“Are we there yet?”
Uncharacteristically, it was my elder son who asking us the quintessential question that day.
“How long now?” He was actually sounding anxious.
As soon as we answered, there was a rapid round of calls and text messages from and to his mobile phone.
He was asking this for the 8th time since we started out for Dubai, back from Oman. Such questions are usually the forte of my younger one, who, as a rule, subjects us to pointless inquisition about the length and duration of our trips. Five minutes into the trip, he begins to suffer from everything ranging from nausea to palpitations to plain old sleepiness. The need to use the toilet starts as soon as we hit the highway. The elder one, on the other hand, is quite indifferent to the ground realities of travelling, as long as he is glued to his MP3 player, and has substantial quantities of fodder within reach, in the form of dry snacks and juice.
The reason for that day’s unusual anxiety was simple – he was to meet up with his friends at the beach park that evening, and he did not want to miss a moment of fun. “Our last year together, you know. Who knows where we’ll all be this time next year…!” He’d played his trump card – pulling at our heart-strings.
So we drove straight to the park, without taking the detour home. As he got off the car at the park gate, my younger one remarked wistfully, “Now Ettan will have all the fun at the beach with his friends while we just go back home…” Seeing us falter, he added, “Could we go in too, please…?”
We have accepted ages ago that parenting is one long guilt trip.
The beach, as all beaches are, was fun. All too soon though, the sun set and we were told to clear off the beach front for whatever reason. We walked toward the shower area.
Even as I was entering the ‘Ladies’, I could hear excited conversation going on in Arabic. The talk was between two closed shower doors and a very pretty girl in her late teens standing outside, her arms overflowing with abayas, handbags and mobile phones. She glanced at me with a dazzling smile which proclaimed her status as a tourist – we in Dubai are very miserly when it comes to parting with smiles.
Another round of conversation with the shower doors later, she pointed to my watch and said, “What time?”
“Six thirty,” I replied.
“Locaal time?” I didn’t understand. “Dubai time?” She amended her question.
“Yes, yes. Dubai time.”
She relayed the answer to her friends who were washing off the beach sand and turned to me, her smile back in splace.
“You’re not from Dubai?” I asked her. Lame question, admittedly.
“We Saudi. Saudi Arabia. You India?”
“Hmm.” I nodded.
Her bright eyes sparkled. “I know Indian. I like Indian. What your name?”
I told her and she asked me what it meant. Though I have learned to like my name, there are times when it can be quite embarrassing trying to explain the meaning of my name – especially to a person who has not read Kabuliwala. My name and my physique combine to form the perfect example of oxymoron.
“And what’s your name?”
“My name Shahad. You know shahad? Sweet?” She mimed tasting something sweet.
Light clicked in my head. “Shahad – honey!”
She was delighted. One of the shower doors opened and its occupant came out. Shahad conveyed what must have been the excitement of my nationality and my cleverness to her older companion, who glanced at me without enthusiasm and gave a half-smile before turning towards the mirror above the row of wash basins to repair her make-up. Soon the other door too opened and another girl came out – a shier and younger version of Shahad.
I was about to excuse myself to go to the shower when Shahad continued, “Shahad Indian also, no?”
I could not understand.
“Shahad? Indian – Bollywood? Shahad Kapoor?”
I looked at her blankly.
“Shahid Kapoor, you mean? Oh, you watch Bollywood movies?”
“I watch.” She nodded vehemently. “I like Indian – Bollywood. I looove!” She was overwhelmed by her own emotions and was at a loss for words.
Her companions were done fixing their faces and took their abayas from her hands and donned them. As soon as her hands were free, Shahad took out her mobile phone and started to search for something, telling me to “Wait, please.” Her companions called out to her, but she replied something to them and continued with her search.
“Yes!” She looked up triumphantly and “Mohja re mohja” blasted out from her expensive mobile. “See? I have music – many, many Bollywood music.” Her smile alone would have assured her stardom in Bollywood.
Her companions gave her what sounded like an ultimatum. She switched off her mobile with a resigned sigh. She shook my hands with one more “I like Indian!” and walked off to join the others.
I hadn’t felt so liked in a long time. And all thanks to Shahid, Kareena and the much-loved Bollywood!