It was close to 5 pm on a hot summer evening in La La Land. The sun was on its way down after having worked tirelessly through the day, scorching everything in its wake.
Now the rugged landscape seemed to be breathing a little easy as the sun’s setting rays cast a soft orange hued glow across it.
It was here that deer, wild boar and sometimes the occasional bear came to quench their thirst, before they set out into the deeper jungles to graze.
The air today was hot and completely still.
..thought Sizzler Shikari.
For while hunting there is always a possibility of your scent being carried across the jungle. Any good hunter would tell you that this could spoil your hunt.
And Shikari was too much of an expert to expose his position to the wild.
For this, he had his own 3S mantra which he followed when hunting!
He had to stay invisible, silent and still.
The hair bristled on the nape of his neck. Sizzler Shikari lowered his head and without any perceptible show of movement, slowly turned his head right to look behind.
What he saw made him catch his breath!
Both man and animal froze, stunned by their unexpected meeting. With his senses in overdrive mode, Shikari realized he could still fire a shot at the prey even with his back to it.
In his mind he had already made a rough calculation of the distance between them. It would be no more than a 22 yard cricket pitch.
At that range he could get a shot!
Continuing to sit in his position, Shikari slowly turned the rifle towards his prey. From the corner of his eye he could register the spot between the stag’s neck and upper torso which he would target.
The shot rang through the still air shattering the silence of the jungle.
To be continued..
Just as the famed duo of comic book artist -Albert Udorzo and editor/writer- René Goscinny bought us the awesome Asterix and Obelix comics, this is a humble attempt from Yours Truly and Kishor Mistry to bring you a fun, wholesome entertainer named La La Land.
All illustrations have been done by Kishor. He is a budding artist from NIFT, Bhubaneswar. He is based in his hometown in West Bengal and creates wonderful art under his Instagram account kishormistry_
Look forward to your comments below on Shikari's hunting expedition!
It is about 5.30 in the evening. I sit in the balcony of our house which overlooks the main road, reading a work of fiction by my favourite author.
The sun by now is mellow enough and I bask in its soft illumination as it starts setting in the horizon on my far left. The light is perfect; neither too harsh and neither too dark and hence I know I can continue reading for at least another half an hour to 45 minutes in this light.
In between the reading, I cast my glance at the traffic on the road in front and below me. 2 -wheelers are rushing by, some of them honking un-necessarily even if the road ahead of them is clear. A delivery guy in his ubiquitous orange t-shirt worn over a dark full sleeve shirt, zigzags past a couple of cars aware that a hungry customer waiting for the order might just get impatient and call him anytime.
SUV’s of varying sizes, in all their masculine grandeur and shiny metallic hues roar past the smaller vehicles, as if courtesy their bigger size they have the right to own a greater share of the road!
One of them as large and menacing as a shark, glides through the traffic threatening to devour anything which comes in its way. It is a millionaire’s toy and the setting sun’s golden rays hits its gleaming white exterior, reflecting off in admiration.
Every time a vehicle zooms past the median which divides the road equally into 2 halves, like a ridge slicing an apple fruit at its middle, the bougainvillea plants growing within the median rustle and move in the blast of the air which hits them.
Away from this mad rush on the black tarred road, a masked, middle-aged man in knee length shorts walks on the red coloured, weather-coated pavement meant for cyclists. With him is his fierce looking Alsatian dog whom he has taken out for a stroll.
Though the master seems intent on completing his walk on time, the dog is more relaxed. It is wagging its tail and even stops for a brief moment to bark at a street dog, who in its rough, dirt brown coat and lean frame, looks like a poor cousin of the well-groomed and well-fed Alsatian!
Overtaking both man and beast easily is a lady out on her evening run. She checks the smart watch on her wrist to make sure all parameters of her exercise schedule are on track. Clad in a loose, dark blue sweatshirt and a black figure-hugging track suit, her stylish sneakers pound the red gravel as she is completely focussed on her run.
Maybe she is not aware that watching from a short distance away, seated in a privileged balcony chair is me. From my vantage position I soak in all these sights and sounds as I realise, that from the fast-moving vehicles to the jogging lady and to the evening walker, each of us are in our own mode of motion.
I am like a mute spectator, stationary but moving in my thoughts. How perfect is this set-up, I think to myself! My book of fiction transports me to a different world altogether but right here is the real world which is alive, vibrant and ticking over like the clock.
