Posts Tagged ‘Dubai’

Lit up balconies during Diwali in Dubai

Lit up balconies during Diwali in Dubai

Diwali in Dubai is truly a festival of lights. More than a week before the festival the balconies in numerous apartment buildings, in predominantly Indian neighbourhoods like Bur Dubai and Karama, look resplendent in beautiful lights and you cannot help but stop in your tracks to gaze at the breathtaking displays. On Diwali the diyas are lit at the doorways, sweets exchanged and colourful rangolis created.

And Diwali is also a time when people, you may not know too well and might not meet a lot during the entire year, call you over to their house to attend puja and aarti. It’s all part of the bonhomie that the spirit of the festival represents.

It was one such family home I stepped into this year only to leave with the feeling of sadness.

This family owns a sprawling apartment with a yearly rent of  at least Dhs 120,000 (Around Rs 2 crore), in an upmarket locality in Dubai. The extremely well-educated lady of the house was decked up in a saree and gold jewellery. The children and the man of the house, who is equally educated and holds a top post in a big company in Dubai, were wearing jazzy ethnic too.

Among the guests thronging the puja I noticed an elderly lady in a simple saree which was a stark contrast to the dress code in the household. She was occupying an inconspicuous corner among the last row of guests. Through the minimal interactions the family was having with her, I realized she was the mother-in-law.

As the puja started the family rattled off the shlokas (hymns), all from memory and I shifted in my place uncomfortably, thinking that I can’t chant a single shloka beyond the first line.

Then in my mind I started blaming my parents for my unawareness of the puja rituals and the sacred hymns because they never had a puja at home and my mother always said, “Be good to people. God resides in them. That is how you perform puja everyday.”

I ended up being different. I like going to temples, churches and dargas to pray. But yes, my mother has managed to pass on her beliefs to me to a great extent – I respect all religions, hence all human beings.

So here I was at the puja, arms folded, hoping for God’s blessings. The family took turns doing the aarti. First it was the lady of the house, then her son, then daughter, then husband. What about the mother-in-law? I thought it would be her turn next. But her turn never came. She performed pushpanjali and silently left the room.

I later came to know she was not allowed to perform aarti because she was a widow.

After all the education, all the money, all the veneration for God, they make an old lady stand in one corner and don’t let her perform aarti because she lost her husband?

I thought of my friend who lost his father at 12 and ensured that her mother ate non-vegetarian and wore colourful sarees, and lived a life away from these archaic Hindu customs. He stood up for her during his sister’s wedding and ensured that his mother was present at every ritual. I thought of my father and uncles, who had done the same with my grandmother more than 50 years back.

I felt thankful for what my family taught me and felt less regretful about not knowing the shlokas. I felt thankful that they instead told me about Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the man who introduced the Widow Remarriage Act in 1856.

As the prashad was being distributed I left their home wondering if God would be able to deliver them from darkness into real light one day.

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Ullash Group raised Rs 3 lakhs 65 thousand during the Uttarkhand floods

Ullash Group raised Rs 3 lakhs 65 thousand during the Uttarkhand floods

When war and natural disaster unfolds in front of us on the television, we often want to do something to make a difference in the lives of people who have been affected by these circumstances. A common way of doing it is to donate in cash or kind to organizations who are working on the ground in these disaster zones.

But there are people who go one step further to make a difference. This story is about them. These individuals from Dubai took the initiative to knock on doors and within weeks raised money or gathered clothes to help out people dealing with crisis in their respective home countries.

Their story is inspiring because it doesn’t take a lot to be in their shoes. Anyone can follow their footsteps, all one needs is the will to make a difference. I tell you who they are and what they did…

Who? Ullash Group, a group of Indian (Bengali) friends 

Why did you decide to take the initiative? After seeing the TV grabs of the floods in Uttarkhand we could not sit around and do nothing about it.

What did you collect? We collected Rs 365,000 (Dhs21,778).

How long did it take you to do the collection? One week.

How did you do your collection? We got in touch with friends and colleagues. Amal Banerjee, who is a member of our group, told his colleagues at Ducast Factory LLC about our initiative. Each and every person in that company donated a day’s salary and that helped to increase the collected amount in a big way.

What kind of response did you get? Everyone contributed within their means, no one said no.

How did you ensure it reached the right people? One of us personally handed over the money to Ramakrishna Mission in Kolkata, India. The oganisation is building homes to rehabilitate thousands in Uttarkhand.

What kind of satisfaction did you get out of this? We are a group which is into regular weekend parties, adda (chat) sessions and cultural meets. The satisfaction was in the fact that we could use our friendship and respective relationships to help other people.

