Saturday, January 21, 2006

Lure of the Jebel

Bahrain doesn't have mountains, at least, none in the Himalayan sense of the term. What we have, instead, are hillocks in the southern half of the island that usually provide a pleasant backdrop to camping trips, desert barbecues and family outings. The highest 'peak' is Jabel Al Dukhan and though it isn't very high, nevertheless, it is steep, craggy and provides anyone who climbs it with a feeling of accomplishment. There was a time when one could stand atop this 'peak' and look at miles and miles of desert but, today, modern highways and even more modern buildings mar the landscape.

At the foot of Jebel Al Dukhan is Bahrain's first oil well which is historically significant to those interested in the turbulent world of Middle eastern economics and politics because it was here in 1930 that oil was first discovered not just in Bahrain but also in the entire Arabian Gulf. And it was some fifty years later that my school decided to pick this very location for an excursion.

Dr. Bhatt, our vice-principal and English composition teacher, told us that the trip would be part of an assignment and that we were to keep our eyes, ears and senses open to whatever we experienced. However, some of us were much more keen on exploring the Jebel Al Dukhan and enjoy a bit of the desert instead of staring at an oil well. that looked like a badly mangled see-saw. Besides, the fawning crowd of teachers' pets hovering around the vice-principal, the PR guy from the oil company and the accompanying teachers made staying there even more unbearable.

I took one step in the direction that my friends took but the plaque caught my eye. It was placed next to the oil-well and gave some additional historical data that the PR guy did not include in his explanation. So I did the next best thing. I sat there and jotted down all that was written on the plaque, and my slow handwriting did not help matters one bit.

Meanwhile, my wandering friends received a violent tongue lashing from one of the teachers when it was discovered that a few of them got bruises while trying to climb the peak. One has to carefully negotiate one’s path while tracing its rough and jagged contours or suffer scratches. None of them forgave me for leaving them alone to face the music and I had a lot of explanation to do afterwards. My 'dork' status, however, remained firmly intact because only a dork would find value in copying the plaque down.

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