Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Walk in the Desert

It was a statement made with no evil intentions, hard feelings or any anger it was merely stated as an honest observation. But it was so close to the truth. For one odd instance I agreed with Faizal, without a doubt.

Dubai is a sprawling monster of a city, a Godzilla in itself in terms of business world today. But all it takes is stepping out of the gates of the tallest buildings, largest malls, most expensive hotels, biggest commercial complexes, the gold souks and all those manmade structures, just step out and the hot and dry desert winds tell the story. They whisper of the beginnings as they must have been when the air conditioning was still to bring the comforts. As these winds change their free flowing ways to adjust for these odd structures in their way, the kind of structures that don’t bend when they pass nor dance in joy or share the sorrow in news of the world the winds carry.

We had checked out from our hotel. Plan was to eat at Options and from there straight to airport. Options, by Sanjeev Kumar. One good Indian meal before entering the land of Azeris. It was a hundred meters walk and off we went with our luggage dragging along. We were passing the convention center and discussing the crowds of few days ago for fooDubai convention. It was like all the businessmen from around the world have suddenly woken up and found them in Dubai and there they were selling their products to one and all. Actually selling the idea of the products, actual products were to follow after the deals were penned, filed, catalogued and locked.

One of the very many things that you observe when you are in Dubai is how many youngsters here live the life of riches. With the gold hanging around and out from various possible parts of the body, the bellies already showing signs of maturing wisdom of being very well fed, the hubble bubble of all the latest electronic gadgets, the most expensive ones, falling out of various pockets and the unending (or so I think) flow of currency from the bottomless pockets, these youngsters already give a look of their grown up selves. A look which radiates with the beams which says “we are the kings”. Sons of Emirs. Kings of Emirates. Imposingly United Emirates.

So here we were, me and Faizal, Faizal and I, whichever works better, crossing from Novotel to Options and in front of convention center, when Faizal asks me if I ever played sin city. “No”. So he explained a little about the game and it sounded like Age of Empires, you make your towns and kingdoms and all that. I was wondering why he suddenly got interested in sin city and building of cities and kingdoms. He continued, “Generally at the start of the game you get some resources allocated and then you work out strategies and make money and increase infrastructure, you plan how much to spend where and all. Like what would be in real life if you are building a city from zero. But there was this trick which one of my friends told me. It was some sort of code. They called it the cheat money. So you just entered this code (somewhere) and you got like a billion dollars or resources. Now you forget about planning your economy. No need to work to make money and grow. No strategies. Just build whatever you like and make your city as big and strong and all.” It was very hot, the hundred or so meter walk could tell a person the truth of weather in Dubai. It’s all air conditioned insides but it only adds to the harshness of the nature outside. Faizal concluded, “It is the same with Dubai. They have this trick money, the oil money”.

Though not very true for Dubai in the current context, but the emir’s coffers must have plenty of oil money stashed under money coming from the other trades now.

And I just nodded in agreement, less with the content, more with the context of the statement.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Five Minute 35 Seconds

It has started raining. They are predicting a snow storm over the weekend. Few days ago it rained and snow followed. Snow or no snow, strong winds ensure the place always feels freezing cold. I jog to the minibus, open the sliding door and hop in. It is warm inside. Feels better. Find myself a seat and buckle on the seat belt. It is too dark by the time office closes to be reading a book on way back. Music is the next best option.

It's nine o'clock on a Saturday
the regular crowd shuffles in
There's an old man sitting next to me
Makin' love to his tonic and gin
He say, Son can you play me a memory
I'm not really sure how it goes
But it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man's clothes

Ticking of time is such a constant, one hardly notices. And then there comes a day when it stops. Others still don’t notice. Ticking goes on.

The lights have come on at most of the places. The way back from office to the city is through and over the top of a hill. It makes for a good view. It’s a city that never gets dark (artificial lights mostly). From top of the hill one can see every other place brightly lit. The tower (which I don’t know is for what) changes colors at its regular pace. Red, bright green, sharp blue. The cycle goes on. A red, a green, a blue. The place stays full of light all the time. Lately snow has added to the glow. Nights are nearly white.

Now John at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my drinks for free
And he's quick with a joke or to light up your smoke
But there's someplace that he'd rather be
He says Bill, I believe this is killing me
As the smile ran away from his face
Well I'm sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this place

The pot holes on the road are beginning to fill with rainwater. Maybe it’s the water from previous rain. Sun has not been strong enough past few days to dry anything. Putting face next to the window glass brings that freezing feeling back.

The place I would rather be…I believe this is killing me…. Life does so to so many, one stops noticing. Just like the ticking of time.

