The East Asian Reprieve


Nearly 6 months since my return to India following a ‘different’ stint in the State of Kuwait (let’s put it that way… it’s complicated) and finally I get to dust off my passport and travel again. Of course yet again academic reasons the priority for travel leaving my wife behind, but returning to Singapura makes me happy. What makes a place special is the people inhabiting that place. Always had a very cordial and soothing experience with all the people here and it was no different this time around. Even though I was stuck up for half of the trip in the midst of my books, I tried to make the best of the rest of the time here. Quick disappearane in the Gardens by the Bay with my DSLR and Pixel made the photographic heart happy.

 

Following morning ran into the Botanical Gardens to spend time again in a lot of greenery and the serenity. Visiting here always reminds me of what a denigrating health style we lead in India. At 6 am in the morning the number of people out jogging and in other forms of fitness are numerous.  I look to inspire and enforce my form of exercise routine as soon as I return to India. Diet as well had gone into a six as the last couple of weeks got burnt down in plenty of caffeine and lots of stress.

 

Off to newer tides. Pics coming soon, both from my phone and DSLR. In the meantime you can enjoy some from my instagram account.

The Arabic Lesson


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Each decade is a decade of it’s own. Childhood, adolescence and teenage and now into the thirties. As I ended up in my hometown, I was amazed at how things turn around. Imagination and vision was running wild. What the future holds is only to be experienced. But the difference couldn’t be more disenchanting.

The extroverted introvert that I am, returning to home turf was always going to be one of comfort, familiarity and ease of settling down. The memories reviving one after the other as old registered landmarks evoked music from the recent past.

Growing up as a non resident in the Middle East is an experience of it’s own, each markedly different in each state of the G.C.C. One of the smallest countries in the world situated in the northernmost tip of the Arabian Gulf, Kuwait shares it’s borders with Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

As a 5 year old who had little orientation of events during the Gulf War of 1990-91, I grew up having to flee the country when Iraq invaded. Two years of return to native home turf of God’s own country meant I got to go to a convent school in Thangasseri, Kollam as I learnt the basics of reading and writing my mother tongue.

Having been to an all boys school for the rest of my life in Kuwait, personality development as an introvert was terribly blunted. However the ease of scholastic performances masked the nature of individual I really was.

Escaping the barbed wires of teen life happened when I went to medical school in the beautiful southern western ghats of Manipal. Exposure to people of varying socioeconomic strata from different parts of the world and in the company of some wonderful friends, I expanded my realms of personality.

Lack of a specific direction, with the confidence to tackle any problem thrown at, I was willing to challenge myself to many things.

Pressure is a powerful thing. It can bring the best out of some and at the same time releases all your inhibitions; the cloaks of ‘learning’ done over the years can fall off one’s shoulders when push comes to shove. Post graduation was more of becoming a human being and understanding inter person relations rather than learning the trait. Of course, three years of training in work overloaded hospitals doesn’t really let you learn the trade in it’s entirety as medical school seems to be a never ending learning process. But then, so is life.

While the return to the sandy life of the Middle East was serendipitous, the developments over the next 15 months were to change my life forever.

Acclimatizing to the much better ergonomics was a boon. Working with Arabic spoken language ringing all around didn’t hurt the cochlea. Having learnt to read and write the language for three years in school, the old cards of language stored in childhood memory folders were retrieved. Striking though was how the Arabic language that was learnt was so different from the local dialect as well as the Arabic spoken around me. Surrounded by more foreign Arabs than natives I was beginning to hear words that I had never heard before.

Months of listening and learning enabled me to trace the country of origin of a person by just listening. While the Arabic taught at school was more conversational and general, medical language was a whole new set of vocabulary.

As a person born in Kuwait, I prided on the right to know, learn and speak the language. So evading the language was not an option as I set myself high standards. The water paperweight which I received from my Arabic teacher (Madam Asmaa) in 4th standard as a gift for the best Arabic student in class still remains on my TV stand at home. My Dad still prides on it.

