A DREAM WITHERED AWAY
“Coming to Doha?”, Ashiq asked. I could not refuse the invitation. It was frustrating sitting idle locked up in my room without doing anything worth and having nobody even to speak to. My duty schedule gives me a break from 11am to 5pm every day. It was the Doha trips I occasionally made with Ashique that gave me some reprieve.
The bay in the shape of a platter looks like a serene blue lake. The decorated wooden tourist boats floating here and there remind us of a bygone era. These wooden boats that are called “Uru” in Malayalam were built at a place called Bepur in the suburbs of Calicut city in Kerala and are existing symbols of the centuries old trade relation our country had with the Arabs. Behind the line of date trees on the shore is the complex of concrete buildings. These aesthetically built magnificent skyscrapers undoubtedly enhance the beauty of the city Doha. It is noteworthy that these buildings are built in such a manner that they do not infringe on the bluishness and tranquility of the sea in front. Doha city, the capital of Qatar State, is beautiful and it is the only major city in the entire Qatar worth its name. Beyond the pale grey desert Doha is somewhat green and I like the trips to the city as it rejuvenated my mind.
Ashique was the driver in my office. His duty was to bring the staff to the office and drop them back at their respective residences. Doha is more than 50 km from Al Khor and his car races the distance 4-5 times every day. With Ashique behind the wheel, the car transforms into a “Cheettah” on the road that goes endlessly sans any hindrance through the vastness of the desert. It sometimes reminded me of the famous Congress leader, the late Shri K.Karunakaran who was passionate to travel by cars with high speed. Ashiq was the king of the wheel, a real driving hero.
In our first meeting he gave the impression of an arrogant young man. It looked as if the office staff feared Ashique more than the senior officers and management. In fact this arrogance was a protective mask he deliberately wore. Becoming closer I could realize that he was a kind hearted man with love and affection towards other people. We were gradually becoming friendlier shunting the formal official relationship. His interest in socio-political issues might have been a reason for bringing me closer to him. In fact after my arrival in Qatar apart from the matters related to mere official work and petty personal issues I had nobody else to discuss other matters I was interested in except to a very close friend. Ashique had given a fillip to this void.
That day too, as usual, after finishing my morning duties at 11 am I boarded Ashique’s vehicle. “Why should you go home now? To get bored at home alone? Come we will go to Doha”, Ashique said. I too was feeling a bit mentally disturbed. I agreed to the suggestion. We had lunch together at my residence. Sitting on the right front seat of the car I started to Doha along with Ashique. Our vehicle, leaving behind the township where my office and residence situated, entered the main road. The speed kept increasing, it crossed 120 Km and still higher. The FM radio in the car was playing some Malayalam cinema songs. Beyond the fencing on both sides of the road lay flat the desert far and wide. The sight was demoralizing. There was silence between us. Suddenly, Ashique’s cell phone rang. From the talk I could make out that the call was from his home. Tension was visible on his face while he ended his call assuring that he would send the money next week. It was just silence to my query, whether anything was wrong? Sometime later, Ashique began to speak. “It was my wife on the phone. There is urgent need of money. Next week I will get some cash from a friend whom I had lend money and that could be sent home.” Ashique belongs to Kannur District of Kerala and his family consists his wife and three children. His face blossomed with a big smile while talking about his youngest son. While visiting his native place the youngest one would not leave Ashique alone and he had to always take him along. Always wanting to accompany Ashique on the motor bike, his son also had a special interest in motor vehicles, just like his father. Ashique continued to say “Things would not work as planned with just this job. I have mooted some new projects in association with some friends, with god’s help it would materialize by next month.” Everything would be fine Ashique, I tried to reassure him.
Our vehicle entered the city of Doha. Wide, clean and tidy roads with trees planted on either side. Artificially grown green meadows and fast moving vehicles, the sight of pedestrians on these roads are very rare. Through the big buildings and crossing the sea shore the vehicle kept on moving ahead.
Ashique was a bit rude to the first staff for she was five minutes late to reach the pickup point from the scheduled time. Offended, she withdrew to the back seat of the vehicle and remained there, keeping mum. The vehicle started its return journey to Al Khor from Doha. Ashique had taken a diversion en- route to avoid a traffic jam. After few minutes while negotiating the curve of a roundabout suddenly a truck appeared just in front of the vehicle, Ashique’s speed slowed down slightly. Suddenly there was a violent stroke sending the vehicle rocking. Our vehicle was hit from behind by another vehicle, there was not much damage to the vehicle, only the bumper was dented and rear brake light on one side was broken. The Arab who was driving the other vehicle came down and talked to Ashique in a cordial manner and subsequently both the vehicles were driven to the nearest police station. In Qatar it is mandatory to register police cases for every motor accident whether small or big. There are no complications either. The faulty driver would get the other vehicle repaired meeting the expenses with the insurance coverage of his own vehicle and towards this the necessary documents would be prepared and handed over to the aggrieved party by the police. The entire process would be completed in hardly half an hour.
The policeman on duty asked me to wait outside when I entered the Police Station along with Ashique and the Arab. Time went by, half an hour to one hour. When contacted Ashique on his cell phone he told me that it would take some more time as the Arab went out to fetch his vehicles records. Again endless waiting. Losing patience I again went inside the Station. I could not see Ashique anywhere. When asked, the policeman replied something in Arab and from his facial expression I could make out that he had asked me to go out. There was nobody among us who understood Arabic. The Arab who went to fetch the papers was not seen anywhere neither his vehicle. I was getting tensed up, unable to comprehend what was actually happening. Fear started skulking in me. Ashique’s call, there was quiver in his voice. He was made to sit with a group of absconders who had deserted their Arab owners and was caught by the police. Ashique’s case could also be the same, if so, he could be sent to jail.
Every expatriate worker in Qatar has to be under the sponsorship of a local Arab. And without his permission the worker cannot do any work at any other place, for it is illegal. However, there are many people who work outside after procuring Visa through agents. It is an arrangement with the native Arabs and the agents. Many of these workers might not have even seen or known their Arab sponsors. When the agent fails to give the agreed amount towards the visa he registers police cases against the particular worker on whose name the visa was issued as an absconder.
My fear doubled when Ashique told me this. I stood there dumbfound without knowing what to do. No, it would not be the case, I tried to make myself believe. But the mounting discomfort continued unabated. At last my colleague who could speak Arabic well came to the Station. We could understand the magnitude of the problem only when he came out from the station consulting the officers inside. Now only the Arab sponsor could save Ashique and all our efforts to contact him failed. Hours passed by and it was getting dark. Suddenly my cell phone rang. Ashique was on the other end. “I am sitting in the police vehicle….will be taken to the prison immediately….Jail is somewhere in the deep desert…” While talking to him I saw a Land Cruiser painted blue and yellow with a red light fitted on top, passing me…..Yes, I could see Ashique….The vehicle carrying Ashique disappeared at the turning of the road and simultaneously the voice of Ashique on the phone too stopped abruptly. Standing shocked I could hear a sigh of a woman and a sob of a child from across the sea….a dream withered away..