Salam Al Amir went over to people's places to collect cash and clothes

Salam Al Amir went over to people’s places to collect cash and clothes

 Who? Salam Al Amir, Journalist, Jordanian

Why did you decide to take the initiative? I know how cold it gets in Jordan during winter and the thought of Syrians, especially children, weathering it in refugee camps without adequate clothing kept disturbing me. I just thought I had to do something about it and wrote down my intention on my FB status.

What did you collect? Some people gave me cash in order to go shop for warm clothes others gave me blankets and warm clothes. The shops where I bought warm jackets, hats and socks (mainly for children) donated some stuff themselves and other shops gave me real good discounts when they came to know my purpose. In all I had around 10 huge bags filled to the brim.

How long did it take you to do the collection? Less than a week.

How did you do your collection? I went over to people’s homes and offices to pick up the stuff (clothes and money).

What kind of response did you get? It was good. But some of those who responded with much enthusiasm on FB didn’t even get back to me later to coordinate how I could pick up their donations.

How did you ensure it reached the right people? I was going to send it to a close friend in Jordan so that he could deliver it personally. But then I came to know that there are certain procedures and donations had to go through an organizing body. I chose to send them with the Big Heart Campaign, organised by Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi, wife of the Ruler of Sharjah. They are doing an amazing job.

What kind of satisfaction did you get out of it? Frankly, I got very little satisfaction. I feel we should do a lot more but most often can’t because we are so bogged down by life’s responsibilities.

Nerry Toledo collected clothes and canned food for people affected by Typhoon Haiyan

Nerry Toledo collected clothes and canned food for people affected by Typhoon Haiyan

Who? Nerry Azores Toledo, PR Professional, Filipino

Why did you decide to take the initiative? Typhoon Haiyan left an estimated 4.4 million people homeless in the Philippines and I knew that somehow I had to do something to help in my own little way.

What did you collect? We managed to collect 12 boxes of clothing and goods combined.

How long did it take you to do the collection? It took two weeks.

Nerry couriered 12 boxes  full of clothes to Philippines

Nerry couriered 12 boxes full of clothes to Philippines

How did you do your collection? People back home needed basic things and I started talking to friends and colleagues if they could donate old clothes. I had some friends who were doing the same, so we joined hands and had a collection drive. Some generous people donated canned food even without knowing how I was going to ship it to the Philippines. Many people came over to my place to drop their stuff.

What kind of response did you get? It was an overwhelming response. I realized the world is full of kind-hearted, well-meaning people.

How did you ensure it reached the right people? During that time, the only way to send donation was through the courier. It was sent to a charity organization in the Philippines that was working on the ground. I also gave some of the collected items to people organizing similar drives from the Filipino community in Dubai so that they could ship it with their collected stuff.

What kind of satisfaction did you get out of it? I sincerely strive to lead a purpose-driven life. In that way my life becomes meaningful.

Mount Kilimanjaro, the Chander Pahar

Mount Kilimanjaro, the Chander Pahar

As a child Chandrani Kar would read the great Bengali adventure novel Chander Pahar (The Mountain of the Moon) and fantasize about protagonist Shankar’s journey across Africa. But as she grew up in a conservative Bengali family in the suburban town of Chakdah near Kolkata, studied political science at Kalyani University and then moved to Kolkata post marriage, mundane life took over. And one fine day without realizing, she had forgotten about Shankar, about Africa.

But destiny had other plans for her. In 2000, her husband Sankha Kar, an award-winning photographer, got a job offer in a Dubai newspaper. “Anyone else would have jumped at the opportunity of living in Dubai, but I burst into tears. The thought of leaving my family and staying alone in a foreign land was harrowing to me,” said Chandrani.

Living in Dubai did not change her outlook much. “My husband worked long hours while I was holed up in our apartment. We went out only on his off days, because I used to get scared crossing the road or using the escalator on my own. I never hailed a taxi alone. I was scared if the driver went the wrong way, I would not be aware. I had hardly gone out alone in Chakdah or Kolkata,” said Chandrani.

The Balloon Safari changed it all

There was a surprise in store for her when her husband Sankha expressed his desire to go to Africa. “He wanted to go because he is interested in wildlife photography. At that point I was elated at the prospect of seeing the land of Chander Pahar, but as our travel date neared I started developing cold feet. Finally in 2008 when we flew to Tanzania, I got my first glimpse of Chander Pahar – Mount Kilimanjaro. I could feel the goose bumps.”

Chandrani and Sankha inside the balloon basket prior to take off in Tanzania

Chandrani and Sankha inside the balloon basket in Tanzania

Their first stop was the Kirurumu Tented Camp which had only zippers for door latches and every kind of animal sound for company. “I was so scared I could not sleep the entire night. The next day we had the balloon safari over Serengeti. Thankfully, I had not read up anything on the experience. If I had, I would have been petrified. After a 45-minute balloon ride, landing in the middle of the dense jungle should have been a very scary experience. But for the first time in my life I did not feel any fear.”

