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There is an old man sitting on one raised side of the Gosi footpath. A wizened old Arab man with his grey beard and a white turban.
He sits still watching the rich go by to make their expensive purchases. The youngsters speeding by in their flashy cars do not notice him at all. Last week, I saw him at the same spot and there were a few ladies sitting beside him in their all encompassing black robes.
An old timer trying to catch a feel of the place now? Or a villager fascinated by the sophistication of the town.
We had one of our festival days on Friday. The strangest part of our festival here was, we had to do without the flowers. It struck me that none of the supermarkets around had any sort of natural flowers in their shelves.
Our decorations looked stark and I wished we could have gathered a few leaves to brighten things up. The hibiscus and frangipani which we took for granted in India are seen here in a few old places where the people stayed long enough to nurture a few plants. I have also seen jasmine creepers with their fragrant blossoms.
I have been puzzled by the fact they do not have air conditioners for the kitchen. When you have to spend three to four hours in the kitchen, it feels more like a workout with the heat and the sweating. Or this must be because most Bahrainis have expat maids to do all their basic housework.
I have seen labourers being transported to their work spots in vehicles without air-conditioning. Their jobs involve being outdoors, but it would be humane to make their commute to work at least more pleasant. Not that they are lacking funds, for these facilities here.
The shadows lengthen by 4pm and I cannot see the sun and its fiery light anymore. But the humidity and the heat are ever present. At 7pm the whole atmosphere is still radiating and you cannot open a door or window without feeling the blast of heat on you.
Global warming is a reality! The heat generated by the exhaust of the cars on the road can be felt. Adding to that is the activity of thousands of air conditioners droning on hopelessly,trying to beat the desert weather.
Just the thought of a very cold place to escape to!
The Bahraini “Khubz”, the traditional bread resembles the “Tandoori Roti” of our famous Punjabi Dhabas (roadside cafe’). There are variations available like the Lebanese Khubz or the Cairo Khubz. All of these taste similar and have no stuffing in them, to confuse the average vegetarian. Krishna likes his Khubz with condensed milk, while I spice it up with a tamarind ginger chutney.
There is also another popular item for the Indian vegetarian The Arabic “Laban” available in plastic containers is buttermilk without any salt, sugar or flavours. This comes from Saudi farms - a cool drink to beat the heat.
Yesterday evening one staff in the factory died of cardiac arrest. This is something no family back home in India is prepared for. The wife and children do not expect the father to return in a coffin. It must be on an average a year, since he left the home country to provide a better life for his wife and children. It must have been difficult for the family to cope with the temporary absence of the father.
In spite of international travel being common, there is always the fear of permanent loss which at times becomes the dreadful reality.
There was distressing news. We heard from Nigeria, that our friend the Colonel had passed away. He was a retired army officer from India,who had taken up an assignment in Warri, Nigeria.
The colonel visited our home in Asaba. His family was at Lagos, his children were at school there. Though a very busy man, he tended an excellent vegetable garden in his house at Warri. On his trips to Asaba, he would bring the produce of his small garden, surprising us each time with the variety of vegetables he could grow there. An honest and hardworking man gone....
We went to the Ayyappa temple at Arad. This area had less high rise buildings and we actually could feel a nice sea breeze. The temple was in the roof area of a building and there was a tiny winding stairway to reach it.
Inside a small hall was the temple. The Bhajans were in full swing and there was vibrant energy in the place and it caught on.
All around the temple area were the auto repair workshops. To the expat workers of these units, the temple was a piece of their beautiful homeland of Kerala to be cherished.
The Marina area is a quick and convenient walk. An overbridge provides a safe crossing of the busy Al Fateh highway. On its grassy lawns, bordered by date palms the kids run about and play.
There are a few boats moored in. We go straight to the wooden deck area, to watch the slightly rippling water and the high-rise buildings of Juffair in the distance. By 6pm the whole area lights up and the distant lights of the Sitra bridge competing for attention with sparkling Juffair and the brilliance of the Muharraq Island. The international airport is at Muharraq Island.
The time between lunch and dinner is bad for snackers. This is our most vulnerable time. I do not want to snack before an early dinner. But by 5pm, I decided to have some healthy little “tiffin” (this being our Indian indulgence). So I decided to make a little bit of “uppuma” with more vegetables and less semolina.
Our Indian “Uppuma” has regional variations. When in Nigeria, I used to have a “Kannadiga” (origin Karnataka) neighbour Veda and the Uppuma she made was very popular and tasted good. She made the common variety with onions and tomatoes. It tasted great.
Having to do grocery shopping without having the car around is a new experience. Supermarkets do not usually do home delivery.
