Wednesday, November 30, 2005

noor - a story of afghan teenager

December 27th, 1979 : 700 troops, including 54 KGB spetsnaz special forces troops from the Alpha Group and Zenith Group, dressed in Afghan uniforms seized all major governmental, military and media buildings in Kabul, including their primary target - the Tajbeg Presidential Palace , where they killed then President Hafizullah Amin . By next day morning, the Vitebsk parachute division landed at the airport at Bagram city and the invasion of Afghanistan by Russian forces was underway. Around the same time, amidst war cries, a baby boy – named Noor- must have been born to his Afghan parents.

I met Noor by chance when he came to start my stranded car .He worked with Indian expatriate owned car garage. I was immediately struck by his tall slender body figure, fair complexion, chiseled long nose. He could easily be camouflaged as a Greek, Turk, Cypriot, or Iranian. With his disheveled hair, sprouting beard, clad in faded tight jeans, full-sleeved stretchable white t-shirt clinging to his body, hands with elongated fingers roughed out by repair tools, lubricant smearing around his hardened baby face. – He looked every inch a Danny Fischer of Harold Robbins. A young Danny Fisher and his family got into a bout of great American depression and Danny was forced to drop out of school. Noor much the same way as Danny Fischer was sucked into Afghan war of Russians .Noor never got a chance to go to school so question of dropping out of the school never arose. Danny Fisher’s only talent was that of boxing as a means of supporting his family. Noor’s talent was his daredevil spirit and an uncanny ability to master local languages.

I was keen to put him at ease with my sole intention of getting the car started without a need to call a recovery vehicle. Despite his failure to do the job, our ease of communication led him to recount his story. For me, his story was nothing less than a fiction filled with adventure. Within an hour, I decided to pen it down his story on this blog.

From his early age, Noor was never Islamic –either in thoughts or deeds. Much to chagrin of his parents, he cared little about Islamic ways and prayers. As he grew, he became increasingly intolerant towards his parental sermons of do’s and don’ts. At tender age of 10, he decided – enough was enough – He marched towards Afghan–Pak border and embarked upon his saga of international adventure. He hung around for few months in Peshawar, doing odd jobs, accumulating money. He may have been in his early adolescence - but his nerve was definitely that of steel and his resolve was steadfast. He was neither aware of geographical topology nor did he have any sense of direction about his future. All he knew that he longed to be away from Afghanistan – his war ravaged country. He was dreaming of a place where there would be a peace, joy, and opportunity to earn bread without anyone’s interference. Working with Pathans in Peshawar, he deciphered the mechanism of smuggling oneself out of the country. He managed to get in to a boat that brought him to Oman via Iran. Ride to Oman did not cost him any fortune like other innocent victims. In fact, he did not approach any agent for this job, he knew the very people who were at the helm of smuggling human beings. He had saved his money in Peshawar and he knew the worth of it as he started his journey to Oman.

Now after spending few months in Iran he reached Oman – albeit without a valid passport, visa, or any travel documentation. It did not bother him. At last, this new country offered him a peace, freedom and what more - an opportunity to make extra money. He settled with local automobile garage in buraimi- a border town to United Arab Emirates. By now, every new destination made him adept with local language and culture. Pakistan taught him Urdu, Iran - Farsi and now in Oman, he was becoming fluent in Arabic.

Noor by now was settling in Oman but his sights were set for his paradise – a destination that he dreamt when he was child. While in Oman-, our Afghan Danny Fischer’s was confronted with one incident that would appear like one lifted straight from bollywood movie.