The balloon ride proved to be the turning point for Chandrani. “I realized I had overcome all my fears in Africa and emerged a more confident person.”

Chandrani in front of a cottage with a zipped door in Tanzania

Chandrani in front of a cottage with a zipped door in Tanzania

Adventure takes over

After that, Chandrani was willing to go anywhere and do anything and she quickly developed a keen interest in photography. “I could feel I had completely changed inside. My husband always encouraged me to pick up the camera but like always, I was not too sure. But in Africa, I felt I was wasting all the opportunities God was giving me. In my first trip I had a Sony handycam and a 5-megapixel Panasonic digicam. In the next trip, Sankha bought me a Canon with a 16X Zoom, and in the following, a Canon with a 30X Zoom and now I have a DSLR.”

Chandrani found herself exploring the African Savanna between 2010 and 2013, taking up challenges, courting danger and escaping perils on the way – holding on to her camera firmly all the while. I personally believe her adventures are worth going down in a book, but till she sits down to write it, here is a glimpse of her exploits in her own words along with some photographs taken by her on each trip.

Lioness at Ndutu, Tanzania

Lionesses at Ndutu, Tanzania

Tanzania, 2010

  • Ndutu lodge had no fencing or boundary:  This time our destination was Nogorongoro and Ndutu. As soon as we stepped into Ndutu lodge, I realized there was no boundary wall, only a single signboard that said DO NOT ENTER BEYOND THIS POINT. We humans could read it but what about the animals? I was shocked when I was informed this was the rule in Tanzania so that the Big 5 – lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, leopard could find free roaming space. It took me some time to digest this information.
  • There was no electricity or telephone: The rangers with AK-47 first ensured we had locked the door of our cottage and only then left at night. If there had been any emergency we could have alerted them by a torchlight and a whistle. There was no electricity or telephone in the lodge.

    Ndutu Lodge in Tanzania had no fencing

    Ndutu Lodge in Tanzania had no fencing

  • In the middle of the night a strange sound woke me up: I was so scared that I couldn’t open my eyes. But I finally overcame my fear and woke up Sankha. Then we looked out of the window and saw two giraffes chomping on leaves next to the window. There were days when we couldn’t enter our room because of a line of giraffes blocking our path.
  • Our car broke down: The sun was just going down and our car broke down one day right in the middle of nowhere. While the driver tried to fix it and Sankha helped him out, I kept a watch. Now when I think back, I wonder what I would have done if I had spotted a lion in the bush.
  • We went on the trail of 15 lionesses: We spotted this group and started following them. At one point few of them were just a couple of feet away from the open jeep. My eyes met with a lioness and I could feel cold sweat when I realized she was just a jumping distance away from me. My head was jutting out of the jeep and I quietly sat down. I can never forget those eyes.
    Giraffe in Tanzania

    Giraffe in Tanzania

    Zebras in Tanzania

    Zebras in Tanzania

    Kenya and Tanzania, 2011

  • We went by road from Kenya to Tanzania: The driver we went with told us that in his 20 years in the profession he had not taken a single tourist across the border. He also went on the 12-hour journey for the first time from Masai Mara to the Kenya-Tanzania border.
  •  We saw a lion kill: Usually the lioness does the hard work of hunting. But we were lucky to see a lion at it. We were admiring the zebras and wildebeest when suddenly a lion emerged from a bush next to us and went at them. In a moment the peaceful atmosphere was shattered by terror.
  • We were the only two people in Ndutu Lodge this time: It was off season there when we had gone. So we were the only occupants staying in the lodge, with no boundaries. Imagine the scenario.
    Lion with prey at Ndutu, Tanzania

    Lion with prey at Ndutu, Tanzania

    Leopard with prey

    Leopard with prey

    Wildebeest migration at Serengeti, Tanzania

    Wildebeest migration at Serengeti, Tanzania

    Botswana, 2012

  • We flew in a six-seater bush plane: From Kasane airport we boarded this small plane to reach Xugana Island Lodge at the heart of Okavango Delta. This is most often the only way to travel in Botswana. The small, light plane rattling in the wind made my stomach churn. We landed safely, but the next time we took the flight, the landing was delayed because of elephants in the runway.
  • There was a mosquito net for a door with no lock: Our room was on a platform in the delta but I was shocked to see a mosquito net for a door. Apparently that was their way of giving you a feel of the jungle but it took me some time to recover from the shock.