The first step is to plan your shopping list trying to combine the heavy and light items, to manage the weight. Next are the immediately essential items and those that you can do without now. These items can be combined with a lighter shopping trip (??) whenever possible.
Next is the number of family members going with you. Each can carry one medium heavy bag and two lighter ones. Anything personal and unlisted is added to our own load.
Ramzan is approaching and there is a lot of advertising. The government is trying to keep the prices of meat stable so as to make it affordable and says that the prices in Bahrain are among the lowest in the Gulf countries.
There is a huge import of sheep and cows for the festivities. I read that 1, 30,000 sheep would arrive from Australia in batches of 30,000 and 40,000. They have also placed orders for cows in the thousands.
Brought up as a vegetarian and happy to continue as one, wasn’t this excessive for the small population of Bahrain?
The holiday homework issue crops up almost daily, in my discussions with Krishna.
Back home in India it was sort of an optional work and the students were free to spend time on it, or ignore it altogether. For Krishna the Annual holiday to be a holiday was to be assignment free.
Since new school means new rules, I keep telling him to get serious about the assignments. I do not want him to start the new term on the wrong foot. Some of it gets done to stop me from getting started on it, again. The game goes on…..
Tomorrow is the “Varalakshmi Viradam” festival and Chandra went to Manama to get the flowers and other items for the celebration. Flowers,all the Indian kind are specially flown into the Kingdom for this festival.
Since, tomorrow being a Friday and therefore a holiday, it helps. Since we came to Bahrain, I have not seen this variety of flowers. As we put them away the Jasmine, Frangipani, Marigold, a lovely Lotus flower and the Tulsi leaves the fragrance brought back memories.
The Flower bazaar at North Coimbatore, would be so colourful but crowded, that you had to park far away.
It was an early start today. The offerings had to be ready in time for the Pooja. The Jaggery syrup with its rusty gold colour bubbling away as I get the rice flour ready. A gooey golden batter to be fried in the ghee. Sanctioned indulgence!
The coconut and Jaggery filling with an Urad dal batter to be fried again. The spicy Chana and Toor dal” Vadai” with green and red chillies and asafoetida(the pungent gum),also curry leaves all ground to a rough paste and fried in vegetable oil. There is still the Payasam to make. A Photo finish!
Still recovering from yesterday. Of course, there was a lot of cleaning to do. The smell of jaggery draws creepy crawlies from yonder and the sighting of some of their kind during the day, keeps me awake at night.
In India it was an ongoing war with mosquitoes and the roaches. I have seen only one mosquito since I came here. An expat perhaps! But he was smashed at the first sighting. The amount of time and energy, I spent on getting rid of them in India is still fresh in my mind.
The housefly is here, a persistent few.
Got news from India that my cousin Kunja died yesterday evening. She was not old enough to die. She was a librarian in the Agricultural University and had retired a few years back.
She kept adding to her qualifications. She started her career with a Bachelor’s degree in library science and diplomas in three foreign languages, apart from English which was the medium of her education. She added to her list with a master’s degree in history and a B.Ed and M.Ed to top it up. This was when her little daughter was barely in school.
In peace, Madam Perseverance!
The CD seller appears at around 4pm on weekends at the back entrance of the Gosi car park. He carries a makeshift table, which he assembles sometimes rather unsuccessfully and it flops into the dust. Finally he props it on the small wall and it leans rather precariously.
A plastic bag appears from which he brings out the CDs with their colourful outer covers and spreads them in a matter of minutes on the table.
The young people coming out from the University and passing by are drawn to the makeshift CD shop. They stop enquire, adding action to it.
About 4pm the light of the Sun recedes and people begin to appear on the scene. The older ladies fully covered in black with only their faces visible with the little kids scurrying around them, the girls with thick ponytails skipping in their bright coloured full length pants and full sleeved T-shirts the boys sometimes in their traditional robes with their short curly hair.
The young men and women from the University are a fashionable lot. The girls most of them fully covered in black still carry trendy golden handbags and sport sharp pointed heeled footwear which matches their bags.
During the summer months we used to have power cuts in India. Some announced and some unpleasant surprises. In our four months of stay in Bahrain, we had one surprise power cut.
This was midday around 1.30pm.The corridors of the Apartment went pitch black as there was no outside windows to let the sunlight in. A school teacher returning from her job was held up in the lift which had stopped close to the first floor.
It is very difficult to stay without air conditioning even for a short time. The security man used his emergency key to rescue her.
The Gudaibiya area resembles the thickly populated areas of Mumbai. The heat and humidity of the August evening was exhausting even for the short walk from Hoora.
