|Saturday, April 26, 2003||
came as a bit of shock when I realised that I had never had an Iraqi
friend. If I had one I would most certainly have turned to him or her to
clear my mind about some aspects of the conflict that took place there.
I have known Saudis, Kuwaitis, Omanis, Syrians, Egyptians (one is
married to a nephew), Libyans but not a single Iraqi. The Arabs I have
met have little in common with each other besides race, religion (Islam)
and the Arabic language spoken in different dialects. Of the two I
befriended and who invited me to their homes, one was from Kuwait, the
other from Syria. Both lived in western style, enjoyed their sundowners
as they watched x-rated films. Others I met in their own countries were
not as westernised as my friends. One thing they shared in common was a
strictly segregated society. Their women, even those not veiled, never
appeared when their men folk were entertaining outsiders. If the visitor
happened to be a woman, she was escorted to the zenana section of
Like Indians, Arabs like to do as little hard work as possible. As in Indian towns and villages so in Arab countries, I saw young men loitering about, smoking, gossipping, playing cards as did their elders sitting outside cafes drinking black tea or coffee and pulling at their hookahs. Women were beasts of burden and kept home fires burning. I saw fewer beggars than in our country. I think that was largely due to the fact that most Arab countries produce oil which brings them foreign exchange. Egyptís main sources of income are revenues earned from ships passing through the Suez Canal and tourism: the pyramids and the Sphinx are high on the lists of worldís tourists.
Another trait we share in common with Arabs is boasting and loud talk. Like us, they are given to shouting slogans, thumping their chests, brandishing swords and challenging invisible enemies to fight them. I describe this as the Nihang syndrome. Sikhs have borrowed the word Nihang (crocodile) from Arabic.
There is a lot of formality and display of courtesy when people meet: they embrace and kiss each other on the cheeks. Every dialogue begins with detailed inquiry about each otherís health, health of parents, siblings, wives and children interspersed with thanks to God: Alhamdulillah, Maaz Allah, Inshallah, Maashallah, between long pauses of deathly silence. Only after they are assured that you are as fit as anyone can be, do they get down to talking about business for which the meeting has been arranged. We have remnants of this exaggerated concern for the well-being of others in mizaj-pursee. I have to suffer this formality every time I answer a phone call. No sooner does my caller start enquiring about my health, I cut him short with a curt "What do you want?"
Most prosperous Arabs did not have to work hard to earn their wealth. It came as a windfall with the discovery of vast deposits of oil and natural gas in their desert lands. They did not discover them, nor did they develop techniques of extracting them, it was done by foreign experts. Arabs got handsome rewards for simply owning the land. Almost overnight men used to riding camels and donkeys were riding Cadillacs and Rolls Royces and moved from living in tents to living in marble palaces with hordes of servants and large harems. Sudden unearned wealth turned their heads. They became arrogant.They remain divided into tribes and clans warring against each other, backward, fanatical and feudal ruled over by kings, sultans, sheikhs and military dictators, they have yet to savour the taste of equality and freedom. They look down on people who come to their land to do menial work: Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. In some ways the terrible fate which befell Iraq should be a lesson to other Arab nations.If they mean to survive as independent nations, they have to rouse themselves from their medieval slumber.
Call of the koel
For the last fortnight I have been asking all my friends "Have you heard a koel in your vicinity?" So far not one has replied in the affirmative. I am baffled. In years past I heard them gurgle right through the winter months. By spring, when mango trees were in blossom, they were in full-throated cries in heavily leafed trees. I saw them being chased away by crows in whose nests the female koels deposit their eggs while the silly crows are in hot pursuit of their husbands.
This is usually seen in May and June. But koels proclaimed their presence a couple of months before cuckolding wily crows. Whatís happens to them? First we noticed vultures, including nephrons, disappear, then an acute fall in number of sparrows. City life has taken a heavy toll on wild animals and insects as well. Jackals are heard no more, snakes have vanished, so have the mongoose. We donít hear frogs crock during the monsoon, see no fireflies, moths, beetles and very few butterflies. Are we humans bent on destroying other forms of life?
Bodyache, headache, he suffered as never
Experts were puzzled with no clue whatever
A quack came around
And instantly found
Itís a case of hangover of World Cup fever.
* * *
Business it dull, economy not on its feet
Even pubs have lost the rhythm and the beat
It could all revive
We could still survive
If only we could arrange a World Cup repeat.
(Courtesy: J.R. Jyoti, Secunderabad)
Here lies the coffin of a world body
Initially bold and quite sturdy
It stood for peace and amity,
But became the victim of oneís insanity
It met the League of Nationís fate
And expired before the expiry date.
(Contributed by A.A. Abbasi,