‘Hey mom! I thought I would be seeing an old lady with a stick in her hand, but you look as young as I last saw you,’ I heard my son say this with a twinkle in his eyes. ‘Not younger than before?’ I teased him. ‘May Allah keep you like this.’ He smiled as I embraced him. I was meeting my son after quite some time since he had moved to Muscat for his job assignment. This was my first visit to Muscat.
Shading our eyes from the scorching sun, we hurried towards the parking lot. I heaved a sigh of relief when my son turned the ignition and cool waves of the AC brought some relief from the heat; soon the car was running towards his home. A desert transformed into a modern city, unlike the hustle and bustle of Dubai, Muscat is a much peaceful and quiet place. Its nearness to Pakistan, at a stone-throw distance, a mere 1 hour and 45 minutes of flight, has prompted me to visit it again and again as two, very close to my heart, grandchildren live here. To say that the weather of Muscat is hot is an under-statement. During summer mercury soars to 50 degrees Celsius. There is no respite from the blazing sun but to remain indoors in the artificial coolness of ACs. It is difficult to walk a few meters and sit in the car during the day because the seats are piping hot. The kitchen becomes an oven. Even more difficult is bathing because the water in the pipes is too hot even at midnight and there is no arrangement in the washrooms to store water so that it gets cooled. Of course not to mention the agony of using the Muslim shower. The Sultanate as it is called, is a monarchy, hence its rules and laws are strictly governed by its Monarch. The residential houses are strangely all white, single-storey, and have a structure similar to fortresses. Very few double or triple storey residences having coloured exterior can be seen (strange but interesting). Apartment buildings are however, multi-storeyed. It is quite a vast desert city with broad (mostly four-lane) well-kept and illuminated high-ways. The traffic flow is very fast. I have heard that Muscat has the highest rate of road-accidents in the world, which is quite alarming. The malls are beautiful and comparable to those of any modern country of the world. Places i.e malls, groceries and residential areas are located at distances, and local transport is neither handy nor can one go out and stand in the scorching heat and wait for the taxi or bus, therefore, either one calls a taxi by phone or wait for the man-of-the-house to come home and take the family for an outing. Beautiful mosques, office buildings, parks, shopping hubs and schools adorn this jewel of a city. Its rugged nature has been beautifully tamed to suit the comfort-loving Arabs. My youngest son lives with his family in Muscat.
Many interesting things happen in my son’s home due to the fact that his wife is an Indian national. He has two TVs in his house. One of the two, placed in the living room, has all Pakistani channels. He and the children, and me too when I am there, sit and watch Pakistani news and dramas. The other, in his bedroom, has all-Indian channels. The children are not allowed to watch the Indian channels. Their house is an all-time mini Indo-Pakistan war zone. On days when India/Pakistan cricket matches are played, one can hear my son shouting with joy when the green team makes a four or six, and my daughter-in-law teasing him when any player is out. They both display their respective flags on Independence Days of their respective countries.
Sometimes I wonder how will the children behave when they grow up. It is a point of concern for me. The older of his two children, three year old Mikayl, is an extremely well-behaved and bright child. He recognizes the Pakistan flag and proudly calls himself a Pakistani. On the Sports’ Day in his school, I took my camera along and was making a video of the ‘frog race’ in which he was participating. I tried to be as un-conspicuous as possible, but in the middle of the race he spotted me and calling ‘Daadi’, he ran towards me straight into my arms instead of the finishing line. He did not win the race but he won my heart. The younger, Nayle, has a different personality. Unlike his elder brother he is naughty and gets his way by throwing tantrums. Both the children have their specific choices. While the elder likes to see ‘The Smurfs’ or ‘Alwin the Chipmunk’, the younger who is hardly two years old turns his face when these films are played on TV, his choice: only Barney. Omanis are basically quiet people, I have never seen them quarreling or making loud gestures or misbehaving. Their women wear ‘abayas’ and ‘hijab’. The women are fond of putting heavy make-up, and wearing heavy gold jewellery, typical of Arab culture. Pakistanis and Indians enjoy living in harmony.
I developed a taste for Indian food in Muscat. Foods like the Dossa, Paov bhaji, Idli, soan papdi, and nimkofrom Haldiramhave become quite familiar names in my home, courtesy my Indian daughter-in-law and Muscat’s cultural diversity. If anyone is fond of scaling the harsh mountain side or going to the beach even on hot sunny days, Muscat is an ideal place. Watching the sunrise or sunset is also a popular activity. One can see groups of youngsters and even men or small family units strolling along the ‘corniche’ or enjoying tea or late night snacks along the coastal line. Fun lovers indulge in deep sea diving, surfing and cliff diving. People of Muscat are very fond of playing football. Local tea andqahva houses are very popular. I love going out late at night for a long drive and enjoy a cup of hot Indian masala tea from one of these road-side tea houses. Saffron tea from Iranian tea house is another delight. Older Omani men like to hang out at these tea/qahva houses till late hours. They sit quietly talking and smoking sheesha, whiling away their time. There are some ‘Dhabas’ that are very popular. The owner of one of these has earned so much that he recently converted his dhaba into a proper snack bar. One can see Pakistani and Indian families sitting and enjoying ‘chana chat, pani puri and bhel puri’ Indian masala tea is all-time favourite of everyone. In fact I have become a provider of this tea in the circle of my friends and relatives.
One great feature of Oman is that graves of some prophets are located here. In Salalah, the second largest city of Oman, graves of Prophet Ayub (AS), and Hazrat Imran (AS), are located. It is my misfortune that despite my desire to see the graves of these great personalities, I have not been able to go. It is commonly said that despite hot climate and bright sunshine there is always a cloud above the shrines providing shade. I am tempted to go and see this myself. InshaAllah, maybe in my next visit.