My adventurous trip to India

The trip that was scheduled to be 9 days long, but destined to be 19 days long was the one that I will not forget very soon in my life. For the last about one year since I’ve been outside of India, it’s always been exciting for me to visit India. People who know me, know how passionate I am about being in India and living a pure Punjabi lifestyle. But destiny has written something else for me.

Anyways, coming straight to the point, my journey to India this time was also as exciting for me as it always had been. I wanted to have as much fun as I could. Visiting Delhi gives me the opportunity to meet up with my most beloved cousin, my brother and my girlfriend (What more can you ask for?) But this time was different. It was an official visit and I was supposed to fly back to Dubai on 8th May. I attended the trainings, had loads of fun at Naukuchiatal on the Out-Bound Training part and made many new friends during the journey. But when I reached airport on 8th to catch my flight back to Dubai, I was not allowed to board the flight. Why? Just like that. The Sardar flight official didn’t like my face, I think. 😉

Actually, the thing was that I didn’t have something called ECNR (Emigration Check Not Required) stamp on my passport. For those who don’t know, you need to have this stamp on your passport if you want to travel on Employment Visa, especially to the Middle East. Even after having travelled abroad for three times in last one year, I wasn’t aware about this and nobody even asked me about that. So, obviously I didn’t know. Now, when I was just about to fly, I was being made aware of my passport requirements.  I looked up and down, left and right and wondered what I could do. I couldn’t afford to lose my job just because of this stupid stamp, though that was a very far-fetched thought running in my mind. I called up everyone I knew to check if the ECNR stamp was really so important and so powerful that it can stop me from travelling abroad on employment visa and bringing more foreign currency into the country. Everyone had the same answer – I don’t know. I was asked to head back to the hotel, because in any case it was a Saturday and Indian passport officers have chosen not to work on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year, though the flights take off even on those days and people like me could face passport issues on public holidays as well.

And the amazing part was that I couldn’t get this stamp done from anywhere else than the place where my passport was issued from which happens to be Amritsar in my case. That was going to be another dreadful experience that I never thought about. I decided to travel home (Faridkot) the same day, pick up my address proof and other certificate copies and leave for Amritsar, early in the morning (4:00 am is too early). My plan was to get the stamping done and the catch the early morning flight (2:40 am is too late to be called too early) to Dubai. But as I said, that was not my fate. After standing in long queue for almost an hour outside the office, in scorching heat of Amritsar, I was allowed to enter the office where again there was a long queue and amazingly, the counter had not yet started working, though it was way past 9:00 am. There I realized for the first time, why people didn’t want to have Indian Passports at all, or even if they had the bad luck to have one, why didn’t they want to get it renewed and instead chose to be citizens of some other country.

Finally, after two and a half hours, when I got to see the face of the person behind the counter, she turned down my application saying that she needs original 10th std. certificate to verify my Date of Birth. I was perplexed by her statement. All through these years, I was told that Passport is the ultimate proof of my identity. Nothing held above this proof. And now this aunty, in her early 50s, was telling me that 10th standard certificate was more authentic than the passport. I tried explaining it to her, showed her my original Employment Visa and my original appointment letter as a Business Consultant (which certainly can’t be given to a person who isn’t 10th standard pass) but my arguments fell on deaf ears. The worst part was that all my original certificates were kept in Dubai and there was no way that I could get them before 3-4 days. But due to pressure by the people standing behind me, I had to leave the queue – sad, disheartened and worried. I reached everyone I could – PA to Passport Officer, Relationship Manager, agents – everyone, but of no use.

In that state of mind, I decided to come back to Delhi and try some other options. I called in the scanned copies of my Income Tax Returns, passbook pages etc etc. I travelled overnight sitting straight on the last seat of PRTC bus, couldn’t sleep for the whole night and reached Gurgaon office early in the morning. The travel desk at my company told me the next day that they’d talked to some agent and he’ll guide me to get a PoE (Protector of Emigrants) stamp which is a temporary provision if you want to fly abroad. And I was happy that this could be done from Delhi itself, because, I don’t know why, I believed that the Delhi Passport Office would be in better condition than Amritsar. After all, Delhi is a metropolitan city and is the capital of our country. So, I went to the PoE office in Jaisalmer House, Man Singh Road, armed with all the copies of my documents, original visa and original appointment letter. But still, fate had something else written for me. PoE office told me that they needed original appointment letter attested by the Indian Embassy in Dubai. And he specifically mentioned that a “fax will not do, we need it in original.” I was angry and worried at the same time. I called up my Dubai office and they asked me to wait till the next day when they’d go and confirm it from Indian Embassy in Dubai. As the luck had it, the India Embassy needed original Employment Visa to attest the appointment letter and the process would’ve taken 4-5 working days which meant I’d b stuck in India for atleast one and a half more weeks. So, it was a complete deadlock.

