Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I love you too?

I was thumbing through the menu of my new phone and familiarizing myself with all the lovely features that I was convinced I couldn’t do without (1 hour video recording, 512 MB removable memory, visual radio etc.) but which I knew I would seldom use. That’s when I spotted the little gem tucked away in the Message template.

Among the ready-to-use messages such as I’m in a meeting, call later and I am late, I will be arriving at _ , was this one – I love you too.

Right. Now we need technology to prompt our instinctive responses, personal responses. As if it isn’t enough that the cell phone has become an appendage of the human body, that we now need it to preprogram our feelings and have them ready-to-use when the need arises.

Apart from I love you too, there are other common expressions that ought to come pre-programmed into phones to save our thumbs the needless wear and tear. For instance:

‘You’re fired’

‘We need to talk’

‘I do’
(Didn’t a couple recently exchange vows on the cell phone because the groom was stuck in traffic?)

‘Let’s just be friends.’

‘What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?’

In effect, pre-programming takes over from where text messages left off.

When I left my previous phone back home for my parents, I thought happily that we could stay in touch more often through text messages. It’s more immediate than email and less expensive than phone calls, I told myself. Despite exchanging text messages almost daily, my mum writes plaintively, ‘Why are you quiet? Keep in touch more often.’

There’s something reassuring about the fact that I am connected to all my friends back in Bombay, even those across the world, through a quick text message. In less than 160 characters, I can get a quick update on a close friend’s life – ‘Hey so nice 2 hear frm you. Life’s good, work hectic, love life almost non-existent. Hw r u’. A leisurely half-hour conversation now in a bite-size morsel, that fails to satiate.

There’s a faux sense of connectedness, of conversation, and in some cases of a language even (m gr8, hw r u). The convenience aspect of text message quickly crosses over into the area usually reserved for the real effort required in maintaining relationships.

Why bother to call and wish someone when you can type out a ‘Happy birthday’ (Hapy bday 2 u!) or ‘Happy anniversary’ message (Hapy nvrsy 2 u!) Does that sound a tad impersonal? No problem, ‘Insert Smiley’ and you have infused your message with warmth and emotion :-D

Having ranted that, let me clarify I’m not anti-text messages myself. (The calluses on my thumb will testify to that.) They’re a quick and expedient way to touch base with people but no substitute for conversation. They’re also an effective antidote for boredom especially during one of those interminable meetings. And in some cases, they’re an unintentional source of mirth.

My parents had a tough time figuring out the features of their ‘new cell phone’, but it seemed like they had managed to befriend technology after all. Or so I thought. I used my uncle’s old phone for a few days until I bought a new handset. The first thing I did was to send a text message to my parents, ‘Finally bought my new phone!’

Prompt came the reply, ‘So what’s your new number?’

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Icewoman Cometh – II

Continued from The Icewoman Cometh

The helpful suggestions came in thick and fast…

'Lean forward', suggested Cousin 1. I tried and fell flat.

'Keep the blades at an angle,' said Cousin 2. Same result.

'Stand still,' said K. Ditto.

Ice-skating isn't for the faint hearted. Or the flat-bottomed, for that matter. There's probably an easier way to learn it, understanding the technique or some such, but I was woefully clueless. It was embarrassing to be at the receiving end of sympathetic looks – especially, from children.

Still, I was determined to make some headway. With K on the left, Cousin 1 on the right and Cousin 2 behind, I managed to walk one entire round of the rink without falling. Then another.

Bolstered a bit, I tried a bit of that carefree gliding that everyone around me seemed to affect. The problem with that was I suddenly gained a momentum I wasn't ready to handle yet. My outstretched arms made frenzied clockwise circles in the air. I instinctively lurched forward, hands making anti-clockwise circles. Backwards. Forwards. And, alas, downwards.

"ARE YOU OK?", Cousins 1 & 2 shrieked in unison. I was inured to the horizontal position by now, so I was a little puzzled by their concern.

"You actually bounced off the ice!" they exclaimed. The tender areas were now numb because of the ice, so I was beyond feeling anything but ignominy.

I took a moment to catch my breath, and saw a sight to warm my heart. The Show Off, who had been putting Olympic figure skaters to shame with his pirouettes and dizzying spins, came crashing down. Kids gathered around him to commiserate, and he slunk away thereafter. I would have jumped into the air and clicked my skating shoes, if I wasn't laid out on the ice myself.

