Sunday, September 5, 2010


I've been having strange out-of-body experiences since I left Oman for Delhi:

Working on my laptop transports me back to the Qurum City Center where I am stroking the keyboard for the very first time, already knowing that yes, this is the one. I can hear the young Balochi Omani salesman telling me in his heavily accented Hindi that he had spent some years at a boarding school in Dehradun and that it reminded him of his favourite place in Oman, Salalah. I can feel the shoppers around me - brown, black, and white - strolling about the wide aisles of Carrefour that are sharply lit with bright white light. The floors are swept to a sparkle, everyone is well-dressed. It's still the first week of Ramadhan, and the stores are going to be open extra late all month.

I think of my tailor everytime I pull out a set of clothes. The print reminds me of the shopping trip I went on with my mother, the store we bought it from, the Indian shopkeepers who've seen me grow from knobbly knees and pigtails to make-up and heels. Our tailor is Pakistani. His name is Tariq, and he's been making my clothes in Oman with his brother, Rizwan, since I was 7 or 8. I still remember the first grown-up style shalwar qameez he made for me. I had finished my first reading of the Quran in Arabic, and we were going to have a party. For the first time, I got to pick an inky red and dark blue shiny synthetic material for myself, different from the usual flowery cotton stuff my mom would make me wear. For the first time, I got to pick a design for my dress from one of the tailor's grown-up fashion books all by myself. I was under 10, and that outfit made me feel like Sridevi. I've worn many wonderful dresses since, but none that ever gave me that kick.

Everytime I see a young person driving their own car while I'm waiting to find an autorickshaw driver who won't give me attitude, I think about how well I knew the smooth, clean roads of Muscat. I remember gesticulating to Cliff Richard's 'Devil Woman' as it played in my dad's Corolla as I took it out for a spin to the Darsait LuLu, to the Qurum McDonald's, to my beloved alma mater Indian School Muscat, or drove past a 400-year-old fort by the sea. I wonder if there is any other city in the world where I know the roads by landmarks and don't need streetnames.

As I put my contact lenses away at the end of the day, I see the Sudanese optician's handwriting on the lenses container. He'd tested my eyes for the first time when I was 10 years old, and he's been testing my eyes ever since. I'm never sure what he's saying as he keeps switching midsentence between Arabic and English, but he always sends greetings to my father at the end of the transaction.

I remember my Sudanese dentist in his tiny shop in Ruwi whenever I try to floss in the dull light of the shared bathroom where I rent a room. I'd only been going to him for a year, but I've never seen him without his mask, so I don't even know what he really looks like. He's a really nice dentist though, and he doesn't yell at me when a tear or whimper or two escape me when I'm in the chair. Apparently he was educated in Egypt.

As I begin to worry about where to find a good salon in Delhi, I think of the convenience of having the Excellent Beauty Corner a one-minute walk from our apartment in Muscat. It's hard finding an intuitive beautician who can understand your temperament and is skilled at the same time. I remember feeling a sense of separation anxiety the last time I visited the ladies at the salon before I left for Delhi. How am I going to find another salon where the women call me 'dear' and speak to me kindly?

The thought of wanting to rent a movie and not knowing where to go takes me back to Samara Video, which one can reach from our apartment in the MBD area in 5 minutes by car. The guy who works at the counter is an Arab from Bahrain. I don't know his name, but he's distinctively effeminate. His eyebrows are tweezed, and he has a long beautiful ponytail that reaches the middle of his back like a piece of thick rope. He often wears fitted tees, and his speech and laughter are soft. All the women like him. I don't feel as restrained around him as I do with other men. I once entered the store with a bag of popcorn in my hand and offered him some as I exchanged a joke or two with him. He once mentioned to me that he would like to live in Oman for good because it is a peaceful and clean place. One of the last places like that left in the world, I expect.