Receiving accolades from school meant the reward phenomenon was at it’s very best. The need to perform was engraved into the competitive system of my life. Of course with fleeting levels of concentration, I still love shifting from one area of interest to another.

Three weeks into joining work here, I was offered a two year contract to work for the government of Kuwait. As a performer, I took it as a challenge. To bring the best of my abilities to the table was my strength and I was not going to shirk away.  

Having worked for a year prior to this in a semi urban town in Kerala, I found this job a luxury. Getting paid more than what I was in India, with a 2 day weekend and half day working routine, I envied all those who worked in this country for years.

Born a Libran, there are some inherent personal qualities that detest certain ways of living and corruption is simply not my forte. Having spent more than 65% of my life in this country, those were nearly two decades of my life that never really exposed me to the system.

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Data from transparency international (2015)

One year of working here was to turn my view all upside down. Things weren’t so clear anymore. Two thirds of the country’s population is non nationals. However the bulk of nationals remain employed in the government sector.

Less than a quarter of foreigners remain employed in the government sector. And the graph is heavily skewed to Arab speaking foreign nationals. Whilst Kuwait leads among the Middle East Arab countries in employing the most number of women in the public sector, the bulk of the office level jobs are held by Arab speaking expatriates the bulk of which come from Egypt. Indians and other nationals of the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia tend to work in the blue collar sector. The white collar sector South Asians work in the private sector.

As a young professional who recently embarked into his career, my experience thronging the offices of government officials was turning out to be a nightmare that seemed to never end.

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Top 5 strongest currencies in the world. 

For a country that holds the strongest currency in the world, the infrastructure still operates as though it is a century behind. Paperless life and digital records are still a distant dream. Middle Eastern countries equate to developed nation strata with maximal savings and a taxless life. And yet the systems in place in this country are regressive and fertile ground for corruption.

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Expat Insider 2016 stats. 

Studies and polls done across the world recently all favor poor ratings from non nationals living in Kuwait. Well there is enough rhyme and reason to it. Living here is getting harder. But that does not mean people will start leaving the country. It’s definitely getting more difficult. The changes are beginning to reflect as the system looks to sure up the economy with the collapse of international oil prices. The only bad news is, it is at the expense of the non national.

My entry into the government service was as straight as it comes. No agents, no hidden agendas, no backdoor entries. Purely on merit is somehow where it all began and pretty much ended. Every office that was involved in processing my papers had elements of corruption embedded into the system. What should finish in an hour finished in a day, ones that took days took weeks and eventually I got paid after 13 months.  While the superiors holding the posts of authority were either unaware or happy to lend a blind eye to all that happens beneath them, the underbelly of corruption driven system was visibly evident to me. My persistence to envisage a path of truth and integrity met with resistance at all levels. The empowerment of truth and the strength of traveling the less trodden path of righteousness made me endure a lot in the last fifteen months.

It was also a harsh realization of how difficult it is to strive a path that is built on the pillars of morality and uprightness.

Enabled by a profession of service,  it is easy to forget about the self and sacrifice is my forte. The amount of mental turmoil and financial insecurity endured by a qualified professional in a government sector, accompanied by the lack of respect for the individual, forget the profession makes all the pros of surviving in a world of luxury a big facade.

Evil never prevails. Good always wins. And you cannot change the fairytales as time changes. Kids need to be taught good always beats bad. Selflessness beats selfishness.

There are reasons why certain quotes resonate and get retweeted a lot. I really like this one. ‘If you don’t take risks, you will end up working for one who does’. As I swap jobs after another year, my brain has decided to allow my heart to make the call. Never sacrifice one’s own integrity to lead a life painted with pretense.

P.S. This rant comes out of a day of joblessness sitting by the lovely Marina beachside at Costa Coffee enjoying a hazelnut cappuccino and chocolate fudge brownie.