It was a good time to throw in the towel. The boots were rubbing my ankles raw, my clothes were wet and the bruises were smarting. But I was loath to give in. I was actually enjoying the challenge. There’s got to be a way to stay upright, I decided. I lifted my eyes off the shoes and looked straight ahead (that old cycling trick!). It was slow progress, and there was a bit of teetering, but I must have been doing something right because K murmured, 'You know, I think you are skating.'

The closing bell went off at the rink. I staggered to the exit, relieved. My bones creaked audibly, and the throbbing at the base of the spine didn’t augur well. My worried aunt handed me a hot water bottle and came to check on me in the night. (‘You didn’t change your position all night. I thought you had died.’).

All’s well that ends well, and all that. But it might be a while before I think about ice skating again. On the other hand, there’s the 3rd largest indoor ski resort coming up in September...

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Icewoman Cometh

Blisters on both ankles
Purple bruise on left elbow and palm
Throbbing arms and legs
Sore backside
Battered tailbone
Shattered pride

These are some of the things that happen when the searing heat and super-efficient a/c’s addle ones brains, so that without a second thought about ability or experience, one ventures forth to ice skate.

Ice-skating in the desert isn’t as incongruous as it sounds. For starters, this is Dubai – city of dreams. Second, if you can come up with the 3rd largest indoor ski resort in the world, organizing a spot of ice-skating is, as they say back home, left hand’s play . So when K suggested ice-skating on the weekend, all I asked was ‘where’.

There are two ice skating rinks in Dubai; we settled for the one at the Hyatt Regency. My teenage cousins had come along as well. There were a few skaters gliding gracefully on the shopping gallery enclosed skating rink. Most of them were kids, I noticed with surprise. There were also a few girls in tunics and headscarves skating as demurely as they could.

A mild alarm bell went off when we were handed the skating shoes and I saw just how slim the blade was. The idiocy of the enterprise began to slowly sink in. Sensing my hesitation, K and my cousins insisted on escorting me to the rink.

‘It’s really easy. Just like rollerblading,’ said Cousin 1.

My eyes widened.

‘You’ve never rollerbladed?!’ exclaimed Cousin 2, giving me a look usually reserved for dinosaurs.

Embarrassed perhaps, to be stuck with a fossil, Cousins 1 & 2 whizzed away, leaving me clutching the handrail. K seemed comfortable on the skates as well. My feet struggled to find a foothold on the slippery ice. The likelihood of spending an hour or more perched on the handrail seemed a distinct possibility.

‘Come on, Lee’, said K, grabbing hold of my elbow. I took one step. And then another. Arms outstretched, body swaying unsteadily. Many many years ago my parents would have noted such movements with pride and gushed, ‘She’s learned to walk, our baby.’

Even with K’s helping hand, it was impossible to walk evenly, forget glide. Kids darted around me insouciantly. One little girl who couldn’t have been more than five years old pirouetted gaily while her parents beamed approvingly. The galling injustice of it all swept me off my feet. ThUD!

When the stars and tweety birds had cleared, I saw my cousins and K, looking down at me.

‘Why do we fall?’, murmured Cousin 2.

‘So we can pick ourselves up again,’ continued Cousin 1, helpfully, harking back to the crummy dialogue in ‘Batman’, a movie they’d dragged me to the previous Thursday.

If falling down was graceless, picking oneself up was equally ungainly. I almost tossed K over my head when I tried to pull myself up the first time. So I tried going on all fours, and after a bit of trial and error, figured a way to hoist myself up. A few shoppers stopped to observe the spectacle. I brushed off the ice crystals from my jeans, wore my nonchalant face and set off again, arms outstretched.

To be continued

Egad - II

Can someone explain these blank comments that pop up every day on all posts on the front page of my blog? And how does one turn it off?


Frustrated Lee

Thursday, July 07, 2005

That question, again

Male: So, how come you aren’t married yet?

Female: Are you proposing?

Male: NO! Hey, I didn’t mean that!

Female: So what was the question again?

Male: Er.. never mind.

