangalsutra for a baby looked childish to him, but he did not want to argue with her. Once they had a baby she would mature. And phone calls were the only time when he could connect with his wife, he did not want to spoil those precious moments. Yes, she was ecucated but was too lazy to write letters.

Also this time he wanted to repair their house. His father had built it with his own hands some 50 odd years abck. He wanted to repair it so that his wife and mother could live in comfort. And so to get some additional money he had started doing odd jobs- some cleaning here, some repair there and had accumulated a good amount.

And so it was 9 pm, he was dead tired but he did not want to sleep, today he would shop for his Suvarna, some cosmetics, some perfume.
He was worried for her. He had not spoken to her for the last 1 month. His mother said that she had been to her mother’s place. Undoubtedly his mother had fought with her. His mother could really be a Hitler sometimes…

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Rambabu took a bus form Hyderabad airport. As soon as he reached Kakinada, he rushed home to see his mother sweeping the entrance way. He went and hugged her. They had tea and sat chatting. Then Rambabu went to have his bath. After sometime his mother saw him getting ready, and asked,’ Where are you going?’

‘To fetch Suvarna Amma’.

‘No, you can’t go’

‘Why? Amma whatever differences you have with her , she is my wife and this is her home too. And then don’t you want a grandchild.’, he added to placate her.

‘Last month Venu your cousin had come here, in his big car, you know he is a contractor now….’

‘Amma I am in no mood to listen about Venu’s success story, I have to go and fetch Suvarna.’

‘Well, you see you live so far off all alone, so did not want to bother you. But your wife went away with Venu and is staying with him in Vijaywada’

Stepping stones

Vidya made a big O with her mouth and applied lipstick, then sat back and mused on her reflection. Since her weight reduction, her face had an angular look which suited her face wonderfully. The perfectly shaped eyebrows, the hair brushed to give a casual look, hmmm, all in all the effect was good.

In the past she had not much cared for looks, but the past two years had changed her perceptions. her mobile rang just then and she checked it, it was Shruti, ohhh, why does she always have to call up at the wrong time.

‘Hi How are you doing?           Me? Yeah was just going out, couple of friends are meeting for lunch and then maybe some shopping, Yes sure, will call you up when I am free, Bye’, and she cut the line.

Shruti her first friend in Bahrain… She and Nitish had moved here Seven years back. Nitish an engineer had got a good offer and they had moved down. Shruti and her family had been their neighbours. Somehow they had bonded instantly and as it so happens their joys, sorrows had become one over time.

Then Nitish got an irresistible offer, as a General Manager of another Construction company. This company made him head of a new settlement on reclaimed land and life changed and how….

They moved to a fully furnished flat, new friends, new lifestyle and the old world was forgotten. Their house was always full of guests, and Shruti had to be the perfect hostess and learn she did. She learnt to groom herself, the perfect clothes, the perfect ‘accent’, the perfect house etc. And like bees buzzing for nectar, she was always surrounded by women; wives of juniors, wives of associates, female colleagues of Nitish. Yes there were men too who ogled, who admired but she kept them at bay.

The intercom buzzed at that instant and she picked up her handbag and rushed.

Over dinner, as was their ritual, both husband and wife exchanged the notes of the day.

‘As usual Shruti called up when I was just rushing to my lunch’, Vidya was narrating.

‘But Vidya that is the time when she is free you know. The kids will be at school and she would have finished her housework’. justified Nitish.

‘maybe but I am not free then…’

‘Vidya you may advance in life but  you should not forget the origin from which you came,’ and then because he knew that his wife would not agree and would argue incessantly he moved on to ‘ our project is in trouble because of the recession Vidya nd there will be changes in the heirarchy’

‘Meaning ?’

‘Meaning that the project might be abandoned and people associated with it might be thrown out?’

‘Aww, don’t worry they won’t throw you out, where will they get a candidate like you’, she consoled.