    Chandrani in front of a 6-seater bush plane in Botswana

    Chandrani in front of a 6-seater bush plane in Botswana

  • There was a hippo under our room: The entire night we could not sleep because of a sound below our room. The manger told us in the morning that a hippo had his home below our room and he was making the sound. That’s why he had asked us not to get out of our room at night.
  •  We were in a small boat in a crocodile infested delta: They call it the Mokoro. It is a long boat, just a foot in width, and if you move too much there is a chance of tipping over. I was so engrossed with my camera I didn’t realize what I was into. Even when I saw the crocodiles all around and below the boat in the crystal clear water I didn’t flinch. Not to mention the bobbing heads of the hippos everywhere.
Chandrani rides a Mokoro in crocodile and hippo infested waters in Botswana

Chandrani on a Mokoro ride in crocodile and hippo infested waters in Botswana

Up close with a hippo in Botswana

Up close with a hippo in Botswana

  • We escaped being chased by elephants: The elephants in Botswana are extremely aggressive because poaching and hunting is still rampant there. As such, there would be at least 35 elephants standing right next to our dining room every day. But this incident happened when we were in a marshy area on our tours. The guide sensed something was wrong and was sensible enough to move the car in the nick of time otherwise the herd would have trampled over us.
  • We could have touched the leopard or it could have been the other way round: Our safari jeep in Savuti had a roof and was open on all sides. We saw a leopard which vanished into the jungle. We kept waiting for it only to realize that it had crept right next to the jeep tyres without us noticing. As it walked around we could not even breathe, let alone take photographs.
An elephant taking a mud bath in Botswana

An elephant taking a mud bath in Botswana

Bee-eater birds captured in Botswana

Bee-eater birds captured in Botswana

 Kenya, 2013

  • We escaped a storm: This time we were in Masai Mara in winter when it does not usually rain. But we saw a cloud gathering in the horizon. We were far away from the main road and our guide said that we would get stuck in the mud if it rained and since the sun was setting no one would come looking for us till next morning. He drove the car like a maniac and the rain came pouring down only when we hit the main road. It was a narrow escape once again.
Storm clouds gathering in Kenya

Storm clouds gathering in Kenya

A road less travelled. In Kenya

A road less travelled. In Kenya

Sunset at Masai Mara

Sunset at Masai Mara

Lions in Kenya

Lions in Kenya

When we went back to our room in Ashnil Mara camp we were greeted by a group of hippos lazing on the banks of Mara River just a few yards away from our balcony. Seeing them in the moonlight I forgot our narrow escape from the storm and once again got sucked into the magic of Africa. 

Chandrani is right now an amateur photographer. She says she is completely content winning competitions in Facebook Groups and planning her sixth trip to Africa by the end of this year. You can check out her photographs on her facebook page Chandrani Clicks

Samah Hamza Junaid donated her kidney when she was 22

Samah Hamza Junaid donated her kidney when she was 24

I have known Shubhojit Kumar Ganguly, a media consultant based in Kolkata, for years and I have met Samah Hamza Junaid, a marketing and PR professional working in the hospitality industry in Dubai, through blogging. Both have done something in their life which many of us would laud but when it comes to doing it ourselves we might end up having second thoughts about it.

Samah, the daughter of a Bangladeshi mother and Palestinian father, donated her kidney to her ailing father when she was just 24. It’s been three years since then and Samah says: “Organ donation is beautiful and people need to do away with misconceptions and fear associated with it.” Samah has written about her entire experience in her blog A Day In The Life Of ME.

Shubhojit Kumar Ganguly has pledged all his organs

Shubhojit Kumar Ganguly has pledged all his organs

Shubhojit, on the other hand, has an altogether different reason for acquiring his donor card and says, “I wasn’t sure people were taking my after-death wish seriously, so I went ahead and made it clear that I am serious.”

Some cynics might say what is the big deal about donating your organs when you are dead? But I would say it is. Because when you are doing that, you are surmounting age-old superstitions and religious beliefs, not something everyone can easily do. That’s why Aishwarya Rai’s failed eye donation campaign in India is a sure pointer to how most people think and that is why so many people die every year waiting for a donor.

In my entire life Samah and Shubhojit are the only two people I know who have done something like this so I thought it would be inspiring to share their reasons and experiences…

“I still work out six times a week and my father has regained his health” -Samah

How did your father react when you told him you would give him your kidney?

His initial reaction was silence. I convinced him that I will be okay by showing him websites that educate people on the beauty and simplicity of organ donation and explain how it does not impair your lifestyle. But he was still worried. Then I asked him, ‘What would you do if you were in my place?’ He answered in a heartbeat that he wouldn’t think twice, given the same circumstances and he would give all he had if required. 

And people around you…what was their reaction?

People around me were shocked, some by the thought of a young girl putting her life at risk and some by the generosity and extent of my courage. Some people even made my parents feel guilty by asking them how they could accept my donation. I politely smiled at everyone, who volunteered to find a good donor so that I would not have to donate. They couldn’t find anyone. Today the same people (family/friends) praise me for my ‘courage’. Now that they see the normal and active lifestyle I am leading, I am pretty sure they are gradually putting all organ donation myths to rest.

Did you have to make any lifestyle changes after the donation?