The shops are everywhere selling readymade dresses and also Indian clothing. The small tailoring units are there, always busy. The watch shops with their interesting items alongside the cold stores with their bread, milk and soft drinks. The trash cans overflow into the busy thoroughfare. The water drips from the hundreds of air conditioners droning on to beat the heat and humidity. They form mini pools on the pedestrian path blocked with parked cars.
Tomorrow is Krishna Jayanthi day. A decade ago, when I worked for a bank in India, I took a day off for this festival. It was mainly to help my mother prepare the Cheedais (sweet and savoury).
Over two hours would be spent in rolling the tiny spicy Cheedais to be fried in coconut oil. This was one festival like Diwali which was celebrated in the evening. As soon as the lamps were lit, Amma would place the Cheedais in the Pooja room before the gods as offering and then we would share it with friends and family. Tasty treat!
We started to prepare the Cheedais early in the Afternoon. Got the rice and roasted urad dal powders ready. Next, powdered the pepper and the cumin with salt to make it fine. This was to disguise the pepper from Krishna. Then added a bit of butter and water to make some thick dough.
Then came the hard work. The dough had to be rolled into tiny pellets to be fried in coconut oil. Krishna came to help me and we went on and on for two hours. An hour and half of frying and I am done. Happy Krishna Jayanthi!
The car park at Gosi wears a deserted look. The University seems to have closed for the summer and there are fewer cars. But the holiday is ending soon and people will begin to trickle back,by the end of August.
The schools are reopening in September. The supermarkets are getting stocked with school bags and water bottles. The new school bag makes the start of the term less unpleasant,to ponder about. Which kid in his right mind would want to be cooped up in a dull classroom for six hours every day! Some things in life never change.
The newspapers here are sensational. With loud headlines even the tragic is blown up insensitively. And they consider it usual to immediately categorise the person nationality wise. It is an Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Filipino or a British or American somebody about whom the news is regardless of how Bahraini the situation is.
But the strangest thing is, when the news is about a local they still write it like “A Bahraini chosen to visit Japan”. The Saudis and Qataris come out with regularity in the news. But sometimes categorising becomes too laborious and the news appears about” A Gulf national”.
Back in India the newspaper arrived early. Sometimes it would be slightly wet in the early morning drizzle of rain. I would never find time to read it before 8am, if it was a school day. But on Sundays, I would wake up at dawn and wait for the paper. A warm paper in hand and a cup of hot coffee was ideal. I would sit on the porch to read it and watch the sun come up.
Here like in Nigeria, Chandra brings it home when he comes for lunch and I get down to reading it almost immediately.
I do get the nicest dreams and they lull me into a world of comfort away from the nitty gritty of everyday life.
I was dozing in the heat of the midday with the fan and the air conditioner at full capacity and was transported to India without an air ticket. I was in my mother’s house which seemed to be a mini fortress in my dream. There was an expanse of water close to the stairway (however impractical it may seem). And I could see the bright green tops of the coconut palms and the whole scene delighted me.
You do not need solar heaters to heat up the water here. The water that comes from the overhead tank of the building is scalding hot almost all day. It is good for washing the pots and pans to a sparkling extent.
If you dare to use this water for a bath in this heat, it is pure torture. You have to remember to store the water for at least half a day for some comfort. A whole day makes it slightly cool.
You pour out water to clean the balcony and feel the hot tiles soaking up the water.
Yesterday at around 9pm when Chandra and Krishna were returning from Manama, they hired a taxi. We are usually a bit hesitant about hiring taxis here, after one unpleasant experience with a rude taxi driver.
Since it was quite late they got in without enquiring about the charge for the trip. It is always better to know what is expected instead of feeling ripped off later.
This gentleman was of the “Bahai” faith and he told them that the day being one of their festival days he was carrying passengers free from 6pm to 10pm. Too much of a blessing!
The test of any city in the world is that a person feels safe to venture out at any time of the day or night, into its environs. Bahrain sort of passes, because its streets are well lit and safe and you do not have to fear power cuts.
The power cuts back home in India, sort of puts the fear in you, if you are outside your safe (perhaps?) home. Indians always like to wear some sort of gold ornaments. So they have to be alert to chain snatchers. When the roads are dark, they become targets for thieves.
I wanted the last item of my batch of August to be a bit cheerful,but it was not to be. Today morning another huge branch of the tree at the Gosi car park was mercilessly chopped off.
Not that it was anything of an obstruction. It was a straight branch rising some thirty feet high with thick foliage and was a really refreshing sight. This was a slightly bigger tree with three huge branches. Most of the other trees around have not more than two straight branches. Anything that strays from the straight up path didn’t stand a chance.
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