One day, working all alone on the weekend in a garage, a young Omani woman ushered in. She was in need for a good mechanic who could give her an estimate for repair of gearbox for her Mercedes car. She had gone to other garage and when told to spend 700 Omani rials (app US$2000), she decided to have it verified from this garage. Noor asked her to come next day. He somehow managed to fix the gearbox without much hassle. When next day his customer arrived, she was visibly happy with the job being done and asked Noor about his charges. Noor was aware that he had not spent anything except his time in overhauling gearbox. He told her to give what she felt was appropriate. Omani woman was generous. She decided to give him 4,000 rials – almost half to what she would have spent elsewhere. Noor’s conscious did not allow that, he took only portion of that. Now this woman customer was impressed by Noor's honesty and in the process they became friendly and exchanged telephone numbers. Few days passed – by now this Omani woman may have just remembered Noor for his honesty . But not so with Noor, He was enamoured by this woman. This could have been his first brush with woman in his prime youth. One night around 3am, Noor telephoned her and talked in Arabic. She was surprised to get a call at such odd hour - but Noor offered an alibi, of working all night and sleeping daytime, for reaching her at odd hours. This lady seemed courteous as she did not snub Noor for calling her at odd time but shows her discomfort when Noor started addressing her as ‘Habibi ‘meaning beloved in Arabic. Next day, this lady was in his garage- upset with his behavior, confronting him with an explanation about his calling at odd hours and referring her as ‘Habibi’. Noor did what a innocent teenager would do. He apologized to her and blamed it on his inebriated state of mind. Perhaps Noor’s innocence or honesty did a trick, she melted with Noor’s charm, and they start exchanging communication on mobile. She was around 25 then, educated and worked with a reputed bank. She started calling Noor, soon telephonic talk turned into amorous visits. Noor always had his disposal number of cars – this suited her –she could now roam incognito with Noor without risking her reputation in society or bank.

One day, she asked Noor to accompany her on a ride to Dubai. Noor picked up a car from his garage and together they were on rendezvous to Dubai. Noor had no passport, valid visa, driving licence, and top of it he was with an Arab lady in another neighboring country. Noor never bothered about any rules, regulations, and procedures. He knew that he was capable of getting through any hurdle with his local language skills and his spirit of adventure. Luckily, he had these traits in abundance. In Dubai, both of them had a great time. Omani lady offered Noor beer, By now Noor was in his seventh heaven – driving with his beloved – in an expensive American car. However to his misfortune, his revelry soon turned into a disaster. In his intoxicated state Noor banged his car into the structure of a roundabout. It was almost nighttime when this happened. He may have been drunk but his senses were still intact. He decided what the best was for the occasion. He called up police and told them about the location of accident. Leaving his car abandoned, he slipped in dark with his beloved and made sure he dropped his lady at her home. He knew his days in Oman were numbered and decided to disappear from his garage. Oman police were smart enough to pick up the threads from the accident and reach Noor’s garage. Seeing Noor absconding, they picked up his colleague and locked him in police custody. His friend frantically started reaching for Noor beseeching him to come to his rescue. Noor’s Afghan loyalty was still intact. He arrived at the police station and surrendered himself. He narrated everything what happened. Noor looked very different then. With his long flowing hair right upto his waist, he must have had looks of young Yanni. He took immense pride in his long hair and vehemently opposed Omani police to have them trimmed. Though Police had him in their custody, they were in a fix. Noor had no nationality, no credentials – on top of it; he spoke fluent Arabic and even claimed to have an Omani wife. After few hours in custody, they decided to release him. First thing he did was to give a slip to Omani police and sneak into UAE.

After working for few garages in UAE, he has now settled in this garage in Dubai. Omani lady is keen to marry Noor but she is not agreeable to his condition of becoming a homemaker after marriage. Noor is aware that he has made this lady pregnant and she had to abort their child. Noor did talk to his mother but she is against his marrying Omani woman and wants him to marry a daughter of his uncle. Noor’s sympathy is with this Omani woman and carries her picture. However, he knows that their paths are different and they can never be married couple.

Being in Dubai, Noor is in touch with his parents and family. He does not remember much of his country or family. His mother wants him to come to Afghanistan to marry Afghan girl but he is not sure if he would. I asked him – what if he were to go to Afghanistan – how would he do it. His answer was simple – go to embassy, get an out pass to Pakistan under amnesty scheme and then slip into Afghanistan. For him, nothing is difficult or impossible.

After 10 years in 1989, Russian forces retreated from Afghanistan – around the same time when Noor had decided to leave his home, country, and parents. After decade and half, USSR broke into several republics. However, Noor is still intact , with his daredevil spirit of adventure . He knows Dubai is not a place for him – he feels people in Dubai are not honest and genuine. He still doesn’t have a passport, visa nor driving licence but nothing stops him doing what he wants to. He has set his eyes on England and I know he will make it. He may not speak a word in English but knowing him, he would need just few weeks to master English language!!!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

should people from developing countries be allowed to sell their organs ?

