Archive for March, 2007

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Living In 302 AD

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Now, don’t start getting ideas that this is going to be a tedious narrative about some antiquated era. 302 was just my apartment number and AD is an acronym I would like to use for Abu Dhabi. Although AUH was more helpful while boarding a plane from Mumbai to the island capital, I find AD so much more definitive of Abu Dhabi. And thus, the acronym remains through out my writings.

Few months after our wedding my husband’s project landed us in AD and followed after that were a few memorable months in the wonderful city. Here, I share some impressions as a first time traveler to AD.

Interestingly, Abu Dhabi literally means Father of Gazelle. No, I didn’t see any of them trotting on the streets of AD. But, we were fortunate enough to spot a jolly pack in the Al-Ain zoo, a three-hour drive from the city.

A distinctive feature of the city is how modernity and tradition mix here. The traditional Kahva cups (Arabian coffee served in small cups without handles) can be still spotted, Dhow boats still float the Arabian waters and camel races are still very popular in the festival season. The spiffy Marina Mall on AD breakwaters is built like what seems to be an enormous Arabian tent. In the evenings, the brilliant blue waters of the Corniche shine against the imposing skyscrapers of the city.

Another striking feature of the place is its compact size. Home was never more than 10 min away. In contrast with this is another Major City, Dubai, where new buildings seem to be growing like mushrooms in rain. If the two cities could be described as persons AD would be the systematized and sober elder brother of Dubai. Although Dubai is a great place for recreation, AD is the place where one would love to live. No traffic jams, lesser crowds in malls, more quiet, more calm, more organized, and richer. Ok, maybe the last adjective is not what makes a place exactly homely for many but it is true that the AD State owns most of the oil in the Emirates. These are the same qualities that makes AD predictable, so if you are staying here for a long time it is necessary to make friends around the place and build a good social group. For a weekend getaway and to have your share of the fun you can take a bus or a taxi which will drop you to Dubai in a couple of hours.

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On weekends AD too offers a myriad of opportunity for enjoyment like walks on the Corniche. I am told that the sea has been artificially pulled towards the shore. That makes the waters look like a gigantic swimming pool. Parks are in abundance here. The family park at Khalidiya Street was one that we visited often (no, they didn’t debar me from entering without a family). The project my husband was working on was in full swing at this time and there were days when we would manage just enough time for an enjoyable dinner at the park, sometimes accompanied by friends. BBQ smoke, football, frothy fountains, large families and clusters of friends made it an zestful experience.

The Zayed Sports City appealed more to our gamely spirit. It is located off the Airport Rd. and is good place for bowling, billiards, table tennis and ice-skating. For us it even offered a good walk. We took a taxi to the place only to discover later that because of its out of the way location there were none to be found on our way back!

If you’re looking for a little bit more of adventure you can make a detour off the highway and drive across the dunes for some sand dashing. Of course, the safer way will be to hire a four-wheel drive and a driver who knows around the place by getting in touch with desert safari organizers, like we did:-), always trust the professionls! It was a real roller coaster ride across the dunes until the driver serpented his way to a camp, which was in the middle of…actually nowhere! The bumpy camel rides, sand skiing, “sandy” dinner and watching the serenity of the big, blazing ball set into the sand made us forget all about how the we would find our way back. There were absolutely no visible landmarks in the middle of the desert, more so in the dark and the dunes kept changing shape because of the winds. But our deep trust vested in the professionals was not betrayed. Our driver knew his way around and we finally drove back to AD City.

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The oil business brings in a lot of wealth into the UAE. The traces of this can be seen splashed everywhere… cars, restaurants, malls, homes and even having bizarre hobbies like keeping falcons as pets and to have special passports for them while travelling. These passports have details like name, age, and breed of the falcon, complete with a dainty picture of the old chap. While strolling in downtown AD I’ve seen shops that sell falcon gear. Now don’t ask me what I mean by gear because I’ve never been inside these shops, the latest in falcon fashion imported right from Italy? Hmmm… maybe next time I should stop by and see if they have something my size. Who knows the UAE version of FTV might be Falcon television!

Both, my husband and I are in love with the Arabian cuisine, be it Humus, lamb tikka, Fetteh, shawerma, fattoush… the list of mouthwatering chow goes on. The Lebanese and Egyptian restaurants were good in particular authentic eats. Most of the local restaurants have the option to eat out, under the crystal studded sky. Now this might sound very tempting but don’t even think of trying it in the summers. Yeah, you might ask… “How hot can a desert get?” Well, to be modest, it reaches a to a sweltering 45 degrees Celsius. Air conditioning is a basic necessity in this part of the globe.

