The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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It came as a bit of a shock when I realized that I had never had an Iraqi friend. If I had had one, I would have most certainly turned to him to clear my mind about the conflict that took place there. I have known Saudis, Kuwaitis, Muscatis, Syrians, Egyptians, Libyans but not a single Iraqi. The Arabs I have met have little in common with each other besides race, religion and Arabic spoken in different dialects. Of the two I befriended and who invited me to their homes, one was from Kuwait, the other from Syria. Both lived in Western style, enjoyed their sundowners as they watched X-rated films.

Others I met in their own countries were not as Westernized as my friends. One thing they shared in common was a strictly segregated society. Their women, even those not veiled, never appeared when their men-folk were entertaining outsiders. If the visitor happened to be a woman, she was escorted to the zenana section of the house. What appeared incongruous to me was that even in countries where women did not wear the veil, worked in offices, served in the police or the army, they were not to be seen in cafes or night clubs which remained male domains.

The only women I saw in night clubs were belly dancers entertaining entirely male audiences. Many such joints doubled up as brothels. Though prostitution was, and is, punishable with death, it flourished unabated. More than one official escort attached to me told me of the Arab concept of beauty. “Four things should be black; hair, eyebrows, eye-lashes, and pupils. Four should be white; skin, whites of eyes, teeth and nails. Four should be red; cheeks, lips, tongue and gums. Four should be big: breasts, private parts, knees and buttocks. Four should be small: ears, mouth, hands and feet. Four should be large: forehead, eyes, curve of bottoms and the navel. Four should be narrow; nostrils, ears, waist and the vulva.”

Like us Indians, Arabs like to do as little hard work as possible. As in Indian towns and villages so in Arab countries, I saw young men loitering about, smoking, gossiping, playing cards as did their elders sitting outside cafes, drinking black tea or coffee and pulling at their hookahs. Women were beasts of burden and kept home fires burning. I saw fewer beggars than we do in our country. I think that was largely due to the fact that most Arab countries produce oil which brings them foreign exchange.

Another trait we share in common with Arabs is boasting and loud talk. Like us they are given to shouting slogans, thumping their chests, brandishing swords and challenging invisible enemies to fight them. I describe this as the Nihang syndrome. Sikhs have borrowed the word “nihang” (crocodile) from the Arabic. There is a lot of formality and display of courtesy when people meet. Every dialogue begins with detailed inquiry about each other’s health, health of parents, siblings, wives and children interspersed with thanks to god. Only after they assured that you are as fit as anyone can be, that they get down to talking about business for which the meeting was arranged. We have remnants of this exaggerated concern for the others’ wellbeing in mizaj-pursee. I have to suffer this formality every time I answer a phone call. No sooner my caller starts enquiring about my health, I cut him short with a curt “what do you want'

Most prosperous Arabs did not have to work hard to earn their wealth. It came as a windfall with the discovery of vast deposits of oil and natural gas in their desert lands. They did not discover them, nor develop techniques of extracting them; it was done by foreign experts. Arabs got handsome rewards for simply owning the land. Almost overnight men used to riding camels and donkeys were riding Cadillacs and Rolls Royces and moved from living in tents to living in marble palaces. Sudden unearned wealth turned their heads. They became an arrogant people; they remain divided into tribes and clans; backward, fanatical and feudal; ruled over by kings, sultans, and military dictators; they have yet to savour the tastes of equality and freedom. They look down on people who come to their land to do menial work: Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. In some ways the terrible fate which befell Iraq should be a lesson to other Arab nations. If they mean to survive as independent nations, they have to rouse themselves from their medieval slumber.

Call of the wild

For the last fortnight I have been asking all my friends “Have you heard a koel in your vicinity'” So far not one has replied in the affirmative. I am baffled. In years past I heard them gurgle right through the winter months. By spring, when mango trees were in blossom, they were in full-throated cries. I saw them being chased away by crows in whose nests their female koels deposit their eggs. This is usually seen in May and June. But koels proclaimed their presence a couple of months before cuckolding wily crows. What’s happened to them' First we noticed vultures disappear; then an acute fall in the number of sparrows. City life has taken a heavy toll of wild animals and insects as well. Jackals are heard no more; snakes have vanished; so have mongooses. We don’t hear frogs croak during the monsoon, see no moths, beetles and very few butterflies. Are we bent on destroying other forms of life'

Life after World Cup

Bodyache, headache, he suffered as


Experts were puzzled with no clue


A quack came around

And instantly found

It’s a case of hangover of World Cup



Business is dull, economy not on its feet

Even pubs have lost the rhythm and the


It could all revive

We could still survive

If only we could arrange World Cup


(Courtesy J.R. Jyoti, Secunderabad)

In the memory of a victim

Here lies the coffin of a world body

Initially bold and quite sturdy

It stood for peace and amity,

But became the victim of one’s insanity

It met the League of Nations’ fate

And expired before the expiry date.

(Contributed by A.A. Abbasi, Indore)

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