People are going about completing their tasks, running errands and meeting deadlines. But for me this hour brings in lot of peace and relaxation. As if to prove my point further, I lift my left leg and fold it comfortably on the wicker armchair. This relaxes me even further.
I lift my teacup and take a sip of the hot green beverage embellished with ginger and tulsi leaves. The feeling of utopia is complete.
Surely heaven will be like this! Just the thought of being so much at peace with myself and my surroundings is pure bliss. My heart beats softly, in even rhythmic beats and I take in a deep breath.
A sense of calmness pervades my entire being.
Over time, I have understood that every day brings me such moments which makes me realize that on Earth itself, I am in Jannat*. One other such moment is when I wake up in the morning but continue to lie down on the bed for few additional minutes, well aware that the moment I get up, the day will start and keep me busy with its myriad activities.
Jannat – An Urdu word meaning ‘paradise’ or ‘heaven’.
Yet those 10 minutes in bed, lying with eyes closed but fully conscious that I am not expected to do anything at all, is simply heavenly!
After all, as the popular saying goes -What if we die and meet God and HE asks, “So, how was heaven?”
Do you have any such moment(s) during the day when you feel lot of peace and bliss? A feeling that perhaps comes closest to being described heavenly?
If yes, please do share your thoughts below!
The call couldn’t have come at a worse time. It was my colleague Ranjan asking for the keys to the office door. How stupid of me to have carried them with me when I left office, I thought to myself.
Exasperated, I smacked my forehead letting out an expletive, alarming my wife who was sitting right across me. “What happened?!”
“I have carried the keys with me when I was supposed to have left them with the security guard at the gate. Now Ranjan is at the office and he has to work the night shift.”
Abhik and Rimi were seated at a swanky Café enjoying a cup of coffee. It was her birthday today and he had just ordered a small cake to celebrate her special day. “Now what?”, she asked with an incredulous expression on her face.
I already knew the answer. I dreaded saying it aloud. I would have to go back all the way to office. There was no other option. For security reasons, few files which could be accessed only while in office, were part of this project and the deadline to submit it was tomorrow.
In fact, Ranjan and me had discussed this already in the morning today. The understanding was since I would be the last to leave work (as was my wont everyday) I would drop the keys with the Security Desk at the entrance to the Office Block. Ranjan after completing his client visit would come, collect it and access work at his convenience.
The office was at least 30-35 minutes away in evening traffic. It would take almost an hour to complete the return trip! With a morose look on my face I started getting up from my chair. I genuinely wanted to spend time with my wife tonight even if it was just the 2 of us celebrating her birthday as an exclusive private affair.
“Wait, I have an idea” interjected Rimi. “Why don’t you call Ranjan and ask him to come half-way? Then at least you could save some time.” Trust women to come up with practical solutions to everyday problems. My mind muddled up due to the long day at work, lit up with this suggestion. “Yes of course. That will indeed help save time!”
I immediately called up Ranjan who picked it up on the 3rd ring. “Dude listen I will drive up to Jaydev Vihar. Can you please come over to the traffic signal there? I can hand over the keys to you.” Jaydev Vihar was only 20 odd minutes from the Café where we were presently sitting. Luckily, Ranjan who was a good sport did not make any fuss about this additional work he would have to undertake. He had his bike handy and agreed to meet me at the designated signal.
2 hours earlier
I was getting late in office. I had promised Rimi that I would be meeting her in The Café to celebrate her birthday with a coffee, cake and dinner before we both head home. It was a newly opened outlet and was located close to her office.
Rimi was always keen to try out new joints which kept popping up in different corners of the city. Be it a fashion store or a dining joint or even a mundane supermarket opening, Rimi had to be there. This exasperated me a few times, but I loved my wife a lot and to please her I would accompany her on most of these ‘LTIO’ (Let’s Try It Out) trips.
On most of these LTIO visits we would rarely purchase anything. Household budgets every month would normally be tight. Yet the fact that she visited a store, explored it and saw what all they had to offer delighted her. It was in this happiness that I found my own.
Rimi’s mood would considerably lighten up and when we reached home the discussions on the various stuff we had seen or purchased could very well carry over onto the next day. We normally had a LTIO trip practically every week.