Excerpt from " The Ethics and Efficacy of Banning Human Kidney Sales" By Joseph Shapiro , Stanford University : May 2003


It is 106 degrees in Chennai and I am in the palm hut of a 38 year old named Parvi. Nine months ago, Parvi sold a kidney to a dying man from North India. I asked Parvi why she gave a kidney. “We were so poor that my children were about to drink poison,” she said. “We had no income and many debts. I had no choice. “Several years earlier, Parvi accepted government payment for a sterilization surgery; she felt that her experience with the “family planning operation” made her more comfortable agreeing to sell a kidney. For the kidney she received US$800, enough to repay her debts. Parvi has no formal education and no knowledge of the kidney’s function. Until her first conversation with the doctor, she was unaware that there existed body organs named kidneys. Parvi’s daughter, who is sitting next to us, interjects. “We’re content. We repaid our debts and saved a life.”

Now I am having coffee in the apartment of Dev, an educated Indian accountant. At a young age, Dev was diagnosed with kidney failure. After ten weeks of dialysis, Dev had a kidney transplant; his mother was the donor. That kidney was soon rejected, so Dev received a kidney from his father. Now that kidney has been rejected and Dev has no other relatives who can donate. On dialysis Dev would lose his job and income. So Dev flew to Chennai and told a broker that he needed to buy a kidney. A day later, the broker offered him “matching donor and authorization committee approval” for US$2000. Dev asks me whether kidney sales should be legal, and I tell him that I am unsure. “Look at me,” he says. “I have a wife and a child who is seven years old. I need to live. What should I do?”

Kidney sellers and buyers are not statistics; they are mothers and uncles with daughters, homes, friends, frustrations, and dreams. Facts about the thousands of people who sell a kidney should not obscure the reality that for each seller, nephrectomy is a life-defining event.

Nonetheless, many individuals share Parvi’s desire to sell a kidney. A leading Indian NGO estimates that at least 2000 Indians sell a kidney every year. The United Network for Organ Sharing estimates that 200-300 Americans and a tenth as many Canadians by an organ in a developing country each year. By 1993, at least 960 Arabian Gulf residents had received kidneys from donors in India, Egypt, Iraq, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

Trade in kidneys is truly global. David Rothman, chair of a research group on organ sales, wrote in 1998 in the New York Review of Books:

The routes that would-be organ recipients follow are well known to both doctors and patients. Italians (who have the lowest rate of organ donation in Europe) travel to Belgium to obtain their transplants: so do Israelis, who lately have also been going to rural Turkey and bringing their surgeon along with them. Residents of the Gulf States, Egyptians, Malaysians, and Bangladeshis mainly go to India for organs. In the Pacific, Koreans, Japanese and Taiwanese, along with the residents of Hong Kong and Singapore, fly to China. Less frequently, South Americans go to Cuba and citizens of the former Soviet Union go to Russia.

Over 8400 Iranians have sold a kidney since Iran began regulating kidney sales in 1988, and most of those sales have occurred recently. The Bangkok Post has written extensively on hospitals accused of purchasing kidneys in violation of Thai law. Journalism Marina Jimenez and Stewart Bell report that the Philippines allows residents to sell a kidney to a Filipino if no broker is involved. But many Manila slum dwellers have sold a kidney to foreigners for US$2000. Michael Finkel interviewed a Turkish donor who claimed to have received $10,000 for a kidney. Jimenez reports that Istanbul surgeons now operate on Moldovans who receive $3,000 for undergoing nephrectomy in Turkey. At least until 2001, the foreigners could by a Chinese kidney – often from an executed prisoner – for $6,000. Michael Friedlander wrote in Lancet in 2002 that surgeons at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Medical Center often go with their Israeli patients to Estonia, Bulgaria, Egypt, Turkey, Georgia, Russia, and Romania to perform surgery on local donors from whom the Israeli’s purchase a kidney. In 1991, Abouna et al. called the Al Khayal Hospital in Iraq the most active private hospital in the Middle East for paid kidney transplantation; Frishberg et al. Finkel, and Friedlander emphasize the high volume of paid transplants in that program. Abouna et. Al interviewed 21 Kuwaiti patients who purchased kidneys in Iraq and found that their average payment fro transplant and kidney was US$ 15,000, which equaled the total earnings of an average Iraqi physician in eight years. Friedlander wrote in 2002 that Iraqi donors typically received US$500 for a kidney.

