Sunday, April 8, 2012
What makes 'Oh-Man' special...?
This appeared in the Asian Age yesterday...
What makes ‘Oh- Man’ special?
The serpentine expressways in Oman are something else. I commented on them as the swanky Chrysler pulled out from the airport and headed towards the magnificent Al-Bustan Palace Hotel. Our local Indian minder, a successful desi professional working in the oil trade, spoke with genuine pride about the special asphalt used to ensure the roads in Oman stayed ribbon smooth and were able to withstand white hot summer temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius without melting. Impressive.Miles and miles of silky smooth roads snaking through demonic-looking volcanic mountain ranges are nothing short of an engineering feat. I sighed with love and longing…. preparing myself to endure the agony of bumping along on Mumbai’s notorious pot holed rastas, which turn into dangerous traps during the ferocious monsoon, swallowing the unwary and leading to countless accidents. Hours earlier, while rushing to the airport to catch my flight to Muscat, I had taken the wondrous Worli Sea Link to save time, and driven into the heart of darkness, literally. Mumbai’s glittering showpiece looked ominous, like a sea monster waiting to gulp foolish motorists paying a bomb to use a bridge that was largely unlit. Given the crazy speeds favoured by car enthusiasts racing one another on the Sea Link, I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the international airport in one piece… or at all!
But hello! There was a surprise waiting for me at the long immigration line. In fact, there were four adorable surprises. I noticed two baby bassinets placed on the floor just ahead of me. A young man was busy looking for passports and forms while the twin infants slept on blissfully. No woman in sight. Naturally, my daughter and I couldn’t resist a peek… we were dying to coo and gush and make those silly sounds women make when they spot cute bachchas. That’s when we spotted the partner. It was another young man. Okayyyyy. “ Beautiful babies!” we commented. He beamed, “ Beautiful parents!” and pointed to the other man. Got it. Just then, another chap came up to me and asked whether he could jump the queue. “Do you mind…?” He gestured to something he was carrying, and I was flabbergasted to see another pair of gorgeous twins in similar bassinets! He too was with a male partner! This was one hell of a coincidence. Four foreign men, four babies.Newborns, at that.And happily leaving Mumbai with their little bundles of joy. Later, we spotted them in the lounge, hard at work, bottle feeding their little ones expertly. I remain baffled. And can’t help but wonder what these guys and their babies were doing in Mumbai. I’d say, they were here to pick up their freshly delivered parcels …. delivered by surrogate mums. But what of the complicated legal processes that govern surrogacy? India is fast acquiring the reputation of spawning baby-making farms, most of which are pretty dodgy. Perhaps these men had all their paperwork in place. And all four babies looked Caucasian, not Indian. Since they’d sailed through the tight scrutiny of our vigilant cops who man immigration counters, it must have been a kosher arrangement. Well… welcome to the world, babies.
The immigration guys at the other end in Muscat weren’t half as friendly or obliging. In fact, they were predictably rude as they went through every leaf of my passport and asked searching questions. The one that took the cake and left me fairly cross was when the cop with the deadly eyes demanded proof I had indeed traveled business class! “Show me where it says ‘Business Class’,” he said testily, examining my boarding card. I pointed to the word ‘Premiere’, and said it meant ‘Business’. He looked unconvinced, but let me go. Phew! I was flying Jet Airways. Must tell Naresh Goel to reprint his cards!
Since this wasn’t my first trip to Muscat, I wasn’t surprised by the nasty attitude. All Indians there are disparagingly referred to as ‘Hindis’. They look at us as nothing more than slave labour. But the fact remains it is Indians who have built Muscat. Indians and Pakistanis. While our labourers sweating it out on desolate building sites in the barren stretches of Oman are treated slightly better here than in Dubai, it is still annoying to have to deal with sneers and rudeness from locals. The Omani chauffeur of the fancy Chrysler tells us airily he isn’t really a chauffeur. He is a wealthy businessman filling in for a friend. Right! Another cabbie comes up with a similar story and says he owns the latest Merc, his brother drives a Ferrari, and his dad loves the Lamborghini he possesses. So, what’s he doing behind the wheel of a lowly cab? He scratches his head and says vaguely, “Oh…. this is just for fun.” We refuse to tip him… naturally. How much can a ‘Hindi’ tip a millionaire cabbie?
Oman remains a spectacular and attractive tourist destination, regardless. It is well worth a visit. It is entirely safe, extremely clean, and not as expensive as its glittering counterparts in the region. Women are treated with respect and there are enough job opportunities for them in Oman to attract middle level professionals from India. The Sultan remains a well loved ruler, known for his progressive policies, especially in the field of education. Girls are encouraged to qualify in diverse fields and there is a fairly good representation of women in responsible government jobs. Anybody who tries to whip up religious passions is immediately picked up and deported. The mood is pretty relaxed and foreigners are left alone so long as they don’t offend local sentiments. Alcohol is served discreetly at private parties and in bars located inside luxury hotels. But the friendliest creatures around are the countless dolphins cavorting in the warm waters of the bay. Fortunately, they don’t discriminate between ‘Hindis’ and the rest!