‘No one is irreplaceable Vidya’, was his concluding statement

Vidya in her butterfly avatar, rarely gave much thought to anything or anybody and so this conversation too left her subconscious as also the numerous promises made to Shruti to call back.

And time moved on.

It was May, it was hot and humid and peoples attitudes also were similar. from a couple of days she could ‘feel’ that her friends were sidelining her. yesterday some of them had gone for a movie and had not even bothered to call her up.

She parked her car and went inside to see that Nitish had already reached home and was having Tea.

‘Hi darling you are early,’ and without bothering to get a reply, she continued, ‘Shwetha and others went for a movie yesterday and did not even bother to ask me….’

‘That is because, dear, we have become outcasts.’

‘Huh?’

“Your husband is no longer ‘the GM’, effective today. Rumors had been coming in from a couple of days but has been confirmed today’.

Vidya sat down heavily, her head was spinning wildly,’What will we do Nitish, go back?’

The other reason apart from a good offer for their move to Bahrain had been her inability to conceive. Back in India she had been nagged badly to the point that she had had a nervous breakdown.

‘Don’t worry, I will get a job elsewhere,’ Nitish came and sat down beside her,’It won’t be as good as this but we can survive, you don’t worry.’

He did get a job. But in the meantime all her friends flitted away to greener pastures.

They moved on to another apartment. Busy unpacking, Vidya wondered what they would have for lunch. It had been a long time since she cooked and she racked her brains as to what she used to cook that too in a limited budget, when the bell rang.

It was Shruti with her husband with a big bag, hey delivery- piping hot food’, she chirruped. But what was this, she was in crutches.

‘Shruti how did you know…..’

‘Vidya, had met Nitish the other day he told. I thought you would not be able to cook today so brought some food.’

Vidya broke down and wept.

‘Hey its okay, in these difficult times it happens.’

‘What happened to your leg, shruti’.

‘Fracture’.

‘Fracture, you never told me…’

‘But you were so busy’.

Vidya cried even bitterly, ‘I ignored you so much, still you came today to help us.’

‘Don’t they say friends in need are friends indeed,’ piped in Nitish, ‘Life’s misfortunes are stepping-stones to make us a better human, now haven’t you learnt to distinguish between the opportunists and the genuine?’

The secret life of Mukta Bhide

‘Bye, Call me if you are going to be late,’ she said and closed the door, counted till 20 and then rushed to get ready. Pulled out her bag, stuffed a towel inside it, took a deep breath, slowly turned the lock and stepped out.

Mrs Menon, her neighbour was a very alert woman. The smallest ‘noise’ and she would be at the peep-hole to check what was happening outside. Hence the efforts to keep the sound minimal. Mukta could not afford to be seen or heard.

No she was not having an affair, nor was she doing anything illegal. She was just going for a swim at the Marina Club. Her kids were now teenagers and Anup her husband was very busy with his work, and she was becoming depressed, she was on housewife visa and so could not go to work. All this was making her depressed, and to come out of it she decided to go back to her old love – swimming. If not anything she would get back in shape.

Oh how she loved to swim.

But when she had told Anup he said a NO. Why? Because, according to him there were many Forced bachelors( men who had left their wives back home for some reason) who loitered around the pool to ogle at women and try to touch them. Such a silly excuse really. Now there were ‘burkinis’ (Full length swimming costume) available, what would they ogle at. And anyways their were separate enclosures for men and women so what would they ogle at.

But today she had a premonition that something was going to be wrong.

Anup finished his pool side meeting with the client. He was happy. The meet had gone well. The situation at the home front had gone better since Mukta decided to do volunteer service at the Indian Ladies Association. She was busy and had managed to lose weight too. She was also more responsive towards the kids now.His glance took him to the ladies section and he saw someone stepping out of the pool wearing a burkini.

Hah Burkinis he thought, it might cover the entire body but still it can’t hide the curves, he thought.

But whats this its Mukta and his whole world came crashing down.

‘ Why Mukta, why did you have to hide. if you wanted to swim  so much. I would not have restricted you, you know’, he said, later in the evening when he told her that he knew.