We have the most information about kidney sales in Iran and India. Iran’s government began a paid donor program in 1985 at the Heshmi-Nejad Hospital, By 2000, Iranian surgeons had performed nearly 11,000 kidney transplants with 23% related donors, 77% unrelated (usually paid) donors, and 1% cadaver donors. In 2002 alone, 23 centers in Iran performed about 1500 transplants. Iran’s Dialysis and Transplant Patients Association (DTPA) coordinated recipients and donors, DTPA pays all transplant expenses, and donors receive payment both from the government and from the recipient. Iran prohibits foreigners from undergoing renal transplantation with an Iranian kidney donor.

Kidney sales in India have become more famous. Throughout the 1980’s, wealthy Arabs visited Bombay to purchase kidneys in backstreet transplant centers. In 1991, India Today published a story on the now-famous Bharati Nagar slum of the Villivakkam locality of Chennai, where on average one person in every family sold a kidney – about 500 people total. Villivakkam has since earned the nickname “Kidneyvakkam.” India outlawed kidney sales in 1995, but kidney sales continue there.

Desperation fills kidney markets with strange stories. One Indian nephrologist received an email from “the first would-be emotionally-related donor.”

I want to become a donor of a kidney if a girl is suitable for me. I shall not take any money to donate a kidney if is [sic] used for a girl who are [sic] between 20 to 25 years old and if she wants to marry me she is more preferable and I shall not take money to donate a kidney to that girl. If the girl does not like to marry me then I shall take money of I donate a kidney. So please let me know or you direct the family member of the girl for whom kidney is required for [sic].

Iranian nephrologists B. Broumand recounts a person who “wanted to sell his kidney” to be able to buy drugs, and asked if he could sell both of his kidneys and start on maintenance dialysis, as dialysis is anyhow was free.” Another husband donor in Bromound’s hospital, “Just discharged from the hospital after donating his kidney, brought his wife to donate her kidney as well because the payment for his kidney was not enough for them to repay their debts.” Although rumors of kidney left often circulate on email and in newspapers, many investigated cases appear to be false.

These statistics and stories show the supply of kidneys – the people who, like Parvi, seek income from selling an organ. But many people, like Dev, demand a kidney for transplant. Every year, 3,000 renal disease patients in the U.S. die while awaiting a kidney for transplant. Transplant waiting lists are growing; today over 40,000 Americans are waiting for a kidney, while in 1993 the waiting list was half that size. The waiting list has grown in part because improvements in transplantation technology allow a single patient to survive through four or more transplanted kidneys. Also, the increasing number of elderly Americans relative to young Americans means that more Americans are at risk of renal failure.

America is not alone. England’s waiting list has grown from 3,800 to 4,900 people over the last ten years. Last year in Germany, 9500 people were waiting for a kidney and 117 people died while waiting. Chugh and Jha estimate that 64,000 Chinese, 4,000 Saudis, and 1,200 Singaporeans are awaiting kidney transplants.
My impressions : This paper does bring a thought provoking subject if Kidney selling could be consider as a morally acceptable approach to alleviate poverty, starvation and basic needs. Would such a concept not tantamount to exploitation and cruelty ? But if one were to accept such a permise, can Government not involve in monitoring such a exercise than letting unscrupulous elements in the society to take over. Iranian model does go along this line . Today, there is no waiting renal transplant patient in Iran, this is despite having free Hemodialysis program. How did they do it ?? It will be another topic by itself !!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

