Diwali at Hindustan University

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It was nice of the Hindustan University director to have invited his neighbours,  Mantri Synergy apartments residents  to celebrate Diwali with students on the campus. Our apartments complex and the varsity campus share the same compound wall. Developing neighborly goodwill would of mutual advantage.

Mantri resident Mr Gopalan R , who got the call from the Hindustan University director, started working the phone to call up his friends and neighbours to mobilize, within hours , 20 odd residents to represent Mantri Synergy at the neighbourhood  campus. Getting so many, on a festival day,  at such short notice was a tough call, considering that many of us had guests at home, visiting to exchange greetings. Besides, Diwali evening is quality time that each of us would want to spend with family, at home.

On the Hindustan University campus we were received by Dean, Admin,, Brig. Dr. Ravi Verman (Retd.) , who led us to the campus soccer grounds, where students (hostelers) were bursting a riot of fire crackers. Bringing together neighbourhood residents and campus hostelers for Diwali celebrations was thoughtful of the university director Dr.Ashok Verghese  (whose idea it was). It gave the hostel students, who couldn’t go home to  their families, an opportunity to celebrate a festive occasion in a family environment.

The next time, on another festival day, it would be our turn to invite our neighbours over for a get-together. Socializing between neighbours promote healthy environment. As OMR Green member, I see this as an opening for us to involve our student neighbours in our OMR Green activities. Hopefully, Mr Gopalan would take this idea forward with his contacts at the Hindustan University faculty.

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Diwali on the campus 2

Hindustan University celebrates Diwali

OMR Resident Facebook page

Thoughts on Dubai

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Fayad  who drove us on a desert safari,  was the closest  to a Dubai native that we met in our four-day Dubai stay. It’s rare finding a true blue local in the city, where 80 percent population is of foreigners, representing nearly 200 nationalities.

The locals, most of whom can relate,  if remotely,  to the 18 native sheikhs, – entire chunk of land  in Dubai , they say, was once owned by four sheikhs –  are not usually spotted on Dubai streets.  An affluent lot, many of Dubai Emirate residents  are property owners; most others work in the govt. which pays employees very well.

Besides, the locals here are entitled to  spacious houses – 5 to 7 bedroom with private swim pool – and they are provided with free water and power supply. Not sure if  Fayad, who has spent his life in Dubai, can be considered true blue Dubai native,. considering that his  mother hails from Abu Dhabi, and his father, from Sharjah.

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Fayad was an odd one, an Emirate driver who doubled up as our tour guide , All other drivers we ran into in our stay were Asians – Bangladeshi, Pakistani.  A room-service waiter in our hotel was Indian. Desis are visible in most places. And most of them slog it out in Dubai, so that they can take home a hefty bank balance, after a 2 or 3 year stay in Dubai.

There are some rich ‘desi’s, such as the Gujarati who employed this Cuddalore  guy we ran into, near the Gold Souk, while on a conducted city tour. We had covered the entire stretch of the  gold street in minutes – we weren’t shopping there –  and were waiting for the others, on a street-side bench,when we met this shop assistant from Cuddalore.  Started chatting, for he seemed quite excited to have met a Southey from India  .Image

Shop assistant Vasu (photo)  has been in Dubai for 20 years; was working for this shop owner – a Gujarati from Kenya – who owns seven other shops in the city,

Speaking  of  affluent Asians we heard about a Shetty  (B R) who  is said to have  revolutionized medicare sector in UAE. He had come to Abu Dhabi as medical rep. (or was he a pharmacist ?) in early 1980s. Before long Mr B R Shetty set up a medical centre,  in partnership with a local sheikh – Abdulla Humaid Al Mazroei – Together, they developed NMC (New Medical Centre) into a healthcare conglomerate, providing livelihood to 15,000 families. NMC is a chain of 9 hospitals, family clinics, super specialty hospitals, and retail pharmacies spread across UAE.  In Dubai, they  encourage foreigners to set up any enterprise, provided it is done in partnership with a local Emirait who holds 51 percent share.

Most Indians, and also those from neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladeshi, drive taxi, work in hotels and shops. They are in Dubai to make money, staying for a few years before returning home to settle with a minor fortune.

As visitors, shopping is a prime factor in Dubai – a city of malls and hotels. . Gold and spices are retailed in  markets  of their   own.  Shop Assistant Vasu said  in the Gold Souk purity – 18, 22 and 24 carat – of gold was guaranteed under law; adulteration of gold was a punishable offence. This cannot  be said about spices, said Vasu,  adding that much of the items sold in Spice Souk came from Iran;  he reckoned that better quality spices would be available back home in India.