We had been married 9 years now and next year we would be celebrating a decade of togetherness. How time flies! Like most couples we have had our share of ups and downs but somehow we had stuck together. Our only regret was that we had been unable to start a family.
As a couple we suffered from what the doctor diagnosed as unexplained infertility. Both of us had undergone various tests and declared to be medically fit yet somehow those damned eggs would not get fertilized. We did weigh other options but had not acted on any of those yet, aware that time was running out. It had moved from the middle rungs in our resolution list of previous years, to the top this year.
Children or not, I was genuinely fond of my wife and took extra care to meet her expectations on few of her idiosyncrasies. Celebrating birthdays was also one of them.
Not only was Rimi obsessed with her own birthday but also that of everyone else around her. Even if it was a small get together with a gift or pleasantries exchanged and an evening well spent, it was enough. It need not be a grand affair.
So, when I proposed that just the 2 of us do a LTIO at this new joint and celebrate her birthday, she was more than happy to do it!
Anyways I finally managed to wrap up my work and quickly shut down my system. Rimi had pinged me a couple of times saying she was already seated in the café. I hated to keep anyone waiting. Period.
It gave rise to feelings of anxiety in me. Whether it was a client, my colleague and even more importantly my wife, I simply disliked making another person wait. I valued time and sometimes despite making a best effort I could not stick to my schedule. That really was one of my biggest drawbacks and irritated me no end.
So, it was in this frame of mind that I hurriedly switched off the office AC, lights and closed the door behind me. I took long quick strides, practically cantering to where my bike was and impatiently pulled it out of the parking lot. I almost hit a stationary Scooty parked next to my 2-wheeler and drove off with a sense of urgency gripping my thought process.
Handing over the office key at the Security desk was the last thing on my mind.
Within a couple of hours, I found myself again in a similar position and in a similar state of mind as I raced on my bike towards the meeting point with Ranjan. Traffic had worsened compared to an hour earlier as an unseasonal drizzle had bought chaos on the roads.
Vehicles slowed down considerably and yet everyone seemed to be in a hurry to reach their destinations.
I negotiated the traffic with a mix of impatience and hurling the choicest of expletives under my breath, at my fellow commuters. Whenever you are in a hurry to reach somewhere, time seems to stretch interminably. So, after what seemed to be an unending drive (when in fact it was just 20 minutes since I started from the café) I managed to reach the Jaydev Vihar crossing. I quickly scanned the area hoping to see Ranjan parked somewhere.
But he was not to be seen.
For a moment I was tempted to dial him but knew my friend would be driving in this same dense traffic as well. I had no choice but to show restraint and wait.
After what seemed to be an eternity, I could finally see a rain-soaked figure driving over cautiously to where I stood. The rain had increased in intensity and under the cover of the raincoat and with a helmet on, it took a few seconds for me to recognise him.
“Man, you owe me a drink for making me come out in this rain. I should have been seated snugly now, sipping a hot cup of tea at my desk. You on a special date with Rimi?”.
If that smirk was accompanied with a wink, I would not have been able to see it in the darkness. “Sorry dude. But thanks a million for coming over half-way. I have to rush back as she is waiting at the café.”
“Ok carry on,” saying this Ranjan took the keys and headed back to office.
Chapter 2– Conclusion
Now that the key was handed over, I felt a bit relieved. At least the part of my responsibility towards work was over. Now it was the turn of my personal life. I had to go back to where my dear wife was waiting with her birthday cake.
I knew I had to hurry.
A sense of regret had started creeping in my mind, that if only I had remembered to stop briefly and dropped the keys while leaving office, things would not have come to this urgency.
Though Rimi was a good sport and showed patience unlike some other women I knew, I could not test her any further. I drove a bit recklessly realizing I may have to break a couple of rules in order to cut time short.
Just one more traffic junction to go before the Café and I would soon re-join her!
That thought galvanised me and I was now just 50 meters away from the signal. I saw it was already green and maybe it had been so since the past few seconds. I revved up the accelerator and hoped it stayed open for some more time. It was a busy square shaped junction and If I could beat this, I could easily save at least 2-3 minutes until the signal would complete its clockwise round and come back to green again.
Just before I reached the crossing, the signal turned amber and I knew I would have to take a risk and break it. It was red as I crossed it realizing other commuters on my left, where the signal had turned green had already begun to move.