India - the holy land by sudha murthy

Maya, a young Tibetan lady, was a frequent visitor to our house.
We children would stare at her almost-white skin, dove eyes, little flat nose and two longplaits, in awe. Over time, she became my knitting teacher and a good friend. Her visits meant story sessions, knitting and learning about her life in Tibet.For us, Tibet was a foreign land and Maya would describe her country with greataffection. Sometimes she would narrate stories of how Buddhism started in Tibet.
"Once upona time, a King in Tibet was kidnapped. As ransom, his enemies asked for goldequivalent to his weight. But the King sent word to the Prince not to waste gold on getting him back.Instead, spend the money to get Buddhist scholars from the holy andcompassionate land of India.
Open schools and monasteries for the people so that they can live in peace and knowledge..."
My acquaintance with Maya was short, but it sowed a deep interest in Tibet.Recently, I visited Tibet and was surprised to see it dominated by Chineserather than Tibetans. One of the places I visited was a Buddhist Temple in thefamous Yerlong Valley - the Cradle of Tibetan Civilisation.
Though the afternoon sun was bright, the cool wind was making us shiver. Theriver Brahmaputra flowed by timidly in contrast to its rapid gush in Assam. I felt the snow-clad mountains gazing at me in absolute silence. It was as if time had stood still. Though it was supposed to be a famouspilgrimage, I could hardly see a handful of people. After looking around, I saton the steps of the monastery, that's when I spotted an old lady, in her 90's. She was going around with a stick, her only support. Neither the cold wind norher age seemed to bother her. After finishing her round, she came and sat nextto a young boy on the steps opposite me. Then she pointed at me and said something in Tibetan to the boy. It became embarrassing; as I could make out they were talking about me.
A little later, she walked up to me, taking both my hands and pressing themgently against her eyes, she said something in her language. While I was stillwondering what was happening, she kissed them and walked away. I could see the happiness on her face, while my fingers felt moist. The youngboy reluctantly came up to me and apologised: "Madam, please pardon mygrandmother. She is a villager and has hardly come out. I know you must have felt awkwardabout what she did to you. I'm sorry, she was just thanking you." I was surprised at the Indian English he spoke. He said he had lived and studiedin a college in Chennai for five years. "But why did your grandmother thank me?I have done nothing for her!" I said. "Yes Madam. India has been a great help for us. It has sheltered and honouredDalai Lama, our living God. We all respect him but cannot express that in publicdue to political reasons. You must have seen there isn't a single photo of Dalai Lama in any public placein Lhasa. My grandmother was telling you, 'I'm an old lady and I don't know howlong I'll live.
If I don't thank an Indian and die, I will never attain peace after death. I'mnot bothered even if somebody punishes me for that. Neither can I go to India atthis age nor can I wait to meet many Indians in this land. It's a gift that today I was able to see an Indian and I must thank her and hercountry. If India had not sheltered our Dalai Lama, his life would have beendifficult. India - the holy land, India - the compassionate land..."
I understood why my fingers felt moist. Maya sprang up from the chest of memories after decades.
source : Times of India Lucknow, November 20, 2005

Monday, November 21, 2005

Trip to Ahmedabad

During my last trip to India, it was Sunil Gavaskar in my emirates flight. This time Mumbai – Ahmedabad Indian airlines flight , it was his son Rohan Gavaskar. He was with his East Zone players minus Saurav Ganguli who were playing west zone in Duleep Trophey finals.

It was misty cool evening in November and became chilly when we reached Police officers mess – an open arena guesthouse on the bank of river Sabarmati. Our East African friends were keen on warming up in this pleasant weather. Someone told us that one could have warm up session only in luxury hotel and that too for foreigners with tourist visa. We decided to raid one such place – few block away to Taj hotel but only to be told that one can have warm up permit between 9.00 and 10.00 am. Our Africans friends were bewildered why Govt should force them to have at breakfast time. They reconciled to the fact that this is a holy place and they should banish the thought of alcohol until they reach Mumbai. But surprise was in store next day, when our local guardian arranged whiskey bottles!!

Police officers mess in Shahibag is shahi and soothing place to reside on a vacation. I had seen on TV Indian politicians and businessmen having breakfast in their mowed lawns. This was my first time having a luxury of sipping masala tea with newspaper on sprawling lawns in the company of roaming peacocks and chirping birds. Guesthouse rooms are spacious and equipped with remote TV, AC with a common balcony that connects neighboring rooms. All this comes at Rs 500 for non members. However, I guess one does need a reference to stay in such serene surroundings. The only sight that spoils the beauty of this place is Thermal Power station across the other side of the bank.