Now Paul is a real estate novelist
Who never had time for a wife
And he's talking with Davy who's still in the navy
And probably will be for life
And the waitress is practicing politics
As the businessmen slowly get stoned
Yes, they're sharing a drink they call loneliness
But it's better than drinking alone

It is a good song. One song can carry one through so many different emotions and memories in such a short time.
I play it again.

The owner of the apartment was generous with the wall clocks. Put three in the house. The ticking was very noticeable, as it was very audible. When you live with the books and the walls as company, the ticking seconds are the sound you hear the most. Removed the clock from bedroom late one night. The ticking sound along with the brightness of the night can keep you awake.

It's a pretty good crowd for a Saturday,
And the manager gives me a smile
'Cause he knows that it's me they've been coming to see
To forget about life for awhile.

The bus has dropped us on the corner ‘Ani Duniya (New World) Market’ circle, from where I walk to the apartment (the blue buildings). Two other colleagues also get down at the same stop. Slowly we branch out into our three different streets.

And the piano sounds like a carnival
And the microphone smells like a beer
And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar
And say "Man, what are you doin' here?"

Into the elevator. Up seven floors. Fumble with keys. Hit the light button. I have reached the place that till morning will be the pit stop. I put on the song once again. Five minute 35 seconds.

Sing us a song, you're the piano man
Sing us a song tonight.
Well, we're all in the mood for a melody
And you've got us feelin' alright.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Pub William Shakespeare

Apart from the fact that there are few portraits of Sir William Shakespeare, it’s just another pub. ‘Pub William Shapespeare’. Owned and operated by few Pakistanis it’s a popular place in the nightlife of Baku. Maharajah (an Indian cuisine restaurant) belonging to the same owners is right above the pub and, I was told, they also have an Italian food place just across the street. Shehjad and Ashfaque, if I remember the names correctly. Their brother Kashif is here from Pakistan for few months.

Enter three Schlumberger employs. Ali is a regular visitor, Iolut not so regular and me being a first timer. Ali practically eats here every night (gets a good 20% discount as I find out later, “because he knows the owners” Iolut adds). Ali is a Pakistani. Iolut a Romanian. I am introduced to the pub owners and as at every other place with Indians or Pakis around one gets into that desi mode pretty easily. The elders soon get busy with their work and Kashif joins us on the table for food. The language of conversation is a mix of Urdu, Punjabi and Hindi. I apologise to Iolut and he sportingly excuse us.

All the girls in the pub are pros (using a very desi word for pro), Ali points out. Even the waitresses, I ask. Sometimes. Especially near closing time, Ali adds.

There is a pool table in the middle of the bar. The girl bending on the table to take the shot has everyones attention from our table. Desis will be desis.

Stairs next to entrance lead to Maharajah on the first floor. I order from Maharajah, the menu for pub hardly having anything vegetarian. While I was giving order Ali informs that the waitress knows Urdu. Arzoo, I guess must be a Paki as well. I didn’t enquire from Ali if she qualifies for the pro rule.

You write your name on the board on wall next to the bar (if you want to play pool).The person who loses the game leaves and the next name on the board joins the winner for next game. The new player sets the table. The winner starts the new game. Once you lose you can add your name at the bottom of the list (if you wish to play again). Iolut, Ali and Kashif explain the pool rules as they wait for their turn. Over next few hours I am pleasantly surprised to find these rules being followed religiously.

Enter another SLB employee. Introductions and handshakes. He is here to celebrate the retirement of two another SLB employees. Different department hence I don’t know anyone. Sixty two years of experience among the two retirees informs the gentleman whose name I didn’t catch when we shook hands. Iolut was playing pool, his name being the first among three sitting on our table so we let the new entrant have his seat. Like any old oilfield hand, he is full of anecdotes about oilfield work in general and Schlumberger life and work in particular.
Some Crazy Head Lunatic Using Minimal Brains Expects Rewards Greatly Exceeding Results, he augments SCHLUMBERGER. It’s not his original, someone he worked with decades ago.

“Men should wash weekly” welcomes the signboard on the men restroom. Can’t make any sense as to why would they put this up. Just because something has to be said, maybe.

Ali pays the bill. I once again shake hands with the owners (making sure they remember the face in case I ever come back, 20% discount is big money the way things are priced in Baku).

Is dil ki aarzoo hai koi …’. Finally, it hits me as I am entering the house. Was trying to remember the song ever since Ali called the waitress Arzoo. I asked him if he has seen Arzoo. “Three idiots dekhi, mast movie hai”, he replied.

But for those portraits the place could have been called anything. What’s in a name?


Sukhdev Singh is milking a buffalo when I call him. We are speaking after a long gap. His voice carries the same cheerful energy I remember....