Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Letter from Juffair - 5

If it wasn't for the on-going election campaign, I wouldn't have known that the Juffair-Ghuraifa district where I stay is, officially called, Capital Governorate- Constituency 5. And that we share this honour with Mina Salman, Nabi Saleh island and Al Fatheh. I guess, Al Fatheh area includes all the reclaimed land in and around Al Fatheh mosque, and all along I thought, it was part of new Juffair. There's always something new to learn.

Bahrain Tribune has been doing a daily report on the various electoral constituencies in Bahrain, and last Friday it gave a full page report on our constituency. It highlighted some of the area's pressing problems and carried an interview with the sitting MP, Hussain Eid Bokhammas, and one of his opponents, Hassan Ateya Jassim. You can find the report here.

We do have one woman candidate (Shahzalan Abdulhassan Hassan Khamis)in the fray, and in a straw poll conducted by the BT team, she tied in at 20% along with the sitting MP Mr. Bokhammas and Mohammed Yousif Yacoub Mezal. The fight for the municipal council seat is most likely to be between Fadhel Abbas and Hassan Ateya Jassim because both of them garnered 35% support in the straw polls.

Anyway, here is a list of the candidates for the lower house of the Parliament: Hassan Eid Rashid Bukhammas, Shahzalan Abdulhassan Hassan Khamis, Mohammed Yousif Yacoub Mezal, Yousif Ahmed Hassan Marhoon, Juma Ali Abdulla Al Juffairi, and Ali Hussain Isa Ali.

There are only three candidates for the Municipal Council seat and they are: Fadhel Abbas, Hassan Ateya Jassim, and Sayed Mohammed Jaffer.

The sitting MP is Hassan Eid Bukhammas and the sitting Councillor is Sayed Yousif Sayed Hashim Muntada Bader from Nabih Saleh. There are approximately 3,570 voters, and women comprise almost 60% of the electorate.

The constituency has a couple of serious issues that the winning candidate must look into before they reach crisis proportions. Bahrain Tribune has talked about the dilapidated houses in Juffair village that are close to some of the swankiest apartments around, but that's only one crisis though a glaring one.

One obvious problem in Juffair is the apparent lack of planning behind any of the construction activities. There appears to be a 'laissez faire' approach because of which new buildings are constructed at every available open space, and in some cases, land has even been reclaimed just to construct these new buildings.

I'm not against these constructions but what I cannot understand is why and how road work begins after the building construction and not before. It makes driving in most parts of new Juffair like an off-the-road experience requiring a four-wheel drive.

Unlike Hamad Town and Isa Town, which are so well-planned, new Juffair in contrast looks terribly chaotic, but it shouldn't be this way at all. The municipal council must intervene and chalk out roads and zones, and only then grant permission for constructions.

New Juffair has some of the most expensive apartments and rents are consistently going up, which means this is an upmarket area. Now the question is, if the roads are bad, if the area is so unplanned, if the entire district looks like an after thought... is it justifiable to pay so much rent for so much of inconvenience?

Another potential worry spot, as far as traffic is concerned, is the Megamart area. Till last year it was quite lacklustre but with so many fast food outlets and restaurants opened (and opening) in this area it's going to be one busy and 'happening' area in Bahrain. All that's fine, but the road is not broad enough and there are no adequate parking facilities. And hence, you have people parking just about anywhere and anyhow and it makes this small road even smaller.

It is good that Murjan Centre has opened and it may take some crowd away from the Megamart area, but it is too soon to say and let me just be positive and state that it is a good start.

There are no pharmacies in the whole of Juffair, and that's a serious lapse. How can a township be built without a pharmacy? It's good that Leela Pharmacy in Adliya and Jaffar Pharmacy in Exhibition Road are not that far away, but a pharmacy in Juffair will be very helpful.

Since Juffair is expanding so much, it will be helpful if the government considers opening a health centre in the area so that residents don't have to visit Shaikh Sabah Health Centre in Umm Al Hassam.

