Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Old Man of Muscat

Everyone calls me the Old Man of Muscat.

Methinks am older than that. In fact me is older than oldest and have been reclining on this hillside almost since eternity, becoming a part of the hill. Me is so old that it is impossible for me to get up and in any case, who wants to get up and why? Me feels so content just lying on my back and watching my friend, Time, go by.

Me has noticed that my friend, the Time, is the Great Teacher, teaching everyone and succeeding sooner or later. Some people learn fast, others take their time but in the end they all learn. Time has the knack to teach you know.

When you are so still for so long and in the same place you tend to notice things that you don’t otherwise see. All my body is so still but this incessant chatter in my head goes on non-stop every second, day after day. It’s a kind of a non-stop dialogue and sometimes it almost seems as if there are two voices inside the head talking to each other, all the time.

One voice might say, “Look at that man what is he doing,” and the other voice will say, “May he has problems, how do you know, don’t judge.” And the first voice might say, “No but he shouldn’t be up and walking at this hour of the night.” Then the second vice will say, “May be he has problems at home and needs to think about them alone.” It goes on and on like this, day in and day out, all the time, ceaselessly.

Such voices are going on inside everyone's head, all the time. At first you think it is 'I' talking to 'myself', the way we sometimes see mad people talking to themselves loudly. Then you notice that it is the egoic mind talking to it self. The awareness behind "I" is not the egoic mind.

This awareness does not ‘talk’ but is the one who ‘watches’ the talk, this dialogue going on in the mind. This awareness is the real self and is unmoving, unchanged; it is only the mind that moves and gives the illusion of change for the ‘I’. “I think therefore I am” said Descartes (“Cognito, ergo sum” but he was mistaken. He realized that he was always thinking and so equated thinking with being. It was to be three hundred years later that another great mind, Jean Paul Sartre realized the mistake and said, “The consciousness that says ‘I am’ is not the consciousness that thinks.”

The consciousness that is behind the thinking goes back much before the body is born and survives the death of the body. Its origin can be traced back to the Big Bang when deep inside a Black Hole, in a Milky Sea, from amongst billions of brethren, ‘It’ fertilizes the seed of Time & Space emerging into this four dimensional reality many earthly years ago.

Since then, with relativity filtering perceptions, Memory Lane keeps lengthening as Time & Space record their movement on the Mind’s Eye. The Soul’s Theatre witnesses epic battles as conflicting passions and emotions collide.

The ‘It’ watches all, unmoved, uninvolved, unchanged. And ‘It’ is who ‘I’ really am.

The real Old Man of Muscat.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sea Shoring

We are at Qurum beach and in the sea. Selvin comes here every Friday (only way to get some exercise here, he says) and so Jasper and you accompany him.

The place we are at is a little way off the main Qurum beach and therefore relatively deserted. It’s five in the evening and the sun is reading to dive down the horizon. The sand feels warm and you twiddle your toes in its warmth, enjoying the touch and feel of its softness.

The beach here is about 50 meters wide, and seems to run for about a couple of kilometers in a slight curve, cradling the coast. As you walk towards the water you notice virgin sand, unmarked by any foot-prints. We are amongst the first to arrive and water has washed off all signs of yesterday. Fascinated, you notice the footprints you are leaving behind and knowing when you come back, they may or may not be there.

Inside the water you feel the heave of the waves, rushing to the shore and moving back to the sea. The volume adds to the momentum and you feel MOVED. You keep walking and are nearly 50-60 meters from the shore yet hardly chest deep in the water. The waves massage you gently and you feel its soothing effect in your bones. The salty water stings the eye and soon you learn that dog-paddle is the best kind of stroke because it helps you keep your head above the water.

All of sudden you notice hordes of Omani youth descending on the beach and soon watch them playing football on the narrow stretch of sand. You ask Selvin, a Goan, born and brought up in Oman and he says that till ten years back this part of the city didn’t exist. Muscat was a much smaller place but then Hyatt built a Hotel here (see that building, he says) and soon people realized what a good place it was. So the diplomatic community built their houses along the sea and the government planted coconut trees and built huts and landscaping and now its one of the most posh areas to live in.

Then you notice a huge tower like structure to your right (when you face the shore) connected with what seems like a kilometer long bridge going out into the sea and you ask Selvin what’s that?

It’s the water desalination plant, he informs, and the building at the other end of the ‘bridge’ is the salt making plant where they produce ‘Bahar’ the largest selling salt in Oman. Something clicks in your head and you feel enlightened – yes, desalinate water and get salt as a by product and sell that too – how neat and why didn’t Tata Namak think of that, after all water is sold in India too. And Gujarat, where their salt plant is located, suffers chronic water shortage.