Finally, it was agreed that my office drawer in Dubai would be broken, my certificates would be taken out and couriered and I’d get the ECNR done from Amritsar. And there I was – on next Saturday (exactly one week later), in the same train, traversing the same route to Faridkot, getting up again early in the morning on Monday with a hope to get things done, standing in the same queue at Amritsar Passport Office. But this time, they didn’t have an excuse to reject my application. But what made me even angrier was that the person on the counter didn’t even look at the certificate carefully. He just glanced over it and that’s it. I was too exhausted to react to this. Now, I was happy that I’ll get the stamped passport by evening and will catch the morning flight to Dubai. But…

But the tickets on Air India Express (only flight from Amritsar to Dubai) had to be booked atleast 24 hours before flying which I did not, because I didn’t trust Indian bureaucracy  and wasn’t sure whether the stamping will be done or not. So, when one govt system finally worked, the other had me in its jaws. Anyways, I again took the same PRTC bus back to Delhi, got my tickets done for next day on the same Jet Airways flight that I was supposed to catch 10 days back. And I finally reached Dubai. Safely.

The trip, with so much of turns and twists and new discoveries, will be afresh in my memory for long long time. I’m worried now about getting my passport renewed from the same authorities, though there’s still 5 years to go.

AS

My Ishqiya Experience

Watching movies here in Singapore is not as easy and as cheap as it is in India. Only a handful of cinemas show Hindi movies and the ones that do, also show only selected movies. So, you aren’t left with many options, but to spend S$4 (per person) on cab to reach the theatre, get a ticket for $11, get pop corn combo for $7.5, watch the movie, appreciate it (no matter how pathetic it is, after all you saw it) and then hire a cab back to hostel by spending another $4. So, in total, watching a movie can make a hole of atleast $27 in your pocket, albeit that’s small by Singapore standards.

This time, we thought our luck has been good with us and we went to watch “Ishqiya”. Without quoting the name of the theatre, its roof reminded me of the Swaran Palace in my small town of Faridkot. But I ignored it and decided to concentrate on the movie. Everyone had praised the movie a lot – Times of India, Hindustan Times and what not – had rated it highly, so it must be good. It all began in front of my eyes when the reel started rolling. My excitement knew no bounds to see Vidya Balan in the seducing posture that only a few girls could afford to give. But then, it all started to fizz out. I like Naseer sahib’s acting and I respect him as a performer, but I can’t say the same about his choice of movies, especially after he chose to do this movie. Though the kiss scene of Vidya Balan and Arshad Warsi gave me something to watch and appease myself, I can’t remember a single other scene from the movie when I felt good about spending so much of my education loan money.

Nevertheless, I’d recommend that you go and watch it atleast once and experience what an overhyped movie looks like. 😉

AS

Gen Z Karva chauth

Karva chauth is a traditional festival in India where the wives fast for a whole day without consuming food or water, to pray for a long life for their (respective) husbands. The fast ends at night when the wife sees the moon. Husband gives her the first glass of water and first bite of food (and then she never stops ;-)). I’ve been witnessing this for last 24 years in India, but this was the first time I was about to see Karva Chauth being celebrated outside India, in Singapore.

After my dinner (my girlfriend thinks I was also fasting for her ;-)), I asked Sid to go for a walk when we saw our friends crowding in the park. Just for curiosity sake, we also went and joined the crowd. But what I saw there was nothing short of a shocking surprise, though a pleasant one. Priyani, the only married girl from our batch was there with all her make-up and traditional suit on, waiting for the moon to rise so that she could end her day-long fast. Honestly speaking, I saw her for the first time in a traditional salwar- kameez suit, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

The surprising part of the entire process was the use of technology to overcome the hindrances created by distance. Priyani’s husband is based in Delhi, but if Priyani wanted to continue to live on food, she must see the face of her husband and then the moon on the night of 7th October. That’s where a technology called Skype comes in. With Priyani on her husband’s screen and he on Priyani’s screen, the hurdles distance were overcome instantaneously. To give it a final touch, Priyani’s mother-in-law extended her right foot towards the web-cam and Priyani touched the screen to indicate touching her feet. J I could not resist but to call this “technology aur sanskriti ka abhootvpurna mishran” (an incredible mixture of Technology and Tradition.)