I was visiting Ahmedabad after almost 15 years . My image of the city was that of high pollution, crowded streets, dry riverbed of Sabarmati and busy ashram road. In all my previous visits, thought of sight seeing Ahmedabad never flashed my mind. I end up doing sightseeing only when I am on vacation or accompanied by visitor. This was one such occasion to see what Ahmedabad had to offer.

After getting inputs from local people, we decided to cover Gandhi ashram and Akshardham on our last day evening. It was a surprise to reach ashram within few minutes. It was almost the opposite side of the bank where we stayed. Gandhi ashram is facing the road and has very little parking space But what I liked about the place is the absence of any security, frisking of cameras or metal detectors. Gate entrance leads to vista flanked by canopy of trees. The place is humming with people but it is not noisy. We could have turned left to see the museum but decided to head towards open porch that houses famous tree under which Gandhiji talked to his ashramites in the evening. This tree must have been witness to great thoughts emanated from this amazing man. Just next to this open porch is Hridaya Kunj – his home. As we enter his place of residence, an old Gandhian took over a charge and explained every minute detail of this place. We stood in an open verandah where Gandhiji would sit on white cushioned seat flanked by his Charkha on right, wooden writing desk in the front and meet his visitors. We were told when Gandhiji left for famous Dandi March, he vowed never to return until India became independent. Its irony that he never returned to this place despite India getting her independence. Naukhali Hindu Muslim riots took him away and on his return to Delhi, he was assassinated. On the right of his sitting place was a room where he slept. His wife ‘Ba’ had another room behind his. Both these rooms bore a stamp of simplicity. Adjoining room had a cabinet that showed his Thali, Spoon, Spectacles etc. From the window of his room, one could glimpse a small hut that housed his favorite disciples Vinoba Bhave and Miraben. A guesthouse opposite the open space was meant to accommodate dignitaries that came to visit him.

It defies my logic why river that encircle such wonderful places like Sabarmati Ashram, Taj Mahal are always famished and banished. As one stand on the edge of ashram, one can see barren riverbed of Sabarmati with poodles of water that are used to wash clothes or bathe buffaloes. I often asked this question and was told that dam ensures that water is conserved but I still feel it is not difficult to have at least an artificial lake to give semblance of flowing river. After all these places were chosen primarily because, they were next to flowing river.

Once we were through with Hridaya Kunj, we entered museum that we had passed on the left side of the entrance .The ground story museum building with tiled roof is spacious and houses office, library, photo galleries and an auditorium. Most interesting part was to see original manuscripts of Gandhiji’s letters and articles. We breezed past this place as it was getting dark but if one has a time and interest; it is interesting to spend hours rummaging through countless original letters, articles, photographs of Gandhiji and his freedom struggle.

Journey to Akshardham takes through Gandhinagar – a capital city. All round tress, wide smooth avenues with sprawling parks and vast open spaces surrounding the articulately planned city makes Gandhinagar rival any city in the world. Our visitors were stunned to see the transformation in terms of landscape, meticulous planning, but so was I. I never knew, Gandhinagar would be so nice.

I doubt if I would have gone to Akshardham if this place had not shot into in to the prominence by terrorists by siege of this temple. The live images of commando operation that led to temple salvage albeit losing 37 innocent lives was vivid in memory. Being a Sunday, this place was crowded. Nobody seemed to complain about harsh security measures that preclude carrying any bag, camera. I could see a large Muslim family being turned away when woman folk were not allowed to go with Burka. I felt sad when they decided to go back. But security risk was understandable after losing innocent precious lives.

Akshardham is not a temple but monument. But what a magnificent monument it is. Built without any iron or steel, it rests on ornately carved pink stone pillars with multiple domes on sides and central dome. This monument is dedicated to Lord Swaminarayan, who lived from 1781 to 1830. it is an architectural marvel. A stone pathway leads to the main monument and the imposing central hall. This place is looks enchanting when lit up. A gold layered bronze idol of Lord Swaminarayan is installed in the central shrine with marble idols of his l successors. The temple’s sculptured pillars are exquisitely sculptured with dancing figures of Ganesha, incarnations of Vishu. We could not go to basement treasure house that I believe contains rare objects related to the life of Lord Swaminarayan. Temple complex houses fifteen acre culture garden with fountains, rolling green lawns, trees, colourful flowers, a lake and waterfalls, an open air theatre and even rides for children. I must say that tour of Gujarat is not complete without a visit to Akshardham and I am glad I did that.