Female (sotto voce): Yesss! 1 down, 555 million to go.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Summer Whine…

The heavens opened up the day after I left Bombay for Dubai. So no ‘first rains’ for me this year. No smell of fresh earth, no roasted bhutta, no wrinkled toes in rubber shoes. Just second hand accounts from news sites, mails, blogs, and photographs, like this one…

(Art Partner’s 1-year old doing the raindance.)

One tends to get all choked up about the rains especially when one is stuck in the desert. You can never complain about the heat without some killjoy clucking, “Oh, just you wait, it gets worse in July and August.”

I find it hard to imagine going through only two seasons in a year. On the other hand, colleagues find it hard to imagine why I carry a shawl. That’s the only way I can get through a day in the icebox, I tell them. People are so determined to obliterate every memory of summer, that air-conditioners are cranked up to max – in offices, homes, cars, corridors. I’m one of those who need two blankets to weather the ‘Bombay winters’. So, one can understand my abhorrence for super-efficient air-conditioners.

Out of the icebox, into the sauna – that’s the feeling of getting out into the open. Dry heat is a myth out here. It’s humid and cruel, especially to one’s lungs. No matter how deeply I inhale, the lungs never fill up. And I end up in a gasping heap in the car, croaking for the a/c to be turned up. Just so I can breathe.

I’ve always scoffed at those who follow the weather bulletin like the cricket score. But I dutifully note the temperature with awe each day. It was 49 degrees yesterday.

“Oh just you wait, it gets worse in July and August.”


Look on the bright side, they say. I shield my eyes and squint; yes, summer has some redeeming features, after all. The most welcome one being the easing up of traffic. Most people are shocked when I tell them Dubai has a massive traffic problem. A 25 minute ride takes 1 hour and 10 minutes, and that’s only if there are no accidents en route. With most people away on vacation, it only takes 45 minutes these days.

And then there’s this ditty on the radio station City 101.6, which puts me in a ridiculously good mood every single time I hear it. It goes something like this:

A chorus of female Brit voices starts off with a shooby-doo-bop 50s style melody:

Never seen a sky so blue
Bluebirds singing a song or two…
Hey hey
It’s a sunny day

Suddenly a Munnabhai-soundalike interjects:

Ae ye ladki log kya bol raheli hai?!

Garmi itni bad raheli hai
Public poori pagal ho raheli hai
Nal se boiled water aa rahela hai..
Tu kya bol rahela hai
It ends with a tapori, ‘Ae Pakya, A/c idhar ghuma!’

And finally: City 101.6. City on heat.

Ha! (insert goofy grin here)

The heat is getting to me, I think.


An issue that’s been raging just as fiercely as the summer sun is the latest Ministry of Labour ban on field work between 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. during July and August. According to one report, 700 workers had been hospitalized last year on account of heat stroke. And those were only the reported cases. So it’s a little surprising that none of the higher ups thought of this ban until a fortnight ago. In any case, it would seem like a welcome move for thousands of labourers who toil in the blistering sun (while some others whine about the heat and a/c’s.)

Except that it’s not. Construction groups are bitter about the fact that projects will get delayed and costs will rise. Some companies have willingly offered to pay the fines up to Dhs 600,000 rather than giving workers the four-hour break.

The Labour Inspections Department itself has been caught on the backfoot. There’s an acute shortage of inspectors to ensure the implementation of the ban.

The labour ministry source said: "Dubai has three inspectors and one unit head. We can't do 10 per cent of what's required."

Interestingly, most labourers are blissfully unaware about the new law that’s purported to be for their benefit.

"Our foreman didn't tell us. I am not sure if the foreman knows," said Nur Al Ameen, a labourer.

Perhaps, the most poignant quote of all, was this one:

Said one worker, Lalji Roy. “It’s a real struggle to work in the sun, but we do it for the money. As long as it won’t affect our finances, this is one of the best things that could have happened.”

Contrast it with the views of some of Dubai residents.

"No way. I do not think it is a very good idea for workers to work after sunset. Just imagine you coming home after a hard day's work and not being able to rest because of the noise made by work at a nearby construction site," said Tim Hunt a British resident of Dubai.

"I come home for lunch and try to catch a nap, but with all that hammering and noise it is impossible," said Khalid Yousuf Sharif, a Pakistani sales executive.

When will these cold hearts melt, I wonder.

Meanwhile, here’s an issue to take my mind off the heat. And the a/c’s. Stay tuned for more information. This is the city on heat.