At first, I did not pay attention to the big, dark object driving towards me from my left. Frankly I did not even see it, as I was only focussed on surging ahead. It was only when it was just a couple of feet away, that a feeling of surprise and shock gripped my heart. The vehicle was moving towards me and moving fast.
When I was almost half-way through the junction, I felt the first impact of the collision.
It sent my bike skidding on the wet, slippery road dragging me underneath it. The front tyres of the SUV made a loud, sickening sound as metal crashed against metal. It ran over my upper torso and for a split second I could feel the air being squeezed out of my body as if a giant beast had sat upon me. The rear tyres of the vehicle crushed my legs and I could feel excruciating pain shoot up throughout my body.
As flowing blood met flowing rainwater, all the noises around me went eerily hollow. It was as if I was being carried away to a faraway land. The final image that crossed my mind was that of my beloved wife sitting alone at the café with her birthday cake waiting for me to arrive.
Then blackness enveloped me completely.
The man walked with a slight limp as he made his way into the café, skirting around the tables filled with raucous laughter and the gay evening mood.
Rimi saw him only when he was a few feet away from her table, busy as she was fiddling with her mobile phone.
He seemed to have moved in silently almost invisible to others.
His face looked pale and he seemed to be walking, as if in a trance.
“Oh, so you are back finally! I have been waiting to cut this cake,” said Rimi.
He merely nodded and smiled. He clapped both his hands softly as she blew the single candle and sliced the knife deep into her birthday cake.
She offered him a bite to eat and then had rest of the slice herself. She noticed he was standing quietly, still holding his piece of the cake.
By now, the family seated next to their table, were looking curiously in her direction.
Somehow a strange feeling of unease gripped her heart and she was not sure why.
It was only when she hugged him in a loving embrace, did she realize that she was wrapping herself around thin air.
She swooned once before she crashed onto the floor unconscious.
This story is not complete without the mention of Ritwicka Banerjee, an awesomely, talented artist! Her painting done in acrylic and oil has been created specifically for my story and gives it a visual imagery.
phantasmicart (her Insta Id) -your creativity is amazing! Thank you so much 🙂
When we are on the roads, we must remember to be careful and drive safe.
For there is always someone, somewhere waiting for us, looking forward to our return.
Do share your thoughts and comments below on the story. I look forward to hearing from you!
It’s been a while since I first posted the Background and Introductory chapter of La La Land (1st August 2020 to be precise.)
The delay has primarily been in searching for an able digital artist who could do comic illustrations as well. This is because since beginning, I have visualized La La Land to be a blend of text and images which will help create a strong visual impact on the reader’s mind.
I am happy to mention that I finally found a match in young talented artist and an exponent of the digital medium – Mr. Kishor Mistry.
Kishor is excellent at drawing figures, bringing out the true essence of people in their day to day surroundings. You will soon find this out yourself from the below images which have all been inspired from real life people.
So, in a sense he has drawn hyper realistic portraits 🙂
(You can follow his Instagram page kishormistry_ to enjoy some wonderful art!)
So, I come to you today with a brief introduction of 5 characters in this wonderful, mythical land located in Odisha.
This is the first set of characters and I will introduce more to you as we go along.
Happy reading and hope you like them!
Character 1 – Khiladi Kaka
I am the Sarpanch of La La Land,
Gentle and wise; my decisions given by fair hand.
Resolving villagers' issues is my topmost priority,
Khiladi Kaka is my name and I am sharp and witty!
He is the head of the 5 wise men who form the village panchayat. He is fun loving, friendly and always with a twinkle in his eye. In his younger days he struggled from scratch to set up his business of selling water pipes and made it a success. His son now runs the show.
Khiladi however has one problem – he keeps forgetting things and mixes up people’s names leading to hilarious situations. This is accentuated especially when he pronounces the panchayat’s verdict on any case!
Character 2 – Sizzler Shikari
Quick in my thoughts, even quicker in action,
A master of geography, I can beat GPS to the nearest fraction!
Disciplined by Time, Nature my soul's chingari*,
My best friend isthe rifle; and I am Sizzler Shikari!
*chingari – a spark
He is Khiladi’s younger brother and one among 4 siblings. Shikari is a retired cop and and a self-confessed nature lover. He is aggressive, can get angry very quickly (and cools down equally fast!) and a stickler for time.