The footballers seem to have occupied the entire beachfront and there seems to be about half a dozen games in progress. Their playing space half the size of a regular field (the beach being only 50 meters wide) and the goal posts are marked with bottles or small stick poked in the sand. All fields seem to be adjacent to each other with no space in between so the goal keepers stand with backs to each other, facing the side their game is going on. The footballs often go into the next field but that doesn’t seem to bother the players who are fixated only on their own game.

You come out of the water sit on the beach chairs Selvin has brought, light a cigarette and watch the group in front playing. About 20 youth, all in late teens or above with one small boy hardly 12 or 13; he is enthusiastically running after the ball but doesn’t seem to get a touch, others are too big for him. You watch him and wonder why others don’t give him a chance to kick the ball at least once but then realize they are playing hard and seriously. Good for him you realize, he will become a better player if they continue treating him like this.

Then you notice the sun slowly sink in the horizon and keep watching fascinated by the beauty of the moment. Selvin and jasper have come out of the sea too. As they dress up you notice the beach where you had walked leaving your footprints. The footballers running and tackling has made it resemble a battlefield, all dug up and looking like a ploughed field ready for sowing.

As you are about to leave you notice a green stone on the sands next to a yellow one. You pick them both and look closely. The green one probably has copper (copper has been mined in Oman since last 6,000 years they say) and the yellow one looks like a sedimentary rock, probably sandstone. You keep them both for future reference, if and when you meet a geologist, you can show and ask.

The week rolls by in a jiffy and before you can say hey, it’s Friday again and you are back at the beach, with Selvin and Jasper. Voila, its high tide and the beach has vanished, the water reaching nearly to the road. The sea seems to be roaring and some of the waves seem more than a meter high. You go in and soon realize the power of the sea as it tosses you about, every wave nearly pulling down your Bermudas. When the mighty waves come washing in you can see dozens of small grey fishes helplessly floating in its crest

You notice the footballers are back and even thought their playing field is barely a few meters wide, they start their match again.

Today Selvin is in a hurry and soon all are tired battling the sea, so we quit. Before leaving you take a last look at the sea and again marvel at its awesome power to hold your attention and keep you transfixed in meditation. After all you are three-fourths water too.

Then you notice a dead fish lying near your feet. You poke it with a stick, it’s rock dead and stone hard. You notice its open mouth, the glassy eyes and you wonder about life and death.

Life is not the opposite of death - life has no opposite. The opposite of death is birth. Birth is life’s attempt at immortality. For, Life is Eternal. Life is One - manifested manifold.

So to celebrate life you head for the pub!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Muscat Morning Meditations

You get up and are surprised to see its not even 5 am and yet the morning is very bright. The Sun is still not up and you go to the kitchen balcony to see two pigeons necking next to you on the other side of the glassed railing. One of them looks like a typical Indian grey pigeon but the other one is a cross between a grey and a white with white head and neck and grey wings.

As you light a cigarette, they stop frolicking and watch you alertly, ready to fly off at first sign of danger. You lower the light slowly and don’t look at them directly, not wishing to scare them. They keep watching you. As you exhale a stream of smoke they fly off in panic probably scared of the fire breathing monster. You watch them with regret.

Then a sparrow flies into the next balcony chasing a moth. The moth dives and ducks and twists and turns and the sparrow keeps missing it but finally the moth’s luck runs out. The sparrow sits on the balustrade, its morning breakfast in between its beak. Your next puff sends it soaring in the sky.

You are on the seventh floor (the maximum allowed in Oman) and can clearly see the city skyline and soon notice the two flags of Oman fluttering in the brisk breeze. One is on top of the Central Bank of Oman and the other on a building about 70 meters away across on the other side of the road. You notice they are flying in different directions at 90 degrees to each other. Puzzled you try to figure out what’s happening and it takes a while to realize that the wind is running in some sort of cyclic swirl. Soon you see that the flag on the opposite side has wrapped itself around the flag pole. You wonder if that happens often and if it requires some one to unfurl it somehow.

Inside the kitchen the air is still and you notice the smoke you are exhaling hangs in midair in distinct layers looking like evening clouds in the sky. You take a deep puff and blow it at the center of the clouds. The beam of smoke goes like a rocket burrowing a hole in the cloud and they starts swirling in all directions even as some parts form rotating rings while others swirl in different directions, the whole effect is as if you are watching stars and galaxies in outer space and you wonder if that’s the kick Old Man in the Heaven is getting watching His creation. Transfixed you repeat the act again and again till your head spins with all the deep smoking so early in the morning. The forms and shapes of the smoke remind you of something you read somewhere, “Just as water can be solid, liquid or gaseous, consciousness can be seen to be ‘frozen’ as physical matter, ‘liquid’ as mind and thought, or ‘formless’ as pure consciousness.”