There have been no lifestyle changes at all. I have always been very cautious about my health, eating the right kind of food and exercising six times a week. Having one kidney to do the job of both, I would say I am extra cautious now in terms of not slipping on my fitness goals. I still have my cheat days and over-indulge, but most days I maintain the same healthy lifestyle that I did, prior to the surgery. The only possible change would be getting annual health check-ups done to keep a tab on my numbers.

Samah with her father Faeq Hamza

Samah with her father Faeq Hamza

Thankfully I have not. Rather people say that I have earned a place in Heaven. However, I really think there is a lot more to achieve, correct and repent for in this world to make it there.

What is the greatest satisfaction you have got out of your donation?

The greatest satisfaction out of my donation would be my father’s smile, his energy and him brimming with health and guarding it as though he has something precious. Also, I have come out as a stronger person, nothing scares me anymore – needles, pins, tattoo, cuts, bleeding, pain. Also, it has taught me to be more compassionate. Initially what I did was just out of love for my father, but now the act has opened my eyes. If you can add years to someone’s life and God has given you that power, then why not? I admire, salute and respect people who go out of their way and donate to non-related patients.

Would you encourage others to donate?

Others should do it only if they are completely sure they can, have acquired enough knowledge about the process and are not scared about it. We can get over our fears at times and at times we can’t. That’s normal. But if you really want to contribute, don’t let anything hold you back, listen to your heart. What transpires is a beautiful miracle – a gift of life.

Would you pledge your organs for use after death?

I want to pledge my eyes. I would love to bring light into one person’s life.

“Apart from my organs, I have donated my body to medical science” – Shubhojit

What does it mean to have a donor card?

Having a donor card helps in making people aware of my wish to donate. It will also hopefully help in resolving any issues that people have after I die. I have also asked that my body be donated for medical science. That would help in reducing pollution and carbon footprint as there would be no need for cremation.

Many people talk about organ donation but never manage to take the step. What was your push?

I was worried that people might not realise the seriousness of my wish.

Shubhojit's donor card

Shubhojit’s donor card

What procedure did you have to go through in order to donate?

I have not donated as yet so I don’t know the procedure. For registering as a donor, I did it online.

So you are okay with donating your kidney if someone needs it now…

Absolutely. If someone really needs my kidney and I am a match I will not think twice before donating.

After your death how will one ensure that your organs reach the right people?

There are no right people or wrong people. I just hope that young people get it. My job is to donate and who gets it does not make me anxious because hopefully I will be happily dead then.

Why do you think people have a mind block about organ donation?

I think religion and the greed to go to Heaven are the two main reasons for which people do not donate. This is also one of the main reasons why most of the criminals and corrupt people are highly religious.

Do you know anyone who has done the same like you?

No. But, I hear of a lot of people looking forward to doing so, especially after they are a few pegs down. It is perhaps because we become nobler then than when sober.

What satisfaction did you get out of donating your organs?

I haven’t thought about this actually. I will be dead, remember!

Picture taken from internet

Picture taken from internet

At a time when Indian men are making headlines for all the wrong reasons, this story comes as a breath of fresh air – reinforcing the fact that there are more good men in this world than bad. This story is about four men, who went out of their way to make a difference in a woman’s life.

This story takes off when a few months back my close friend from South Point School, Joydeep Sengupta, who works at CESC and lives in Kolkata, was running his last check on Facebook before he retired to bed. A status update drew his attention.

Joydeep Sengupta didn't have Samrajni's address. He just knew he had to stop her.

Joydeep Sengupta didn’t have Samrajni’s address. He just knew he had to stop her from committing suicide

From here I am penning the story in Joydeep’s own words:

“Her message on FB said she wanted to end her life that night”

10.30pm

I had joined a group of like-minded people on FB. Few I knew in this group, most I didn’t and some I had met at a get-together organised by the group. Now the status that was in front of me was written by a lady named Samrajni Sengupta, who belonged to the same group. The update on her Timeline said she wanted to end her life that night because she didn’t find life worth living. I was in shock. I had met her just once at the get-together and knew from a common friend that she was having some issues in her marriage. Beyond that I didn’t know anything.

Within seconds other people had seen the message too and we started talking in the group wall, although there was no way of reaching out to her because she had logged out.

“I didn’t know where she lived but I left home to find her”

11pm

Once I recovered from my shock, I decided that I could not sit back at home and do nothing about it. I had to try and stop her. People in our group could tell vaguely that she lived in Garia, located in the southern fringes of Kolkata, but beyond that no information was available. Another member of our group, Sourav Sarkar, who works as a crew member in Air India International and lives in Behala like me, wanted to join me too. We managed to hail a cab and left for Garia.

