As I made way through the immigration counters at the Mumbai International Airport I could hear instrumentals of popular hymns being played softly. People eagerly made their way to the security check and once that was done, we entered what I call the "shopaholics paradise". Yup you guessed it-Duty Free! Let the word "free" not fool you as everything in those shops were high end and therefore not even remotely inexpensive. But it was a view that put a tiny smile to my face and a twinkle in my eye. After entering my comfort zone, I began my favorite pastime-observing people in their funniest best. We Indians love to dress up grandly with all our finest of ornaments and silks when going on international flights. It makes them feel super fine & important. Then there are those "home alone" families who spend all their time in between crying babies, feeding babies and counting the number of kids still present at the end of it all. My flight to Bahrain of course had passengers of all kinds- those who complained of the seat, those who kept poking the television screens to annoy the passenger in front of them and finally those all important super VIPs passengers who just could not tolerate the thought of being cut off from the world and hence refused to switch off their cell phones! So much for the onward travel!!
My two-week stay in Bahrain had its share of idiosyncrasies and memorable anecdotes. Some that come to my mind include:
(1) When my colleague and I were dodging the rain while entering our hotel, we noticed a Caucasian male (trying to be politically correct!). He seemed to have been holed up in his hotel room and decided to get out for a bit, only to find that it was still raining! He blurted out “Is it still raining? WHY!! Is this Bahrain or Mumbai”. As soon as he noticed us (very much Indian looking folks) he realized his faux-pas and said “By the way good game of cricket there” referring to India’s good performance at the ongoing series against South Africa and gave us the thumbs up.
(2) Unlike its neighbors’, Bahrain is a very progressive little nation. This can be evidenced from local newspapers which talk of the young royals who take active interest in women affairs and image building exercise for the country. Its constant endeavor to ape the west and become a popular destination can be seen its people and lifestyle. Men and women parade in outfits that look like they have come straight out of a Milan fashion event with high heel boots, denims, jell hair and accessories like bags and latest cell phones to match them all! All very interesting!
(3) The country is the sin city of the Middle East in all ways possible and sees a major inflow of people from the neighboring GCC countries like KSA, Kuwait & Qatar over the weekend. This is the time when Bahrain comes alive with its malls, roads and restaurants crowded with the young and old. People start streaming in on Wednesdays and by Friday evening the country wears a deserted look leaving behind the locals. Trivia- The country population is 1 million of which 400k are expatriates!
(4) Since it’s a small nation with not much history to boast of, it has but a handful of places to see like the Tree of Life (look it up on Google if you please), the tall high rises, the causeway, the local museums which gives a brief on the nation, the royal palaces and Bab-al-Bahrain which was the erstwhile official gate of Bahrain. There are a few quaint shopping zones and the country is famous for high quality pearls.
(5) People are in general friendly and cab drivers strike up conversations at will and ask about various things like the best medical facilities in India, visa and immigration policy, weather of Bahrain etc.
(6) Now, we decided to visit the local Indian restaurant called ‘Moti Mahal’ on Food Street in the suburb of Juffair at the insistence of one of our colleagues. What makes this place unique? The waiter- comes the resounding answer! Don’t quite remember his name, but he was the whole package deal. Not only did he take our orders but he also sang film songs & he did a fantastic impersonation of Shahrukh Khan. In fact he was so obsessed with the actor that he stopped serving us when his idol was on screen and started giving us trivia about him and the awards show that was being shown on the telly. At one point when an actress joked/insulted our waiter’s idol, he was so enraged that he began hurling abuses at her! We then realized that this guy had seen this recorded show many times over and could narrate it backwards! At the end of the dinner I was left thinking what brought this budding actor to Bahrain and that too in this role!
Well, those were my take aways from the Land of Pearls!