Yet outside his tough exterior he carries a heart which softens at the slightest hint of love and affection received, especially from children.
He came to be known by this moniker when he hunted down a man-eating tiger single-handedly (by keeping himself as a bait) on a full moon night!
Character 3 – Sadabahar Shami
My hair jet black, my teeth pearly white,
I may be a senior citizen, but still youthful alright!
Adaptable and easy going; I am born under the Gemini star,
Always evergreen and smiling, I am Sadabahar!
She is the only sister amongst the 4 siblings and the youngest too! As such she has been indulged and spoilt for love by her 3 brothers and parents.
Sadabahar derives her name from the flower Periwinkle which is an evergreen blossom! Like the flowering plant, Sadabahar too looks ageless.
More importantly, just like the Periwinkle plant has a host of medicinal properties and can cure multiple illnesses with its’ rich ayurvedic legacy, Sadabahar Shami too with her love, affection and a young heart can melt all your problems away in matter of minutes!
Character 4 – Jumping Janab
With full enthusiasm I jump into each case,
Putting criminals behind bars, brings a smile to my face!Honest to my job, I wear the police uniform with pride,
Jumping Janab is my name and call of duty my bride!!
The current Thanedar** of the village police station and Shikari’s son-in-law.
He is an enthusiastic cop and cannot stay away from action! He is honest, hard working and is accompanied on most adventures with his trusted subordinate – Halla Havaldar.
Janab is intensely respected by the villagers for his ever helping nature and for keeping the doors of the police station open for them to walk-in with their problems anytime.
** thanedar – Inspector In Charge of a police station.
Character 5 – Sundari Soapia
Born with a talent to act and emote
Give me any dialogue and I will have it by rote!
To be the voice of the village women - is my aim,
Beautiful to look at, Sundari Soapia is my name!
Daughter of a late tribal folk singer, Sundari has made her name in drama and the stage. Like her father she is immensely talented and is a star participant in all the village plays and jatra.
But other than acting, she nurses one secret ambition – to be elected leader of the women folk with the greater aim of making their voices heard in all matters concerning the tribe.
Jhumka is a 40-something middle aged homemaker. She defines the quintessential woman we see in our homes – modern yet rooted deep in her customs, aspiring and yet keeping family above self. She could be our mother/ wife, our mausi, an aunt or even our friend.
She stays in typical cosmopolitan surroundings – In a multi storeyed apartment with multiple neighbours around. It is part of a larger housing society which in turn is one of million such societies which comprise the larger urban jungle that we all are part of!
Her 2BHK flat which she calls home, can be in any of the metropolitan cities in India. Along with her husband, her family comprises of 2 kids – an elder son Ishaan who is preparing for his school Boards (IX) and a younger daughter Ishani, who is in class VI.
Though this is a work of fiction, the character is inspired in real life from one of my school classmates. She seems perfect for this adaptation because she espouses exactly what I am looking for – a woman not afraid to speak her mind and never hesitating to take the lead in managing the day to day family affairs.
She does her best to keep a semblance of sanity around her and the house, as this is 365 days a year job!
More importantly she is always ready to take on headlong the problems life throws at her with a brave and sometimes funny face.
Soft at heart, she is ready to sacrifice time and ever willing to compromise on her aspirations/desires for the greater happiness of her family.
Maybe she could have pursued a far more rewarding career at work but she could not.
This could have been due to marriage, motherhood, or martyrdom – we do not know. But what we do know is this is how she regards life – that happiness and being content is more important than materialistic success.
She serves her in-laws, husband, kids (and even her own parents) with dedication and expects only love, respect and attention in return, because these values have been instilled in her ever since childhood.
Yet she hates being taken for granted by anyone in her life!
The story will be told in simple narrative style about the day-to-day situations which we all face in our lives. It will be presented in a digital comic format in multiple episodes.
Hence the artist working with me on this, is an equal stakeholder in the story telling.
It gives me immense happiness to mention that Miss Tulika Kumarifrom NIFT Bhubaneswar, will be collaborating with me on this series. She is a dedicated student and creativity is her soul food.
So folks, presenting the 21st century woman, Jhumka Jhumur in various avatars– modern yet traditional, bold yet respectful and serious yet funny at the same time!