My Fujairah Trip: 11th August 2009

Finally, my last days in UAE had arrived. Contrary to the usual, there wasn’t even a hint of nostalgia in those days. The reasons could’ve been many – I was sure about coming back to Dubai at some point in time, I didn’t feel attached to Dubai at all or I was still going to spend my time with the same set of people. But the truth remained that I didn’t feel anything that people usually feel at the time of leaving a place where they’ve spent some of the most useful time of their lives.

(If at any point of time you feel that the story is too long, skip the following 3 paragraphs.)

Anyways, we decided to roam about UAE to the max before we actually left it, atleast for some time. We – me, Chib, Raghuvir and Ali – planned to visit one of the most beautiful places in UAE, Fujairah. (Fujairah is one of the seven emirates of UAE that gets a lot of revenues from tourism.) Somehow, a car was arranged whose AC actually worked and we set our sails off for Fujairah, on the path told to us by a “wise-man”. Passing through the deserts of the Sahara, we saw the camels, the sand and the sheikhs, all en route. Then came the unexpected guests of the day, the mountains. They were big and huge and long and we loved them.

Desert SafariFujairah Beach

In the end, we finally reached our destination – the Fujairah beach. As a Bollywood song says, “manzil se behtar lagne lage hain raaste…”, we felt the same after reaching Fujairah. The way to reach Fujairah was so very beautiful that the beach seemed just-another-place and we didn’t feel like having a dip in the ocean, there. So, we decided to move on in our journey.

The camelsFujairah Beach

We reached an old mosque, Al Bidya Mosque – the 15th century mosque that was made of mud and has stood the test of the times. The serenity of the place was worth visiting once in the lifetime. It was calm like an ocean. The watch towers that stood atop the mosque were even more beautiful. They gave us a full view of the ocean on one side and the date farms on the other.

Al Bidiya MosqueWith maulana

Then we went to another beach where we were frightened by the crabs running everywhere. Chib and Raghav especially, were very alarmed and didn’t go even near the water. Our journey back to Dubai had already begun when we were on crossroads (literally) to take a left turn to the Masafi hills or go straight to Dubai.

And that’s where the twist happened. They say that the destiny is controlled by some super-natural power who some people call as God. That day something similar happened. If you noticed, I never mentioned that we stopped anywhere for food and that was precisely the truth. We didn’t have anything for food since morning and were feeling really hungry. But we decided to see the masafi hills and then return to Dubai. But after moving around 2 kilometers left, we realized that the mountains were no different from the ones that we saw on our way to Fujairah. So, we took a U-turn back to Dubai.

Pathani Roti

After 10-15 minutes when our hunger reached close to a starving stage, we saw a pathan cooking a huge roti on a drum. With not even a thought to have a piece, we just stopped to take some pictures of that roti. The pathan turned very happy when we approached him and was glad to have us click some pictures of him and his grand roti. We were just about to move when he offered, “roti khayega nahi?” (Won’t you have the bread?) Out of courtesy, we refused to have some, but his face turned sad and he said, “achchha nahi laga?” (Didn’t you like it?) We couldn’t stand his face and he tore off a large part of his roti and shared it with us. Amazingly, that small share from the piece of roti made my hunger just disappear.

Tasty stuff

We couldn’t believe what had happened to us just a while ago. Four people – 3 Indians and a Pakistani – met in Dubai, went on a trip to Fujairah, returned via Dibbi, reached just in time to see an unknown pathan cooking a roti and have it to contend ourselves. We were amazed and astonished. And we thought whether that supernatural power had sent us all to this place just because someone owed some small thing to us and this was his last chance to pay us back. Or maybe He wanted us four to be indebted by this pathan’s soul for coming births as a part of the bigger plan.

Anything could be the reason but one thing’s for sure: “daane daane pe likkha hai khane wale ka naam.” (Every grain is destined to be eaten by the person whose name it bears.) And Ali bhayi had to say, “mera safar safal ho gaya.” (My journey has been successful.) J

AS

ABC of Support Systems

Recently, we’ve been studying a lot about the DSS (Decision Support System), ESS (Executive Support System) and what not. So, I thought why not list down all the ‘support systems’ at one place. So, here’s the ABC of Support Systems.