And then the Golden Orb jumps out from behind the Muscat hills and the within minutes the air starts heating up. By the time you finish your first cup of tea and the second cigarette, you are drenched in sweat and another hot day has begun.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

In High Seas

It’s your first time on high seas and you are impressed by the mightiness of the ocean. The water in the Gulf of Oman is a deep shade of aqua marine and we are on a glass bottom boat (Oman’s only such boat, informs our guide Rashad Al Wahabi) on a ride to see the dolphins. The boat, powered by twin Yamaha 225 engines that purr sweetly, moves fast cutting a foamy path in the water that slowly dissolves into blue stillness. You are fascinated by the vastness of the ocean and left gazing at its enormity. It has a meditative affect on the mind and listening to the drone of the engines and the rhythmic movement of the boat, one feels it’s kind of erotic.

Leaning out of the side of the boat, you notice the splash being raised by the boat’s nose, scything the water. The Sun is behind your back and you see a rainbow in the white splash of water. Mesmerized you keep staring at the rainbow and notice that that rainbow is always in the same place, though only visible when the splash forms the backdrop. The boat turns a bit, the angle of the Sun changes and voila! The rainbow is now visible in the ocean water away from the splash. You point it out to Jas, sitting next to you, and you both watch in amazement. It’s the first time you are seeing the rainbow in the water and not in the sky. A sense of awe overwhelms you as you watch in amazement at Nature’s beauteous handiwork.

Then you notice the hills in the distance, lining the Omani landscape. From far off they look like a herd of elephants crowding the shores. The movement of the boat creates the illusion that they are also moving.

You near the Muscat harbour which lies in the centre of a crescent with flatland in the centre but hills on the edge. You also see two magnificent looking forts on both ends of the crescent, relics of the past dominating the present. As the boat closes in Rashad points to a smaller fort-like structure at the edge of the hill and says that’s where the registry is, that the staff there is responsible for taking down the name of every ship that enters or leaves the port, along with the date and time of its entry and exit. The fort on the right is now headquarters of the Royal Oman Navy. In the centre stands the massive gold topped palace of HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Rashad informs the Sultan doesn’t live in this palace which is reserved for His Majesty’s meetings with foreign guests visiting Oman.

As you head back out of the harbour and head for high seas where the dolphins are supposed to be, you notice the hills, sheared by water, their sides inscribed by cuts and niches that look like Arabic writings. Amazing!

Out in the seas, you see no dolphins although a couple of times Rashad says “Look there” but by the time you turn your head it is the same old peaceful sea, moving rhythmically. And all of a sudden you come across two giant sea turtles, one on top of the other and realize you have disturbed two lovers playing the most ancient of all sports. In a jiffy they vanish underwater. The image of their startled faces stays with you for some time.

Then you enter a lagoon and its time for snorkeling – your first such experience. You put on the gear and dive into the water. The sea floor is about ten feet below and you can clearly see the rocks and the numerous fishes amongst them but they are all grey unlike the ones you see on National Geographic in bright technicolour of the Tropics. And then you get salty sea water in your mouth and eyes and as you frantically try to pull the snorkel away you rub against the boat’s sides and the blades of the propeller.

Coming up on the deck you find your legs badly scratched and bleeding from several places. Captain Yahya takes out a first aid box and soon alls well. After 45 minutes when every one is back on boat we move again back to the base. It’s a 30 minute ride and we pass spectacular scenes, the Shangri La Beach resort and new buildings coming up on the sea shore. We also pass another construction site where a JCB is pouring big rocks into the sea, filling it to create land where a huge new hotel is to come up. The arm of the JCB looks eerily like a giant human hand busy playing God. You wonder whether you feel good or bad.So much like life’s mysteries, one is left wondering whether to judge or leave judgement in suspended animation, till the Almighty gives us more knowledge and wisdom to judge properly.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Muscat Musings

My flight landed at Sultan Qaboos Airport around 10.30 pm and the 30 minute drive to the city was smooth and pleasant; the traffic swift and silent. The next morning at the office was uneventful as have been the days since. The pace of work seems decidedly languid although probably it is because the new colleagues are giving enough space to me to settle down slowly soaking in the atmosphere and the tempo of the place.

Oman is quite an amazing country, rather different from its neighbours. The Omani people seem rather mild mannered and gentle, tolerant and understanding. Was greatly impressed to see the hundreds of Neem trees lining the roads; actually made me wish if only the Indian government was as enlightened and not so biased towards planting eucalyptus everywhere. The landscaping on the road sides is particularly impressive.

The landscape is stark and striking, dotted by bone dry hillocks that are separated by narrow furrows cut by water ages ago. Some hills seem made of hardened mud, others of limestone, and yet others of slate and some of granite like hard rock. Having different colours, they together make up some very picturesque scenarios. My friend Atulya told that he recently met a German lady, a geologist who told him that the Omani landscape is absolutely unique in the world and also that once upon a time these hills were underwater.

Surprisingly (for me at least), one sees no dogs around though encounters with occasional cats are not uncommon, particularly around the garbage dumps. Amongst the birds, the only ones visible are all pigeons. Mosquitoes and insects also cannot be seen anywhere although I did see two flies in a restaurant.