They stretch lazily from the tip of your toes, through the angle of the ankle, caressing your legs gently all the way up to your knees and ending somewhere beyond where the mind’s eye is loath to wander.
Their black colour is the colour of night. They lovingly wrap around the white glow of your skin, as if distilled moonlight has been enclosed by the night sky.
They were just an opaque pair of stockings in the shop where you purchased them from. To be worn by any random shopper.
However on you they take on a different form. As if alive!
They glide across your legs without a wrinkle like second skin until they stretch languidly and disappear under the edges of the short black skirt you are wearing.
At the other end, the stockings dip and end inside the pointed high heeled shoes you wear. Needless to say they too are black in colour completing the head to toe coal black look.
It is bewitching.
Silk of fabric meets silk of skin and together they create a sensuous effect. You cross your legs and sit alone on a bench striking an elegant pose.
You look gorgeous!
In my mind, I have already walked a thousand miles and stop to soak in this mesmerising sight. I sit down on the bench next to you and look into those beautiful eyes which reflect the image of the person who loves you intensely.
I end up kissing your lips to start a flame,
As if a black magic spell has been cast in my name!
An awesome attire can change the entire game,
For igniting my crazy feelings - your black stockings are to blame!
‘The Black Stockings’ Illustration by ishanixart.
(Main Insta – whozzishani) A talented NIFTian. Thank you so much Ishani 🙂
What is romance without a kiss?
Each time the word brings a smile to my lips!
You see it is a subject close to my heart,
For a kiss is not just science, but an art.
If you have ever been a lover,
You can vouch for its fervour!
A kiss is so heavenly, so divine,
When lips meet, they intoxicate more than wine!
It is the beginning of something so intimate,
To pleasures of mind and body it opens the gate.
If the windows to the soul are your eyes,
A kiss is the door to passion, say the wise!
For a woman a kiss is full of emotion,
For a guy it is like magic potion!
When both meet, sparks are bound to fly
The euphoria it gives, is hard to deny!
So kick start that dopamine in your brain,
Make it sweet like sugar in the sugarcane.
Lock your lips even if it is Lockdown,
Bring on the smile and remove the frown!
Hold your beloved's hands and soak in the bliss,
Just close your eyes and plant that kiss.
Forget time; let your lips do the talking,
I say kissing keeps you high & totally rocking!!
‘Trees of Heart’ Illustration by expert_spork. You Rock !!
(Main Insta – whozzishani) A multi talented NIFTian. Thank you so much Ishani 🙂
I was introduced to this term for the 1st time in my life when I started my Banking career with ICICI Bank in the Gulf. Prior to that I had worked in the telecom sector in India and all that I was familiar with until then was GSM/ CDMA technology, activation of SIM cards and what charges one would incur while making and receiving outgoing/ incoming calls.
(Remember that was the era in early 2000’s when you had to pay even to listen!)
So yes, I had arrived at Muscat International Airport in Oman on a bright sunny afternoon in Aug 2005 in what was a journey with many firsts attached to it.
It was my 1st step on foreign soil, my 1st overseas job stint and of course my maiden foray into Wealth Management*.
(*In layman terms you are a Relationship Manager for High Net Worth Individuals who want to park their money with you, in anticipation of returns higher than what a normal savings account or FD would yield)
As I made my way to the airport’s Immigration counter with the luggage in my hand and mixed feelings of hope and nervousness in my head, the glass doors with bold Arabic letters said, ‘Marhaba!’ (meaning Welcome)
Those doors suddenly opened up a whole new world for me. It had fascinating terms and complex instruments like Shares, Bonds, Derivatives and Private Equity. Yet I found that I managed to slip into the shoes of a Relationship Manager with consummate ease. It helped that my immediate boss Anupam and other colleagues were very supportive in this regard.
Very soon I was meeting NRI’s who had been settled in Oman for varying number of years. Some had come in a decade ago, others 30 years back and few astonishingly had even been born there! It was this diverse spectrum of their stay abroad, that astounded me.
Of course, there were some newbies too, like me who had flown in only recently (within 1-2 years). We did not spend too much time meeting them because we understood they would not have sufficient savings yet to invest with us 🙂
For me, however the real wealth lay in the narrow lanes and by-lanes of an area called Muttrah. This was the corniche area for Muscat city. Wikipedia defines the Arabic meaning of Muttrah as darkness because in the crowded stalls and lanes where the sunrays do not infiltrate during the day, the shoppers needed lamps to know their destinations.