Sourav Sarkar joined Joydeep in his mission to find Samrajni

Sourav Sarkar joined Joydeep in his mission to find Samrajni

“We wandered aimlessly on the streets as the minutes ticked by

12am

Let alone an address, we didn’t even know a proper landmark near her house. We just had the belief that we had to stop her, somehow. Standing in the middle of the road in the middle of the night, we were not willing to give up hope. Nor were at least 30 people from our group, not only from Kolkata, but even the US and other parts of India, who were all logged in and were desperately trying to use their networks to find someone, who could give her address. Finally, Somnath Chowdhury, a law graduate, who lives in Baranagar, and belongs to our group, said that one day he was travelling with Samrajni in the bus and she pointed at an apartment building and told him it was her home. He vaguely remembered where it was and could guide us.

“Monali Sengupta woke up her husband and told him to help us out

1am

While Somnath was on the phone describing landmarks to us and we were trying to follow his directions, the exasperation was building up. We were really worried that we might have lost all the time in our search and wouldn’t be successful in our mission. On top of that there was nobody on the road to ask for directions and all the gates of the apartment buildings were locked.

Meanwhile, Monali Sengupta, mother of a one-year-old, who lives in the same area, was awake and was just browsing through FB when she chanced upon our exchanges on the wall. She didn’t know any of us, just saw a connection through a common friend, but she woke up her husband Sayan Sengupta and told him to call me. My number was on the wall by then. She felt that since her husband knew the area well, he might be able to help in the search. At 1am Sayan came down from his apartment and joined us but we failed to find the building despite his help and Somnath’s directions.

Sayan Sengupta did not know any of them but joined them in the search

Sayan Sengupta did not know any of them but joined them in the search

“Somnath travelled an hour to join us”

2am

After trying so hard I wasn’t ready to live with the fact that I wasn’t successful in reaching Samrajni. Both Saurav and Somnath agreed with me. That is why Somnath decided to come down from Baranagar – which is located in north Kolkata and is more than an hour’s journey from Garia – to join us. He was sure if he was in the area he would be able to recognize the apartment building.

“At 2am Sayan took two unknown men home”

2.30am

Sayan didn’t want us to stand on the road and wait for Somnath, so he took us home. The fact that he did not know us at all, and that it was 2am, did not make any difference to him or his wife Monali. Sitting in their house, we all hoped and prayed together that we would be able to save Samrajni.

“We jumped over the wall of the apartment building to reach the watchman’s room”

3.30am

Somnath came and he managed to point out the building to us. We had no option but to jump over the wall in order to reach the watchman’s room. We woke him up and asked him if Samrajni Sengupta lived in the building. Initially he wasn’t sure who we were, but sensing our urgency and proper intent said he would take us to her apartment.

Somnath Chowdhury travelled for an hour in the middle of the night to ensure Samrajni was safe

Somnath Chowdhury travelled for an hour in the middle of the night to ensure Samrajni was safe

“We were not sure if we were too late”

4am

Samrajni’s father opened the door and was shocked to see the three of us – Saurav, Somnath and I standing there. We told him to call Samrajni without asking any further questions. He said she was sleeping with her door closed. I felt a knot in my stomach and a cold sweat. Were we too late? He knocked on her door and our heart was racing. She finally opened. We were almost jumping with joy seeing her alive. When we told her why we had come she just couldn’t believe it.

SAMRAJNI SENGUPTA tells her story:

“These guys came as messiahs and taught me to think anew”

I was in severe depression due to the situation I was in and had developed a suicidal tendency. I started feeling that if I ended my life all my problems would come to an end. After writing on FB that I would end my life that night I had started making the preparations for doing so. My mother, who had been keeping a close watch on me, sensed my intent and insisted on sleeping with me that night. I remember I kept crying and my mother consoled me and tried to put sense into my head. She stroked my forehead till I fell asleep at around 4am. Then father woke us up.

I was so groggy I couldn’t understand why Joydeep, Sourav and Somnath had come. When they told me I felt like they had come like a new morning in my life. I had reached the lowest point of my self confidence and felt the world was full of horrible people and bad things kept happening to me all the time. Their efforts and those of all the people, who stayed glued to FB to make sure that I was safe, made me believe that there is good in this world.

I am a 38-year-old divorcee with a 12-year-old son, who studies in a good boarding school in Kolkata. I did not take any alimony from my husband because it hurt my pride. I met this other gentleman on Facebook, who is in his early 50s and he wanted to marry me. We had a registration marriage and soon he took me to Dubai, where he works and lives, on a resident visa. There my nightmare started. He lived in a 10X10 single room, expected me to do all the housework and he turned into a pervert and sadist the moment he came home from work. He beat me up at the slightest opportunity. Once he even broke my arm and took me to a doctor a month later when I was screaming in pain. He constantly threatened to kill me and if I raised my voice, his brutality increased. I didn’t know anyone in Dubai and I couldn’t figure out where I could go for help. I just wanted to escape from his clutches. So when he agreed to buy me tickets to see my parents I found my escape. When I did not return he kept calling me and harassing me over the phone and he even told my parents that they were actually doing “business” through me.