Offbeat at ‘Stranger’ville


I met a sales manager for the first time the other day and we had a conversation that reset my clock again.

To quote some anecdotes he shared with me.

If you walk up to your car and find a flat tyre, be thankful, maybe if you drove off, you could have had an accident had it flattened on the go.

When one door closes, another opens.

I recall my friend and colleague Mathew telling me as he strolled me on a wheelchair when I had a locked knee: “Remember, it could have been worse”.

When you feel the whole world is turning against you, remember, it is only half of the turn, the other brighter half is just around the corner, happy November!

The ‘Up’bringing


At work on a regular day.

Scene 1 – The Educated

*gentle double knock on my office door*

Me: (shouts out) COME IN.
Patient: Good morning Doctor, sorry to disturb you, may I come in?

Me: Good morning, please come in. How may I help you today?
Patient: Sir, I just did my CT scan half an hour back. Am traveling today evening, if you could please fast track my report today itself, I would be really grateful!

*I review what his study is*

Me: All right, why don’t you come back in an hour and collect it?
Patient: That would be wonderful, thank you so much doctor. May God bless you.

*gently tiptoes out of my room and closes the door.   


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Scene 2 – The Ignorant

*shuffling noises in the corridor and the door slams open*

Appearance wise looks like a teenager; dressed to go to the beach in a T-shirt, shorts and slippers

Patient: I want a scan to be done today?
Me: Who are you? Who sent you here?

Patient: I was told you decide if a scan can be done.
Me: No.

Patient: Then who is responsible?
Me: Second room at the end of the corridor.

Patient: And who is that?
Me: Head of the Department.

*slams door and shuffles out


up·bring·ing
noun
noun upbringing plural noun upbringings
  1. the treatment and instruction received by a child from its parents throughout its childhood.
    Synonyms: childhood, early life, formative years, teaching, education, instruction, tutelage, care, rearing, raising, breeding

It is easier to build up a child than is to fix an adult. Children are great imitators, so give them something really good to work on!

The ignorant are ignorant of their ignorance


aid774512-728px-get-someone-to-stop-ignoring-you-step-1-version-2She sat behind her desk cross legged fully clad in a niqab. Her well done eyes staring at her pink attired iphone 6 plus.  
He walked into her office and greeted her. She continued to dwiddle her well manicured fingers as she vehemently texted on whatsapp. Her response was delayed, what looked like eons before she decided to acknowledge the presence of another human being in the room.

The Kuwait Towers


IMG_4049-1Weekends have become much more eventful now that a former colleague and friend Dr. Sid has joined me in Kuwait. Last night I took him to the Kuwait Towers. Was good to be inside it again. Last time I was in there was 6 years ago.

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Reflection off the elevator that was going to take us up the Towers

The towers opened only this National day in Feb 2016 after all the renovation. The new work means we now get plenty of graphics on the towers varying according to the occasion.

I was predicting a French flag last night following the Nice incident. But it didn’t happen.

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Wound up going to good old Pizza hut near the Salmiya coop. From a rumbling center to one that has become so quiet, how times have changed with the newer generations clammering up to shopping ‘malls’ nowadays.

 

I will miss you.


We have known each other for less than a year. The odd thursday evenings when we used to play volleyball. I saw bits of me in you – stubborness, determination, flair for all sports. And that encouraged me to compete.

When I spoke to your aunt today, my eyes were flooding; it’s been a very long time since I felt a personal loss. She said you always had a lovely smile on. I agree. A great sense of humor, guile and wit. Defying all odds, opting to travel in a path that you carved as your own.

You and Alwin have been asking me to join you to watch the Euros. I haven’t been able to make it due to one reason or the other. But I wanted to see the final with you guys.

I am thankful to the ultimate healer for allowing me to spend some moments with you which I will always cherish. We mostly played in opposing teams in our volleyball matches to balance the sides. But last night I was glad I was on yours.

I will miss you.