Another thing that Juffair lacks is a park where families can go and where children can play. It could also include a jogging area for health fanatics. It would be ridiculous assume that anyone would want to 'waste' prime real estate space for a park, but it would be money well worth spent because a park will provide necessary lung space, reduce pollution and eliminate congestion.

Finally, if some effort is made to ensure that new Juffair does not end up as another Exhibition Road, then,we'll know that things are moving in the right direction. Only time will tell.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Kuwaiti Building R.I.P.

So it's finally coming down.

Kuwaiti Building has been something of a landmark for much of my life, and that bit of Manama will no longer be the same when the demolition goes through. There is still a possibility that a final appeal may stall the wrecking crew from unleashing the bulldozers, but as of now that generally appears to be in the wishful thinking territory.

In the thirty-odd years of its existence, Kuwaiti Building has seen it all -- from being the first (I think) modern shopping centre in Bahrain (and possibly the Gulf) to its present state of near dilapidation and horrible neglect. A terrible anti-climax, indeed, to a place that was once the hottest spot in Manama attracting the young, the beautiful and the fashionable, and now surviving by a mere thread of legal manoevering.

As a teenager, I loved going there for the cassettes because there were a couple of music shops that had all the music I wanted. Of course, we are talking about the days before CDs and MP3s became a rage, and cassettes were a teenager's only source of musical ecstasy. Vinyls were very much there, but you couldn't carry them on a Walkman, and besides, only two shops were popular for vinyls - Bambino and Jashanmal, and both were in the souq. But the ones in Kuwaiti Building were pretty reliable, had the broadest range possible and the speakers were like 'wow'.

Anyway, a snack bar on the ground floor used to be quite popular and though I don't remember exactly why but it, nevertheless, attracted a crowd. There were many fashion boutiques back then, and if I'm not mistaken,it still has/had a couple of 'em till the very end (whenever that will take place).

It was a forerunner of the malls and provided the first-ever 'different-shops-under-one-roof' experience for shoppers in Bahrain. It did seem rather exclusive and pricey back then, because shopping in the 70s meant the souq and anywhere else was considered a mere diversion.

It was the arrival of the Yateem Centre in the early 80's and the Sheraton Shopping Centre soon after that eventually set off a chain of events that heralded the Kuwaiti Building's eclipse as a 'hot' shopping centre. Both Yateem and Sheraton were not only conveniently located very close to the souq, they were also very 'modern' in style and architecture. Though not as big and elaborate as the present day malls like Seef and Geant, they did provide a foretaste of things to come. Interestingly, they are still around and are unlikely to close down anytime in the near future.

Kuwaiti Building did not adapt to the changing times, but remained stuck in a 70s or 80s idea of 'coolness' and that, I think, was its main tragedy. It could have moulded itself to new trends, invested in refurbishing and renovation, could have carved a new identity, but no, it did no such thing. It just remained the way it was, and kept providing old timers with a little bit of nostalgia and nothing else.

It shall be missed like so many other structures from the past that are being demolished to make way for bigger structures. Somehow, I have a hunch that whatever building is constructed on this spot will not achieve the same passionate following that Kuwaiti Building once did.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Blogless October

October was a slow month. Or to be precise, a no-show month. Or to be really, really precise: a dry month as far as blog entries from yours truly were concerned.

It's not as if there was nothing to write, in fact, there was much to scribble about. Much to rant and rave, and complain about as well as much to be happy about. But there is such a thing as 'needing a break', and that's what I thought I required to do.

Besides, there were other factors, too, that made me re-think and question the raison d'etre of having a blog in the first place. I won't bore you into any details about the thought processes that went into the re-thinking, but let me just cut to the chase and say, yes, I will continue to blog.

A writer needs to write, and a blog offers a unique platform to share ideas, opinions, news and even information. And to ignore such an opportunity would be quite a foolish move. Besides, with the abundance of various information channels everywhere especially ones controlled either by the government or corporate bigwigs, it makes it even more necessary that 'independent' voices continue to raise their point of view through blogs.

I'm contemplating a complete revamp of this blog, and I don't want to say in what way because that might be a little foolhardy. But yes, the bottomline is that the blog will continue and will get a new look, content-wise.

So watch this space.