Friday, June 29, 2007

Death in slo-mo

What does one do with a degree in pharmacy?

The obvious answer would be, to wear a lab coat, stand behind a counter and dispense medicines that have unpronounceable names. And of course, being able to figure out a doctor’s scribble for the ‘words of wisdom’ they are supposed to be.

But let’s think out of the box, shall we? Is it absolutely necessary that a degree in pharmacy should logically lead to a job in a pharmacy? I mean, is it really a must? Why can’t there be an exception to this rule?

Why can’t a pharmacist do something else?

Why can’t he lift bricks at a construction site, do some masonry work on a villa, or generally help out in gardening, if possible? I mean, why limit one's options to just pharmacy...

There are, after all, wide choices available if one only decides to go ‘lateral’ with career progression. Take Rao (not his real name), for instance. A friend of a friend met him at a construction site last week, and saw how Rao managed to go lateral and proved to be an exception to this rule.

Rao had come to Bahrain as a qualified pharmacist but he came on a construction worker visa, and his sponsor refused to give him a release unless Rao pays him a huge amount for 'services rendered' or some such bull crap. Rao had taken huge loans to purchase this visa and as a result had no extra money for the 'release'... and so what does he do? What else? Keep his pharmaceutical dreams on hold, and ends up working as a mason even though his professional skills were meant for some other job.

It would be easy to blame the 'free-visa' and 'sponsorship' system for Rao's predicament, but I guess, the problem is a lot more complicated than that. Of course, it goes without saying that if Rao was not so dependent on his 'sponsor' and if he was not a victim of the insane 'free-visa' system, his professional life might have taken a different turn, and Bahrain wouldn't have lost a pharmacist to the construction industry. That's one way of looking at things.

But it still doesn't answer why a pharmacist - of all people - have to go and do construction work?! Why does he have to lift bricks instead of dealing with paracetomols and panadols? Why does he have to be in a position where any job will do to help provide for his family? Why does he have to live in near penury when he is well qualified not to be?

I suppose there aren't any easy answers, and the blame game - if one has to take that route - has to be distributed widely. I may not be an expert in coming up with brilliant answers to this query, but one thing I do understand is that Rao's story certainly places our own work related problems in a better perspective. I mean, after hearing of Rao's situation, it makes my office problems something of a damp squib in comparison.

But that still doesn't alter the slow-motion death of Rao's dreams and desires.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Twenty years

The 'search button' in Yahoo Mail can uncover a lot of treasure. I was on the lookout for some email exchange from last year, and stumbled upon this 'email' that I sent to a few friends from school in 2004. I left school in 1984 and felt twenty-years was a milestone in our lives and wrote this reflective piece about what it felt to look back on the past two decades. Since then, I've got in touch with numerous other batchmates, and in fact, two-weeks ago, we had a mini-reunion of sorts at Shada when Gayatri and her two kids visited Bahrain from Philadelphia. And Rajesh, who currently lives in Dubai, phoned me today to say that he is here in Bahrain till Saturday.

There's something about meeting classmates from school that is so different from any other meeting. One can actually be oneself in their company, and no artifice or diplomacy is required. I suppose one cannot because most of them have seen us at our most formative state and have witnessed some of those crucial events: first moustache, first crush, first heartbreak, first exam, first attempt at sports, first everything really.

Twenty years. It has been exactly twenty years since we left school. And what incredible years these have been. A leap from immaturity and brash post-adolescence to creeping middle age. Not a pleasant thought if your memory of those school days is still fresh and vivid, as if it all happened only yesterday.

Those years seem like relics now, a reminder of what we were and can never be again. Our youth in full bloom was eager to take on the whole world and sought more challenges than we could even handle. We were still school kids and we could dream. We lived with our parents and so bread and butter issues were not a priority. Dreams and desires lay before us like goats before a hungry tiger. And we honestly believed that we could realise all that we desired. Reality had not yet crept into our radar screens.

Twenty years ago, we did not mourn saying goodbye to school. We were glad we were getting out of those restrictions and getting rid of the so-called narrow mindedness of some teachers that made some of our lives uncomfortable. Of course, there were some of us who were sad about leaving school – it was the only educational institution that we ever knew. Saying goodbye to all that meant adjusting to a whole new educational environment. It wasn’t that we weren’t sure if we could. We were just not sure if we wanted to.

And, yes, we were sad and pathos coloured the farewell reception the XI standard gave us. As our friends sang, "may God be with you till we meet again", we realised that some of us may never meet each other again. This was the final goodbye. The end. The last opportunity to ever see each other in the flesh. This broke our heart and crushed our spirits because it became painfully clear that lifelong friendships will soon suffer separation. Best friends, tennis partners, football team mates, bum chums, sweethearts, possible spouses, cheating partners, fellow conspirators, bus companions. All of them would soon disappear from our physical space and enter the elusive arena of aerogrammes.

We are now in danger of becoming like our parents and other elders who talk fondly of the "good old days". Strangely, we now understand and fully empathise with our elders’ fondness for nostalgia. Whereas earlier we simply frowned at their stories we now find a kind of kinship in those narratives. We empathise because we understand. We understand because even we do that a lot. And constantly, compare present circumstances with past events and irritate the hell out of those who don’t share our perspective.