I was also facing acute financial woes and did not have enough money to file a divorce suit against him. I thought death would rescue me from this mess.

But these guys came as messiahs and taught me to think anew. I have never thought of suicide after that night. I know no matter what, I will have to live for my son. Now I know these wonderful people are there to support me if I need them. I am not alone in my fight anymore.

Julie Campos Farmer doing yoga on the Umm Suqeim beach in Dubai

Julie Campos Farmer doing yoga on the Umm Suqeim beach in Dubai

If you are on the quest for any kind of luxury you can be sure your pursuit will end in Dubai. In this emirate of the UAE you just have to name it and you get it – of course it will come with a steep price stag.

For instance I wanted the luxury of attending an yoga session on the beach with a group under the aegis of an able instructor, enjoy the sunrise, feel the sound of the waves as I close my eyes in my yoga posture and then finish off the session with a dip in the sea. Not that I am some kind of a fitness freak or hardcore yoga enthusiast but the whole thought of a session like this filled my being with blissful energy.

I checked if this is possible in Dubai. It is. Some five star hotels offer sessions like this on their private beach for prices between Dhs80 and Dhs150 a session ($22/Rs 1,200 and $40/Rs2,250 per session). I wasn’t sure if I was ready to part with that kind of cash to bring to life my yoga-on-the beach fantasy.

Then I read in the magazine Aquarius that yoga instructor Julie Campos Farmer, through her organization Fields Of Yoga, offered such a class at the beach at Umm Suqeim 1 on Saturday mornings and, that too completely for free. I tried to read the fine print and thought there must be a catch somewhere, a donation expected maybe. Nevertheless I shot an email to the given address and got a warm reply from Julie herself asking me to join the next Saturday session and I very happily noticed that at the end of the email it was written:

Timings:  7:00-8:15am (please plan to arrive at least 5 min early)
What to Wear: comfortable clothes that will allow you to bend and stretch. Bring or wear a swim suit if you would like to join us for a swim after the practice.
What to bring: a bottle of water, a yoga mat and a towel
Rate: Free!

Yoga session in progress

Yoga session in progress

I have been to the Jumeirah Beach many times but never to this tiny tranquil patch at Umm Sequiem 1 next to the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club. As I stepped on to the beach the 7am-sun created a lovely warm hue on the inviting blue waves that met the azure of the sky in the horizon. I could spot the Burj Al Arab in the distance. The collective sight made me feel grateful to the bedside alarm clock, for a change.

Julie, a Yoga Alliance (200-HR RYT) certified teacher, who has done her training in Goa, greeted me with a warm smile and didn’t seem to be judgmental about my love handles. She gestured me to take a place at one of the mats that she had placed on the beach. The session had already started and she was instructing those attending the session with gusto.

Take it easy if you can't do a posture is what Julie says

Take it easy if you can’t do a posture is what Julie says

There were six other people in the class, five women and one man, who followed Julie’s moves with precision and the instructor on her part, did her level best to assist her students. My eyes kept drifting to the tranquil setting. I saw two men set off on a kayaking adventure oblivious to the yoga session in progress on the beach. Then I spotted the lone speedboat in the distance and a woman emerging from the sea in a bikini just like Ursula Andress. I closed my eyes and the sound of sea lapping on the shore filled my ears. I breathed a fulfilled sigh. I couldn’t believe I was getting all this for free.

The setting was absolutely tranquil

The setting was absolutely tranquil

Kayaking enthusiasts in the backdrop

Later when I asked Julie why she didn’t charge for this session she answered in her inimitable simplicity, “Dubai is a place where people are always pursuing wealth. I have a studio at home where I charge Dhs50 per session but I thought Sunrise Yoga is a great way of doing something worthwhile for which you don’t charge.”

Julie’s morning session is often attended by as many as 15-20 people. “I have regulars and first timers. My sessions are open to everyone – from a labourer to a well-placed person. I have had regulars, who have been on business trips and taken the taxi straight from the airport just to be in time for the session. I have had whole families trooping in with three generations in tow, and there have been women dragging along their unwilling boyfriends, who have later admitted that they enjoyed the session immensely.”

What about tourists? “This is a great way to explore Dubai,” says Julie adding, “I often get emails from tourists much before they land here telling me to book a place for them at my beach yoga session.”

Julie started Sunrise Yoga in January 2012 and apart from the summer break – which she will be taking after two weeks because it will get too hot to practise yoga in the open and she will be travelling to her home in California also – she is always the first to reach the beach and lay out the mats. “There have been days when I have had only one person attending the class. I am alright with that too. Actually the turnout depends a lot on how people have had their Friday nights,” she smiles.