To give visitors a feel of  what Dubai landscape was like five decades ago, tourism people take you on a drive into the desert, 50 km. away from the city. A sheikh owning a vast desert stretch  has turned it into a tourist attraction. At the end of the drive is a small enclave in the desert where you wash up, have dinner, and watch a dance number by a lady in  yellow robe. Nothing particularly noteworthy about her performance. A guide had me believe that the  resort had initially engaged a belly dancer doing the number.

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This is the gateway to Al Maha desert resort, with a 6-star hotel, some 4 km farther into the desert from this point. Guests who don’t fancy a drive make it there by helicopter. Designed to reflect a Bedouin encampment, the desert resort, they say,  represents an oasis of luxury. Each suite in the hotel there has private swimming pool. Al Maha – a 6-star resort – is managed by the Emirates Airlines.

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Mid-way during the drive to the desert encampment, where they lay out dinner and dance, visitors stop by for a drink of water and the falcon show. You are treated to a lecture-demo on falcon – whether you like it or not . The  European bird trainer tells you  about the bird, its prey, its speed, eating habit etc. I was far back in the crowd and because of strong wind  what he spoke went unheard in our row, And none of seemed to care.

Snag about a conducted tour is that you can’t skip the desert dance or the falcon show,  as you find yourself held captive while  the tour organiser completes  a set routine before the tourists are bused  back to the hotel.

Dubai sights on Facebook

Dancing lights on Dubai lake

The world’s largest choreographed fountain system set on the Burj Khalifa Lake, Dubai, is timed to play out a 3-minute light and music show, every half-hour after sunset. The sophisticated system – involving activation of 6000 plus lights and water jets – rising up to 200 t0 500 ft in the air – has been designed by the California-based company that did the fountains at the Bellagio Hotel Lake in Las Vegas.

A ‘khalifa’ among towers

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Khalifa’ is common Hindustani for anything or anyone who is a master in his field. Burj Khalifa  in Dubai is a master among the world’s tall structures. The ‘Empire State’ in New York is old hat. The 160-floor Burj Khalifa, standing 2,700 plus ft. tall, is rated the highest structure in the world. The building’s official site carries images of other world towers for comparison.

As of now, the Burj  is the ‘khalifa’ among the towers. But then you never know these Dubai’s. They are talking of putting up a structure to beat the Burj  in height. Commissioned in Sept.2009 (not so long back) the Burj Khalifa  was the result of collaboration among 30 plus contractors who employed over 12,000 workers, of varied nationalities. A truly global endeavour.

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Photos of the people involved are displayed on the lobby of the building, from where visitors take an elevator, and it takes 45 secs. to make it to the top floor.

Burj Khalifa photos have been uploaded on my Facebook page

A window on Dubai

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A slice of the city, viewed from the balcony of our hotel room  at Palace Downtown Dubai. It’s one of the hotels owned by a Sheikh (naturally)  who also owns a mall and another top end hotel, known simply, as The Address. Legend has it that the entire  Dubai was a fiefdom of four Sheikhs who developed a  desert into a tourists delight, with a sprawl of malls and high-rise hotels.

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Such was Dubai’s landscape less than five decades back. Today, tourists are driven some 50 odd miles in a  safari to get a feel of the desert

.Dubai’s  economy today thrives on  its real estate , financial services, and oil.  But, unlike in some of the other Emirates, oil  isn’t Dubai’s prime source of revenue. It accounts for a mere 5 percent of GDP. Real estate development is an ongoing affair. The blank space in the landscape between the high-rises in the photo (above) would morph, within  the next few years, into  design city

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Another city view, from the hotel complex. You see that early visitors for after-dusk  music and light show on the lake  have already taken vantage positions.. As a tourist from a chronically power-short India I was somewhat amazed at the excessive lighting and general power consumption. The city’s roads and buildings are so lit up after sunset that the place looks as if its ‘Diwali’ for Dubai  round the year.

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Taking this picture (nothing picturesque about it) I had in mind the Sheikhs  who might be owning these yachts, the tall buildings behind, not to speak of the expensive cars parked in front. Many of our ‘desi’  brethren, in contrast, make a living as shop assistants, hotel room-service staff, and cab drivers. They  make good money, though.  Expats – representing 200 nationalities – account for 80 percent city residents. They  keep the place ticking.

The natives of Dubai, 20 percent pop. – don’t need to work, it appears. The govt. provides them with houses – five to seven bedroom, with swim pool – with free power and water supply thrown in. Foreigners can’t own property in Jumeirah , an upscale locality where most natives live. The local property owners may well be making a packet renting out residential and commercial space to foreigners.