ASS: Aise hi Support System

BSS: Bulshit Support System

CSS: Confused Support System

DSS: Disturbing Support System

ESS: Enraging (Exasperating) Support System

FSS: Faltu ka Support System

GSS: Good-for-nothing Support System

HSS: Haramzada Support System

ISS: Ironic Support System

JSS: Jocular Support System

KSS: Killer Support System

LSS: Ludicrous Support System

MSS: Mysterious Support System

NSS: Non-sense Support System

OSS: Outrageous Support System

PSS: Puzzled Support System

QSS: Queering Support System

RSS: Ridiculous Support System

SSS: Saala Support System

TSS: Third-rate Support System

USS: Unworthy Support System

VSS: Vapid Support System

WSS: Waise hi Support System

XSS: X-Men Support System

YSS: Yawning Support System

ZSS: Zaleel Support System

AS

Jagjit Singh- The Legend

Inteha aaj ishq ki kar di, aapke naam zindagi kar di… (Inteha, Jagjit Singh)

Jagjit Singh sahib has always been a different class for me altogether. He has been immensely successful in his long career and his new album Inteha has made me mad.

I wondered if his career can also be judged on our famous Porter’s Five Forces Model. Let’s see if we can. Jagjit Singh is an institution in himself. Though I’ll be a bit biased in analysis Jagjit Singh, but I guess it’s ok, especially when I know that most of the readers will also be as good the fans of Jagjit Singh as I am.

Threat of Substitutes: My personal opinion is that nothing can even come close to being a substitute for ghazals. The ragas and sur-taals used in ghazals have long been forgotten by other forms of music. So, the satisfaction and peace of mind which a Jagjit Singh ghazal can give, cannot be compared to any other form of music. Deadly life schedules, assignment deadlines being met at 3 in the morning, ARP completion at 11:59 to submit at 12:00 are some of the situations in our lives that have made the demand of his ghazals rise even further up.

Threat of New Entrants: Hmmm, interesting thing to think about. Frankly speaking, I don’t find many singers coming even close to Jagjit Singh sahib in matching his singing prowess. But yes, the emergence of culturally sensitive singers like Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Roop Kumar Rathore might make some fans shift loyalties, but still the aura is so much that Jagjit sahib won’t have a major threat. On the top of it, Jagjit Singh has become a synonym for ghazals in India and this monopolistic situation is difficult to change.

Bargaining Power of Suppliers: Suppliers??! Huh! Who are they? For almost all his ghazals, he himself is the Music Director. As far as the lyrics are concerned, there will be hardly a lyricist coming to Mumbai will not have a dream to write for Jagjit Singh. So, the suppliers are also in excess, you know! No issues of bargaining power of suppliers, then.

Bargaining Power of Customers: Customers? With record-breaking sales of his albums still on charts, the fans wait for the new albums. ‘Kaghaz ki kashti’, ‘shaam se aankh mein nami si hai’ and ‘Tumko dekha to ye khayal aaya’ are still as young in the hearts of listeners as they were 15 years from now. Customers want more songs from him and they don’t bargain for that. Do you?

Rivalry among existing players: There are only a few players left in the market who sing as good ghazals as Jagjit Singh. Mehndi Hassan and Talat Mehmood have long backed out from the industry and Pankaj Udhas has lost his fan-following. Roop Kumar Rathore never was a contender for the top position in Ghazal gayeki. So the only possible rivalry might exist is between Ghulam Ali sahib and Jagjit Singh sahib and here, I don’t think there actually is some rivalry. Both are the epitomes of singing and the fans respect them equally well.

The only real threat that I perceive is that both of them are ageing and we really need someone who can carry forward the tradition of ghazal singing to our next generations.

Aapke dil ne hamein aawaz di, hum aa gaye… (Inteha, Jagjit Singh)

AS

Why is smoking so costly?

I am not a smoker, atleast not a public one. So you can be pretty sure that it’s not a biased view of a smoker who’s desperate to have a cheaper smoke in India. It was just that I was standing in balcony of my room sharing an occasional smoke with a friend that I realized why cigarettes are costlier than the bidees and why the cigarettes with better filters costlier than the cigarettes with bad filters. If you didn’t know, Indian government levies a tax on the cigarettes on the basis of the length of the cigarette. I just hope that it has to do something with the filter length.

But the point here is that if cigarette is harmful, then bidee is atleast as harmful, right? So why don’t we raise the price of a pack of bidees to Rs. 100 to discourage the consumers from using them. This can easily be achieved by levying a 1000% tax on bidees. And the cigarettes with better and longer filters can be subsidized to make them available to the ‘common man’. The revenues to the Manmohan government will go up like anything because it will take a while for people to shift their taste from bidees to cigarettes and vice versa . But, it will discourage them from consuming 2 packets a day. Want to laugh on the proposal? C’mon, if it’s possible with petrol and diesel, why not with bidee and cigarette?

I suggested this to my fat friend with almost yellow teeth and stinking mouth and guess what he said? Have fun, Arun!

And the old Dev Anand song played in the background.

Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya. Har fikr ko dhuyein mein udaata chala gaya…

AS

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