There can be many types of luxuries in the world but can there be anything more extravagant than having your groceries delivered to your door? It was possible for me in AD. All you had to do was just to give a buzz to the local grocery store and they would run an errand for you and have anything delivered to your door. Even if it has to be a couple of cucumbers that you need for the salad at lunch but missed out on your shopping list. Plaudits to AD’s local grocery stores. You might have to bicker with the rather obtuse taxi drivers but grocery stores provide great service, not to mention our local Video parlor!

Spending Ramadhan in AD was a treat for the soul. It is an auspicious month and its reverence in local life shows. Work and school hours are modified and Ramadhan decoration adorns buildings. The evening taravi prayers allowed us to explore the magnificent mosques around the city. The grand mosque, which is under construction at the outskirts of the city, is said to soon stand as the largest one in the world. There is always a neighborhood mosque, which you can walk to. No matter how big or small it is it mostly has a ladies section.

Seems like this turned out more to be chronicles of living outside apartment no. 302 rather than in. This is what happens you don’t put things on paper soon enough. Next time I write a travelogue, I’ll write it while traveling, just to keep the spontaneity alive. An appreciation expressed for all writers who write their accounts as they happen. Rather contrary to Mr. Wordsworth’s theory that emotions are best when recollected in tranquility!

Posted by Arhama on Mar 30th 2007 | Filed in Travel | Comments (5)

Clips n Snips of Abu Dhabi

Check these clips of Abu Dhabi

Posted by Arhama on Mar 7th 2007 | Filed in Images | Comments (0)

A Tongue Twisted

“Isn’t Urdu the language of Muslims?” An obstinate question, also a shallow one.

If this were true then why are so many non-Muslim poets and lyricists masters of the language and use it as tools of expression. Further more, why wouldn’t Muslims in Kerela call Urdu their mother tongue instead of Malayalam.

It is because the evolution of any language is always a cultural domain and never a religious one. When has a religion ever been responsible for the birth of a language? Urdu was born in India and so is an Indian tongue. To better understand the dynamics that shaped Urdu let us try and relocate it in history.

Urdu comes from the word Ordu meaning army camp. It was created with the amalgamation of Persian and vernacular Indian languages.

Mostly all languages are classified according to their development from a single parent language. Urdu belongs to Indo-European language family. The speakers of this language probably lived around the Black Sea. As they moved and migrated from there in every direction the language changed around the way. All major regional languages in India as well as English, French and German belong to this category.

Many a times different languages use similar writing systems. It might seem surprising but Urdu and Arabic come from two different language families, despite having similar scripts.

The Urdu patois that was a result of the cultural diffusion between the native North Indians and invading Muslims from Central Asia later spread towards the deccan and as far as Hyderabad. So, what began as an unsystematic hodgepodge language in the 12th century acquired a status of Lingua Franca by the turn of the 18th century. Even the Mughal courts and ministries switched over from Persian to Urdu. Traces of the use can be found in the present day Indian jurisdictions. Words like “dakhil kharij”, “ jurmana”, and “muqadma” are still a part of the legal jargon.

So we are looking at a language that has a glorious and admirable past. The reason for this was the immense popularity of the language amongst the masses. With heavy morphological borrowings from Persian and grammatical borrowings from Hindi developed a language intensely lyrical in nature and apt in style. A language that deeply resonated the North and Central Indian spirit and vivacity.

It is sad that such a powerful language is not embraced with open arms as it was in the gone by days. It is said that if you pigeon hole a concept it dies of suffocation. In other words, strictly categorizing a language is like placing it on the fast track to extinction. This is exactly what is happening to Urdu today.

It is true that Urdu is more tilted towards Islamic lines and let us not be apologetic about it.

One major reason for the decline in Urdu speakers and learners today is the partition. After 1947 majority of the Urdu speaking populace migrated across the Indian borders. Pakistan declaring Urdu and India declaring Hindi as their national languages left the speakers of Urdu in India totally perplexed. This lead Urdu to suddenly acquire no man’s language status in India.

The truth, however, remains that Urdu forms a rich and essential constituents of the chronicles of Indian culture. Anybody trying to undermine its importance will probably find only a half-baked linguistic history.

We have cut, dried and neatly labeled Urdu as either a bard’s or an illiterate’s language…and more recently the terrorist’s tongue. There are only a few people who promote its learning and fewer institutions, which patronize it. The poise, diction and articulation of Urdu stand unparalleled. To make this point clear and sum everything above that let me quote a famous Urdu couplet.

Maazi ka ehteraam zaruri hai aaj bhi,
Yeh aur baat hai ki zamaana badl gaya.

In other words it means that to respect history is important even today when the entire world has changed.

Poetry by Bahadur Shah Zafar on an Indian Postal stamp commemorating the centenary of the Emperor

Posted by Arhama on Mar 6th 2007 | Filed in Culture,World | Comments (7)