It was more than 200 years old and it was here that I found light.
Muttrah area with its famous Souq (market) was a hub of activity. From local shoppers to expatriates, from travellers to taxi drivers, from wholesalers to retailers – everyone was here.
Cruise ships travelling halfway across the world, laden with tourists would dock at Port Sultan Qaboos nearby (named after one of Oman’s most loved and revered Kings). Then bus loads of them would visit Muttrah- for shopping and sightseeing.
The shops themselves were as varied and innumerable as the crowd visiting them. With common walls they were interlocked with each other like a chain, on both sides of a narrow lane. The sequence of shops was broken only when the lane would end abruptly at a passageway leading out to the main street.
The shop owners sold everything – from exotic frankincense (perfume extracted from a tree) and silver khanjars (the dagger is a National symbol of Oman) to ordinary dishdashas (ankle length garment) and the locally sourced nutritious dates.
It was here in the shady confines of the souq, sitting on soft mattresses on the ground with their hands on a wooden desk in front of them, were my most beloved clients’ – the NRI trading community from Gujarat.
For some of them, their families had been based in The Sultanate of Oman for almost one hundred years! It was their grandfathers/ great grandfathers who started their journey in a boat from the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat. They crossed Karachi and before landing in Muscat, had a stopover in Gwadar. In fact, Gwadar was part of the Sultanate of Oman until 1958 when the Pakistan Govt. purchased it for a sum of USD 3 million.
Throughout this adventure the boats would keep getting heavier as they added spices, silk and their dreams onto them.
These gentlemen formed a significant chunk of my client base. From them I learnt how wealth is made – baiza by baiza, rial by rial and the effort that goes into creating it. (1 Omani Rial =100 baizas) For, before one can do Wealth Management one must create wealth first.
Day in and day out they would sit in their shops, their eyes radiating humility and greeting every customer with a smile. I was amazed at the way they had ingrained adaptability to foreign conditions as a personality trait.
For the country they operated in, is starkly different from India in so many ways – in culture, climate and the community. Yet they had learnt with ease a foreign language as difficult and alien as Arabic, and switched it effortlessly with Gujarati when needed!
One of the top grossing items was confectionery. Never before in my life I had seen such a fantastic array of candies and toffees as I saw in these shops. They were placed in glass jars and in boxes by the thousands. They were imported from countries as far and varied as Turkey and Malaysia.
I would patiently sit on one of the chairs provided for customers. Retailers from the interior regions of Oman would flock to these shops and purchase stock in bulk. Accounts were still being maintained in hard bound paper registers though the computerised era had already set in. Yet our Gujarati brothers kept the digital age at abeyance – they believed in their ability and trusted their brains more than MS Excel!
One of my most beloved clients would always greet me with a cheery, “Jai Shree Krishna, Wasim bhai!” and wave me into his shop. He could rapidly calculate a page long of prices in a jiffy even at the ripe age of 65 and took immense pride in it. I once challenged him with my mobile calculator but he came out trumps, smiling like a school boy who had topped his Math class!
Keeping things simple and clinging onto age old traditions was the unwritten mantra here.
On the other end in the spectrum of my NRI client base was of course, the more in-the-eye and visible executive segment. They were the senior management of the various firms that made up corporate Oman. These gentlemen had started from the middle ranks to rise over the years to occupy the posts of GM’s and CXO’s. They held significant clout over the running of their respective businesses and their Omani partners/owners accorded them immense respect.
I worked and stayed for about a dozen years in the Gulf. During this time, my personal wealth started accumulating too. Money gave me a lot of freedom and the choices to fulfil most of my aspirations. Gulf countries do not tax individual income; so, whatever amount was on your offer letter, the same was credited into your bank account each month.
Hence, I could travel, buy my dream SUV and go on exotic holidays once a year. I could shop for expensive suits, wear a TAG on my wrist and even could afford to plant the odd Mont Blanc pen in my shirt pocket. Such were the riches offered by God!
I started thinking of investments in property, gold and stocks. In the strictest sense possible I was doing my own personal wealth management, in addition to my professional side too.