Many years ago, I had a Korean visitor in India who commented about seeing only historical places in India. He wondered why Indians proudly present only historical places but never are proud to show their contemporary creation. I wish I had this Korean friend with me this time to show him Akshardham.

Returning flight had players from west zone. Smiling faces of Zaheer Khan, Romesh Powar, Bahutule summed up their victory over East Zone. It made me happy too, it brought back memories of Mumbai and west zone team lifting Ranji and Duleep trophy almost every year .

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

subcontinent workers in gulf - exploited or bestowed with fortune ?

Indian office goers are familiar with a term ‘office boy - OB'. For developed world, this term is unheard of. In Arabian Gulf, however, companies owned or managed by subcontinent personnel do have gulf version of this office boy

Gone are the days in India when OB would sit on a wooden square stool with his folded vernacular language newspaper only to get up after seeing flashing of red light outside the manager’s cabin and preparing Tea at specified hour. Indian OB in 80’s would often be a shy boy in mid 20 migrated from either Konkan or Bihar region with almost no knowledge of English. Gulf OB is often an undergraduate fluent in his mother tongue, Hindi, and familiar with English. In few months, he becomes adept with all office gizmos fax, photocopier, answering machine, and even PC. His skills range from preparing courier parcel/documents to the very assignment for which he was recruited– preparing Tea. You can count on his honesty - He would be the first one to open the office and last one to leave ensuring that power is switched off and office is properly locked. He can be telephone operator, messenger boy and even filing assistant as the need arises. You can notice him more by his grin than his looks. If you were to look for contented and happy man in office, you would likely narrow down on OB. His greeting always imbues warmth for every visitor and if visitor was a known and familiar face, then he would insist on his special Tea or Turkish coffee.

Though he has an option of salary of 1200 Dirhams inclusive of everything, he prefers to get salary of 800 Dirhams a month that is app. US$220 with company provided ‘bed space’, food, transportation to work and an air ticket to home every two years. This salary stands him out with his village folks. If his company were to get visit visa for his grown up son, he would eternally be thankful to his masters and perhaps would retire in the same company.

Gulf OB is very cautious about his expenses. Out of 800 Dirhams, if he were to spend anything more than 100 per month, he would admonish himself. His essential monthly expenses include buying 30-dirham telephone card to call his family every Friday when call rates are half, sharing satellite TV subscription, and weekend treat with his friends. Remaining 700 Dirhams go back to his family without fail. He is counting every Dirham, After all, he has borrowed nearly 100,000 of rupees (app 8,500 Dirhams) to pay to visa agent to secure visa to Dubai. He is counting months when he would start earning in real sense.

Security personnel in apartment buildings who work with registered companies are elegant with immaculate attire and are easy going with environ of air-conditioner. Like Gulf OB, they also earn 800 Dirhams and share room on terrace/ adjoining parking lot with other colleagues. However, opportunity of making extra buck comes from liaising with real estate agents as 'informant' about possible vacant flats, giving access to Chinese CD seller to approach homes. Being Egyptian or North African graduates , they are fluent in Arabic and posses working knowledge of English language. Indians generally do not prefer security job. They would rather slog it out and make extra money than enjoying air conditioner and western attire. Those armed with driving license and English language would prefer driving Dubai Taxi –Toyota Camry and be on road until sleep overcomes them. They could go as high as 3,000 Dirhams with overtime.

Gulf OB, Security personnel, Taxi Drivers are by far the most fortunate workers compared to thousand of others who are in hopeless grind of working as construction laborers, gardeners under scorching heat or deliverymen in grocery stores ferrying 20-liter water cans on their shoulders with vegetables in one hand to homemakers who summon them every few hours over telephone. So is the plight of cleaners in the apartments whose job is to keep floor shining, elevators spanking. These cleaners work 7 days a week, 8 hours a day for a paltry 300 Dirhams. They look for innovative ways to make up the loss – mostly by manual car washing– at 100 Dirhams per month per car by waking up at wee hours.