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And the city appears so flushed with  wealth  that the municipal authorities in tax-free Dubai  make even mundane  fixtures as a  trash bin look classy.  Littering  is  an offence that  attracts severe punishment.

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Quite a few  ‘desi’  journalists  work in newspapers. As someone who had spent his working life in  journalism, I was particularly interested in  discovering  a Journalists Association in Dubai. Media isn’t something with which I associated the city.   UAE is not particularly known for its free press.

My wife, reminds me, though, I was once desperate enough to seek a newspaper  job a job in the Mid-East. It must have been during my earlier days in journalism when  I had struck a lean patch in career. She tells me she had prayed that I shouldn’t succeed in my attempt , She had funky notions about the Arab world, I didn’t  get the placement I had sought in ‘Khaleej Times’.  Considering that press freedom was a relatively recent development in that region, it was just as well that my wife’s prayers  were answered, and I continued to slog it out in a Delhi newspaper.

Read on the Net  that UAE journalists  observed their first Press Freedom Day as recently as  in 2008.  At a majlis   held on Sept.23  of that year  Mohammed Youssef,  the then head of the UAE Journalists Association gave a call for more openness in the media and further legal protection for reporters and editors.  He held there was growing acceptance by government officials and businesses that the media needed to be free, but that there was a long way to go before journalists could get the same access to information as their counterparts in other parts of the world.

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Our city tour guide –  I could catch her name when she introduced herself –  bought our entry ticket  at the Dubai Museum.  In her three-year stay in the city, she would have done the museum  so many times that she preferred to stay out in the bus while we went around the place.

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Most ‘desis’  think  gold  whenever someone mentions Dubai. And the city has an  entire  bazar  for gold.  Shops there retail gold ornaments and diamond , as traders  do , shoes or saris in  bazars elsewhere. Was surprised to notice a prominent Indian presence in Dubai’s gold souk.

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A visitor to the city nowadays would notice  Joyalukkas hoardings featuring Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan  located  on strategic points in the city.. The Bollywood star figured in a  sponsored newspaper supplement  brought out by the leading Indian jewelers .  Bollywood celebs, they say, are favourties with Dubai Sheikhs. One of them is believed to have gifted a villa in Dubai to Shahrukh Khan.  Salman Khan  is  hosted by a Sheikh,  who places a chauffeured Rolls  at Salman Khan’s disposal during his regular visits to the town.

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No blog post on Dubai can be said to be complete without a reference to  Burj Khalifa. Its iconic status is so tall (in physical terms) and towering that you can’t miss the tower, world’s tallest till date,  wherever  you are in the downtown Dubai.

Power-less in Andhra

Can’t imagine,can you, life without power supply. And people in Andhra Pradesh have been without electricity for the past three days, as the state’s electricity employees continue their strike. Their demand has little to do with pay, perks or service conditions.  Power shutdown has brought life to a stand still. Schools are closed; hospitals can’t function effectively. Train services get disrupted. Petrol, they say, sells at Rs.180 per litre. 

And the state electricity employees unions  wouldn’t let their members resume work till their demand is met. They want the govt. to reverse its decision to divide Andhra and create a Telengana, If the govt. were to concede, it would trigger agitation by another set of people – Telegana supporters.  However, it must be conceded, the electricity employees  have been the last to join – only a few days back –  in a statewide govt. employees agitation that has been going on for over two months now.

One would  presume that employees unions  are meant to fight for better pay, service conditions and general well being of their employees. How could they justify the current strike,  holding  the state to ransom and inflicting hardship on people of the state ? Doesn’t power supply come under the category of essential services ? Aren’t those employed for  maintenance of the essential services accountable; shouldn’t they feel a sense of  social responsibility ?  Isn’t there a regulation setting limits on work stoppage by workers in essential services ?

Meanwhile we have now a court ruling that declares denial of power supply to people as violation of human rights. In a case that is in no way related to the Andhra power workers strike, Madras High Court, has said: “Access to electricity should be construed as a human right. Denial of it would amount of violation of human rights”. The court ruling pertains to a case of denial of power supply to some residents in Tiruvannamalai by the authorities.

Whether it is the govt. or striking employees, it is the people who are victimised. Point is, the striking workers who are guilty of violation of people’s rights are often allowed to get away with it.

Today’s newspaper

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  Mantri Miscelleny 241The Hindu, and The Times of India  this morning had one of its inside pages sticking out of the edge – an advt. gimmick. The bright bloke who thought of it wouldn’t have considered the status of the paper after a reader has done with it. Imagine the fate of a library copy of the newspaper,  which is filed and archived for future reference.

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