We lived in a different world, too. Back then, the "evil empire" still ruled with iron fisted ferocity and the US was the so-called benign alternative.

Today’s unipolar world has forced its own dynamism. Black and white has disappeared into the greys of moral ambiguity and we have nothing to say to the young. Our words do not have the same force as before. We are less passionate and so less convincing. Our passion is gone because we are more realistic now. We call ourselves ‘pragmatic’ because that’s what grown-ups are supposed to be. And today, we are those grown ups.

Some of us have families, some are single, some separated. Some are employed, some have their own business, some doing higher studies, while some are still searching. And some may have also moved on to the Higher Place. . .

We are altogether different creatures than what we were, totally unrecognisable from our earlier persona. But if we look closely enough, we will realise that we are still the same. We haven’t really warped into something else, into something hideously different. We are now nothing but a culmination of what we were: a sum total of all our experiences, circumstances and events. The past is not a mere fossil or a useless footnote for nostalgia buffs. The past is the crucial DNA that has shaped our present. The motivator for what we are now.

Twenty years ago, we left school and a life of relative comfort and ease. But those years haven’t altogether disappeared, they find their echo in the person we have become. They have not only made us what we are, they have defined us. They have shaped our character and given individuality to our personalities.

And the fact that I am able to write to you is proof that our relationships haven’t disappeared into the misty past. We are still able to keep in touch with each other. That alone is the most important thing.

I am not sure how many of us would be around in the next twenty years. To imagine what we would be doing at that point of time is hard to fathom. But I am confident that the foundations that were laid in the past would continue to shape us in the years and years to come.

God be with you till we meet again. Till then, let’s continue keeping in touch.


Sunday, June 03, 2007

As the crow flies...

This story could read like a fable, but it is not. It is simply dressed like one, and might even give the impression of one of those quaint moral tales with deep underlying meaning, but it is nothing like that. It is simply an account of a bizarre experience in our garden, which may or may not have moral implications but we could take a chance.

On Tuesday, a baby crow fell off a tree in our garden... maybe, that’s not the right way to begin this story, and so let me try again... once upon a time, a baby crow fell off a tree and landed on the soft blades of grass that covered the Gordes’ garden in Juffair. Upon hearing the soft thud on the lawn, Tequila, my dear little mongrel, ran towards the little bird and began to bark as loudly as she possibly she could. She was clearly surprised to see a life-form fall from the sky, and called my brother to check it out.

If the story had ended here, I suppose, some convenient moral could have been drawn... two creatures interacting with each other, a dog calling out to a human to assist a dying bird, a human intervention that saved the day... sadly, the story took a different turn.

As soon as my brother knelt to take a closer look at the bird, two crows suddenly swooped down at him and tried to attack him. Taken by surprise, my brother looked up at the crows, and they came back and attacked him again. Meanwhile, my dog had already scurried inside and my brother followed soon after... it was pointless standing there and watching the re-enactment of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds in one’s very own garden.

The next day, the day after and since then, the crows have been relentless in their attack. As soon as any member of our family steps out of the house, they fly down and perch themselves on a lower branch, call out to each other with their loud crowing and then fly close to our heads and flap their wings on our hair.

Two days ago, they followed my father all the way to the cold store, and only stopped when the neighbour’s dogs started barking. And yesterday, as I went for my evening walk, the birds followed me by jumping from one pole to the other, and that freaked me out, but thankfully, they didn’t follow me all the way.

I was told that this is quite normal. Apparently, crows do get very protective about their babies (what are baby crows called anyway?), and do not tolerate anyone coming close to the nests. And if a baby crow dies in a fall, then, they start pecking and clawing at anyone who might be standing close by or even jogging, as this poor soul in London discovered to his horror. This site gives detailed information about all that crows are capable of doing, and provides some assurance that what we are going through is not unique but a normal pattern of behaviour as far as crows are concerned.

It may be normal for crows, but it is definitely uncomfortable for us. It is, after all, our house. A place where we stay, eat, drink, sleep, entertain and relax. A place that we call 'home', and yet we are being cornered by these birds who are not even registered residents of this compound. Obviously, I'm exaggerating but that's because I want to twist this account into a fable, a morality tale or even - shudder shudder - a political statement.

Without going into detail, I suppose, there are many parallels to be drawn into the politics of victimhood that's so popular amongst some quarters, occupation, aggression and retaliation. The crows might be thinking that we are, in some ways, responsible for their little one's death and might be seeking revenge (I know this sounds crazy but it sounds good for the fable bit), and so, flying close to our heads, following us, and freaking us out could be the only weapons at their disposal.

As far as 'we' are concerned, it is apparent that our superior biology hasn't helped matters much, and when we finally decide to do something about it, then, it will involve solutions that are drastic. And yes, if this goes on for a few more days, then, we'll have to come up with some final solution, however, ominous and loaded that sounds.

But all said and done, every day when I step outside the door and stare at the crows, it is not politics or sociology or ecosystem that comes to my mind... I get this miserable feeling that I am part of a Seinfeld episode.