But all along I always remembered what the guys in Muttrah Souq had taught me – to stay humble, to stay grounded even if wealth had propelled you from economy to business class.
However, like all good stories mine too had to unravel at some point. I do not know what triggered it, but in time I started feeling stagnated. Both in life and at work. Suddenly my posh office with its’ high ceilings and low-slung executive chairs began to bore me. They lost their sheen. Work became a chore and the monthly targets a drag. I found myself unable to cope with both.
After giving it much thought I decided to resign and come back to India. I was no longer doing justice to my employer. Not just to India but I came back to my hometown Bhubaneswar- to my parents’ house. A place where my innocent childhood days had metamorphosed into the exuberance of youth.
A place I had always called home.
Then life dealt me a shock which was totally unexpected and an eye-opener. I entered into a prolonged period of illness which literally was a gut wrenching experience. (Refer my post –Tropic of Cancer)
Somehow the illness altered my view on wealth and its importance. Yes, I could pay my hospital bills because I had money. But it’s use was up to a certain extent only. I realized the hard way that not only with a snap of its fingers, life could make you disappear but also the money you made could ground to dust.
The adage “Health is Wealth” that I had learnt and forgotten all those years ago in school, now came back as a large sized poster in my hospital room (and life) from which I could no longer keep my eyes away from.
Along with this realization I started seeing other things too in the sea of life. When I was sinking in my boat, objects which had submerged with the passage of time were gradually coming to my notice.
As I started collecting them one by one, they started surfacing in the sea pulling me up along with them.
Catching up with those long forgotten friends from my Botany Honours days in college and refreshing those wonderful memories; Meeting some of my school friends I didn’t even know existed!
The joy of having breakfast with my ageing parents who were relieved I was back after almost 20 years;
Spending evenings with that uncle and aunt of mine who took me for holidays to places like Srinagar and Sikkim while I was a teenager; and who now suffered from the ‘empty nest syndrome’. (both their kids reside outside Odisha)
Going for cycling early in the morning and again visiting all those back alleys, I frequented in my youth.
Reading story books and newspapers with my feet propped up on my balcony and simply soaking in the roadside views.
Suddenly all these small things started giving me immense joy. They started propping me up and boosting my immune system which had started flagging in my later years abroad.
Then out of nowhere came COVID. Ironically in all the chaos caused by the pandemic, I further settled into this cocoon of comfort. Happiness started sprouting for me in small measures.
A teaching assignment that I had lost out at a prestigious Institute (If you follow my blog closely you will guess its name) came back to me. This was because the staff from New Delhi could not travel in the lockdown.
I dived into my online assignment with full gusto. At the end of the semester, when I received messages from some of the students that how much they had enjoyed my classes, it gave me a new high!
At the same time I started focussing on this blog which hitherto was lying unattended, like a neglected child. Soon, compliments started pouring in from people that how much they were enjoying reading my posts.
So, yes life seems to have come a full circle for me. I now realise it comes with its finite moments carrying infinite possibilities with them. It is up to us how best we utilise and ‘live’ them.
The 2 sides of Wealth Management
It makes me look forward to each day with a bit of greed as to how much returns I can extract from time- the most valued asset class in Wealth Management.
I have also realised the more I express my gratitude to God for giving this ‘other wealth’ in my life, the more I receive it. Unlike my financial assets this intangible wealth does not have any NAV*. It cannot be measured for there are no units to measure it. Yet I realize it enriches me, enlivens me!
(*NAV = Net Asset Value. An unit to measure various financial instruments like Mutual Funds)
This realisation also brings forth the responsibility of managing it well, just as one would manage financial assets. It adds a different dimension to my concept of Wealth Management.
I have stumbled a few times in the effort, but I now understand that I have to handle them with care right up to the finishing line.
For when I will finally switch off the light at the end of the day and go to sleep, it will be this wealth in my inner savings account that I will carry along with me and not the Cash and FD’s in my bank account.
Both Illustrations by phantasmicart (her Insta Id) -your creativity always impresses! Thank you so much Ritwicka 🙂
Dear Reader, would you agree that the intangible wealth is equally important as the tangible wealth in our lives? At this particular moment in your life, where would you place both of them on a scale of 1 to 10.
(1 being least important and 10 most important)
Do share your thoughts below on the subject. I would love to hear from you!