Immigration officials across the world are all sent to this common, secret school (run, I suspect by particularly virulent commissars of the ex-USSR) where they are taught the essential niceties of their job – a deeply suspicious look & the ability to never ever let the slightest smile (or even a suspicion thereof) escape on to one’s face, being the most important.

Two countries I have visited stand apart in this – Cyprus & Thailand.

The gate-keepers at the Larnaca airport smiled at me (giving me the heebeejeebies, since to the best of my prior knowledge these guys smile only when about to effect a cop) and – I kid you  not – asked about the weather back home.

The guys at Phuket were the best of the lot. Their interaction was as between mature adults. A smile breaking out of a ‘yeah, we know you are here only to have a good time and as soon as your money runs out, you will go away – but we gotta do this…’ look.

I have been to Saudi Arabia too, where I met the guys who took all the prizes at the commissar’s school.



As I move around in the world, I am struck anew by the variety of neighbourhoods I have lived in. Human scale being what it is, it is the little neighbourhoods that you live in or work in that matters – irrespective of whether you live in one of the most populated cities of the world or in one of the more remote little towns. The other interesting thing I notice is that my recollection of a place is forever tinged by my emotional state at that time.

Take Connaught Place in New Delhi for instance. I was young, single, thought I was in love, had a job that gave me a relatively relaxed time & a few Rupees in my pocket. To me, Connaught Place & its environs is still about lazy afternoons, pottering down Janpath, eating cutlets at Bankura next to the Cottage Industries Emporium, occasionally living dangerously with a cold coffee at D’Pauls and regularly catching plays at the NSD or Shriram centre. Continues to be my idea of bliss.

Or take downtown Jeddah in Saudi Arabia where I worked for 6 months about 15 years ago. My recollections of this place are of the extremely hot sun, the regular calls of the muzzein, the steel & chrome facades of the office blocks and of a huge mall filled with shops, eateries and vast echoing hallways without people. Surreal.

Or Prabhadevi in Mumbai where my young family spent a couple of years. Facing the sea on a llth floor flat with lots of space, conventional wisdom suggested I had pretty much reached home-nirvana in Mumbai. But, I never got to like it. The awful dirt at the beach was a huge put-off. So was the idea that my little kids had to stand in a queue at Shivaji Park to get on to a swing (a queue for kids to get on a swing!). So, inspite of the world’s best seafood & very nice people, Mumbai could not hold me for long.

Other interesting neighbourhoods I lived or worked in include Chanakyapuri, Vasant Kunj & Greater Kailash in New Delhi, Perth Road in Dundee, Scotland, Lavelle Road in Bangalore, Jawahar Nagar in Trivandrum, Valmiki Nagar facing the raw power of the waves off the Bay of Bengal in Chennai & many more..

Middle-east food

Here is a video of a Fattoush – a lebanese salad

A few days ago, Kunal Vijaykar’s show on TimesNow showed a Parsi family making an Iranian mutton dish called Khoresh Badenjan. We tried it out last night. Turned out to be very good – the trick, like in almost all middle-east food is in getting good mutton. And Ali has a good eye for mutton. So, it turned out great.

Mesopotamia, Persia, Euphrates, Tigris, Egypt – the middle east has had no dearth of ancient civilizations. And food is most certainly one of the region’s great contributions to world civilisation.

One of those lingering memories of my life is of a simple turkish dish in a small eating-house in a city called Al-khobar in Saudi Arabia. A plate of lightly roasted chicken served on a fresh platter of mixed herbs – I can smell the divine aroma after 15 years.

Christian bye-pass, across the Rub-al-khali

(An unlikely video of Saudi Arabia – scuba diving in the Red Sea, Jeddah)

I lived in Saudi Arabia for six months in early nineties and am I thankful to fate for that. Tourists rarely go to Saudi Arabia – the only outsiders (reluctantly) allowed in to Saudi Arabia are expat workers. As one such, I landed in Jeddah on the Red Sea coast. Continue reading