Mukta felt bad. She could not see him upset,’But you said no’.

‘Yes but if you had told me how much you missed swimming, I would have relented. The fact that you hid the truth hurts me more than the fact that you swim.’

There was silence for some time.

‘Actually Anup, the thrill of doing something secretly is what made it fun. You remember when we were kids and were told not to eat too many mangoes or else will fall sick, still we hide and have some. Just for the sake of thrill. the same happened with me. Life had become routine to the point that I knew what was going on in your mind and vice versa. There was nothing new, the same old problems of job, kids studies and money issues. SO when you said no but I wanted to swim, I opted to be secretive. It was not to hurt you or to score over you. But the thrill that it gave me’.

Anup heard her very seriously and then……….. burst out laughing .

Disillusion

Amina was happy, very happy.
She was in love and about to be married soon.
Five years back she had put her foot on Bahrain soil employed at this Five star Hotel. Over the years she had progressed in the ranks of ‘maids’. Her objective in coming to Bahrain-on track
Her fathers demise had plunged her family of 7 on the verge of poverty and she being the eldest had been forced to eke out and work to support her family.
Now her younger siblings were put in a good school and the sister next to her was married.
But occasionally she used to feel the pangs of loneliness. The need for a companion. She knew that if she got married in the traditional way even if she continued working, she might not be allowed to help her family and that increased her misery. But not anymore…. She was in LOVE.
Othman the Sudanese chef had fallen for her, her big eyes, long curly hair, and had pursued her until she could not say No.
Her terms of employment decreed her to be single because the job required her to be always on call and so they met secretly, hurriedly.

FIVE YEARS LATER
Amina hugged her son Hameed and wiped away his tears. He wanted to play outside but she was afraid to let him go. Some days back a teenager had been asked his identification and on not producing it, his parents had been fined. And Hameed didn’t have any papers at all. So how could she let him go.
Five years back she had quit her job and had got into a Supermarket as a cashier. She and Othman had had a nikaah. And had rented this house. But Othman didn’t have a family visa and neither did her visa status allow her to marry but still ..love..
She had managed to hide her pregnancy and her delivery took place during the time of her ‘vacation’. Luckily her employer didn’t ask for her ticket if he had, he would have known that she had never taken one.
Her delivery took place at some ‘quacks’ who didn’t demand any papers. Usually all hospitals demanded identification.
And so the hide and seek had continued after Hameed was born. Technically he was ‘illegal’.
She had not been home for the past five years. Home being the backwaters of Kerala. HEr siblings all except the youngest one were working and so the financial burden was eased out now. But personally she was lost.
Othman had lost interest in her and if rumors were to be believed was after the beautiful new receptionist at the hotel. Yesterday they had had a bitter fight when she had asked him to sort out the mess, declare her as his wife and legalize Hameed. In return she had been told that he had never wanted a child and she should have aborted her pregnancy back then, but she had not so it was her responsibility to do the needful. In return she had got violent and scratched him.

She was doubtful now that whether her nikaah was legal at all because it had been written in Arabic which she could not read and also because Otheman had never given her a copy of the nikaahnama

She was recounting this when there was a knock on the door, she opened it to see officials standing outside.

Amina was deported. Her employer had come to know that she was living in sin and had a son. Her son was left back in the care of her friend because it was not clear whether he was an Indian or a Sudani. 

Yes it was Othman only who had informed the employer about her. And had left for Sudan. His experience in Bahrain would give him a good break over there.
Aminas friend got in touch with support groups who in turn nagged the Indian embassy to help out the poor child and reunite with his mother. Indian Embassy is always passive and needs quite a shake up to be active. Finally they awoke to get in touch with relevant authorities to clear up his passage to India. The Indian community gathered to collect money for his fare, clothes etc and finally got to be with his mother.

Amina and Hameed are supposedly somewhere in India. I say somewhere because her family too threw her out as they were disgraced by her behaviour.