"There is a limit to human sufferings and exploitation".This is the message that construction laborers brought to the public, media and even to the Govt by blocking the traffic, shouting slogans – something that no one dared to do in this part of the world. This made govt. to take notice of their plight by pulling up errand contractors to give them timely salary. The living conditions of labor are appalling with 150 square foot room squeezing seven people. It can go even upto 10 sharing the same space. Their wardrobe is about the size of three shoeboxes - the only space they have to store all their worldly possessions, including their clothes. An average labor camp consist of roughly 400 -500 men, although some others had more than a 1000. I do hope that as dubai gets swanky with malls and high rise buildings, these men who have burnt their skin and toiled their limbs in an unrelenting high temperatures of desert conditions get at least what they have been promised when they took their jobs.

Most pathetic are those who have come to the country by buying a visa but without a job. It is known as free visa – it costs app RS 50K without sponsorship obligations. They are mostly Bangla Deshis. They hang around in the mall’s parking lot and seek business by washing cars. While busy earning few dirhams, they need to keep an eye for not getting nabbed by police. Pathans from North West Frontier too come under the same category but they slog it out all day by either loading / unloading of goods or driving private rundown taxis in smaller emirates. It is sad that their own fellow citizens’ push these people into this situation by promising fortune and making them borrow to arrive in Gulf. These people without jobs and with no assured income either stray in illegal activities thereby ending their sojourn in prison or extending their stay illegally hoping to get amnesty after few years.

It is difficult to decide if these workers could be termed as objects of human exploitation or symbol of lucky migrants. It depends the you look at the situation. @1200 Dirhams /month @ 10 hours/ day makes them earn app. 4 dirham/hour (equivalent to US$1.1/hour). Compare this with US minimum wage of US$6.00/hour, you feel pity for them. However, if you were to compare this with India’s US$0.20 /hour, you feel they perhaps got a better deal.

If you were to ask these very people if they were exploited. Their answer would be 'No' with the exception of few construction laborers and free visa migrants. Their argument is based on simple logic; "at least we get guaranteed food and a bed"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Deepawali : advait viewpoint

Deepawali Contribution
by Swami Dikshananda
Saraswati Arya Samaj, Delhi, India

The following article was written on 17-10-1978.

Om asato ma sadgamaya,
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya,
Mrityor ma amritam gamaya.

Lead us from falsehood to truth;
from Darkness to light;
from Death to immortality and
from Lethargy to Activity...

The message of Deepawali

According to the Vedic culture, the message of Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya (from darkness unto light) is given through the festival of Deepawali to all peoples of the world. During the night of Deepawali the myriads of little clay lamps (dias) seem to silently send forth Deepawali messages: Come let us remove darkness from the face of the earth. This is not the work to be done by one dia or by one individual. It requires collective effort. In the diffusion of light the question of high and low is forgotten. This is the lesson taught by both small and big dias.
The second message of the burning dias is to destroy the difference between rich and poor- the destruction of discrimination based on poverty and wealth. The burning dia, whether in a palatial bungalow or in a grass hut, is a symbol of this unity. The wall of separation based on economic status cannot prevent the penetration and spread of the light of the dia.
The third message of the burning diias of Deepawali is to kindle the extinguished lights of our neighbours. Let us find out what is needed- whether there is a shortage of wick or oil- and just by a little help the neighbour's lamps can be lit. One dia can light several others. A little charity can bring joy to countless others.
The row of lamps teach yet another lesson and that is of unity as exemplified in Satyam, Shivam Sundaram- Truth, Joy and Beauty.
The lights of Deepavali are displayed at the entrance doors, by the walls of houses, in the streets and lanes. This means that the inner spiritual light of the individual must be reflected outside. Passersby may thereby be prevented from stumbling on their way to reach their destination.
The lights of the dias on earth beckon the lights in the firmaments to descend upon earth and establish the heavenly kingdom of God for the welfare of the human race.
Feeding empty stomachs, lighting blown-out dias and providing cheer and joy amongst the downtrodden is to enter the true spirit of Deepavali. This is the true prayer to Lakshmi Devi.

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