Monday, December 21, 2009

How do you say 'awesome' in Arabic?

"Chittagong!" shouted the old man, "Chittagong! Chittagong!". What is this? A Merchant-Ivory film? Near enough. Kuwait International. The old man on the cart is giving it his all, passing for a PA system in this delightfully quirky airport.

I step in gingerly, half expecting to see Saddam Hussein rolling in with his tanks. Up ahead is a group of men in ... conversation, give or take. Flailing arms, bobbing heads, shrugging shoulders. Words are only a foundation on which this conversation is built. There is something vaguely familiar about the body language. Like something back home. Then I hear it. Of course. Malayalam! How could I forget? This is the Middle East. Like second home for mallus. Sure enough, it is everywhere, half words in mallu, floating in the still, conditioned air.

There is more than just southern Indian languages in the air here. There is that smell, recently forgotten. Smoking in public places. How soon does the mundane become the extraordinary! There is a sign here that says 'Smoking Rooms this way'. But the arrow might as well be attached to a wheel of fortune. People are smoking everywhere, with the very visible policemen walking busily around them.

Here is one, a young dapper looking man, crisply ironed uniform and all. Walks towards the thickset man, with uniform bulging at the edges. They walk purposefully towards each other, come to a half stop, hug, kiss each other rather wetly on their cheeks, and keep walking. I know this is very culturally insensitive of me, but it is going to take a while to get used to this.

In the bathroom that don't have stand up urinals, I find myself wondering if the airport is what Kuwait outside is like. Just then, as if to mess with my head, comes a silken European accented voice on the PA system. Something about airport security. What is that voice doing here?

There is a signboard near gate 5 that says "Work is to drive results!" That is it. "Work is to drive results!" Walk a little and you find "Experience yourself and share!" Forget it, I tell myself. It is going to take more than my four-hour stopover to figure these out. I start walking towards the one book-stand in the airport, when this last one catches my eye. It is a poster of the Kuwait Air Traffic Control. It reads "We seek God's assistance". That is after they get the advanced degree in Air Traffic Control, I tell myself.

The book-stand is interesting. It is all fiction. Which is much as I would expect. Almost every book seems to be written by a female author though. Which isn't quite what I would have expected. Virginia Andrews, Margaret Thornton, Lyn Andrews, Mary Jane Staples, Colette Coddle ... this could be the authors' index at the Romance section of my local library and I wouldn't know the difference. Why these books? Who is reading them? In the past I have bemoaned how men don't seem to read fiction any more. Is that true here too? In what I thought was male dominated Kuwaiti society? Are women readers keeping the books printing in the Middle East?

Four hours in an airport. A slice of Kuwait. It is like my first taste of key lime pie. Strange, but I might take another piece.

"Mumbai!" the old man is shouting now, "Mumbai! Mumbai!" I step up.

1 comment:

  1. Are you coming in or flying out??? Nice to see a write up outside of your normal book reviews :-)