Yoga reaches its crescendo when Julie does the headstand and asks us to try. I, of course, prefer to stand and watch while one of the enthusiasts, who has been doing yoga for 25 years, gives it a try with a bit of help from the instructor. The session ends with a prayer as Julie says, “Let’s thank god for giving us this lovely place to practise yoga, for giving us health.”

I did my own small prayer though, thanking god for bringing me this amazing experience, this luxury for FREE.

Here’s how Julie did the headstand:

Step 1

Step 1

Step 2

Step 2

Step 3

Step 3

To enjoy yoga on the beach email Julie at: fieldsofyoga@gmail.com

(Photographs: Amrita Mukherjee)

DSCN3960

It’s common to witness Dubai bashing in the international media but when one comes across a report like this in Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/britchick-paris/why-dubai-is-rapidly-beco_b_3156110.html#postComment

one is indeed pleasantly surprised.

More than anything else what struck me most in the article is the following paragraph:

Dubai allows you to be you. And controversially especially if you are a woman. I’m not the only woman to think that. I feel safer here in Dubai than I do in London or Paris. There is a healthy respect that means you are just left alone, so long as you in turn respect the local values and customs.

Also in Europe there is often an underlying chauvinism, that means that men can do it better, hence the paucity of women board members at big Western companies. Here from my experience and that of my entrepreneur friends, women in business are admired. I can hear all the cynics ready to wade in but I cannot refute the evidence I have from the last few weeks working here. It has been a breath of fresh air. Not to mention the openness and creativity that comes from a city that is exploding and growing at lightening speed. In ten years it has achieved what New York did in 150.

This egged me to write about what I know about the city living here for the last six years.

Ask any woman from any nationality if they feel safe living in or travelling to Dubai the answer will always be “yes” without a second thought.

Without any statistics at hand it might be a bit hard to explain why the answer is always so but I will try to do so with a few examples.

When I first moved to Dubai in 2007 my husband and I would go for after-dinner walks to the Dubai Creek which is 20 minutes from my home. One day while sitting there and enjoying the lovely view we never realized it was 1am. It was a weekday and the place was empty except for a few men sitting around here and there in twos and threes chatting amongst themselves.

I looked around and told my husband fearfully, “Do you think it’s safe to hang around here so late?”

He said, “Don’t worry, Dubai is totally safe for women. The longer you live here the better you will know.”

That’s when I spotted an abaya and sheyla-clad lady walking rigorously in her sneakers – all alone.  Coming from India, where a woman’s safety is a perpetual concern, this was quite an impossible scenario for me. Six years down the line I have not yet experienced a lone walk at Dubai Creek at 1 am but I have comfortably walked alone at 12am to the 24X7 supermarket in my neighbourhood to fetch something, I have driven back home from the outskirts of the city at 2am after an office party taking a detour to drop a female friend on the way. I have hailed a cab post-midnight and reached home safe and sound lost in conversation with a friendly cabbie, and I have walked back home from a friend’s place all alone pretty late in the night.

Men and women hang out at a cafe in Dubai. many cafes are open till 4am or through the night.

Men and women hang out at a cafe in Dubai. Many cafes are open till 4am or through the night.

In the neighbourhood where I live, it is not uncommon to see women coming back home from work really late, mixed or even all men’s groups sitting around and chatting in the cafés late in the night. Nobody will give you a second look, nobody will try to follow you, make passes at you, hassle you with lewd comments.

In India we are always looking over our shoulders, something we hardly have to do here. So when something happens in Dubai it always comes as a shock.

Does this mean crime against women does not exist in Dubai?

Not at all. With 120 nationalities living together in a metropolis it is inevitable crime will exist and one gets to read about sexual crimes against women in the newspapers often. Dubai is also fighting human trafficking and domestic violence is also one of the issues here. But one has to admit that the rate of crime is much lower in Dubai compared to other cities.

Teenage girls move around the city comfortably

Teenage girls move around the city comfortably

Women are as comfortable in western clothes as they are in traditional ethnic wear

Women are as comfortable in western clothes as they are in traditional ethnic wear

Moving around the city late in the night is not an issue at all

Moving around the city late in the night is not an issue at all

Then how is Dubai safe?

For me it is safe because every time I step out of my home I don’t have be constantly on my guard. I come from Kolkata where I am used to being groped, commented and stared at all the time. That way Dubai comes as a breath of fresh air for me. I can be myself, wear whatever clothes I want, not worry about attracting too much attention in my short skirt, go for after-dinner-walks at 11pm with my son and travel comfortably in public transport. And also, the same Indians who misbehave back home are civil here.

Police has a major role to play

The police here provides an amazing safety net for women by efficiently patrolling the city 24×7. Be sure to spot a Dubai Police patrol wherever you go. If a woman dials 999 for help they will be there in two minutes. And most importantly the Dubai police force command respect and fear among the people for their commitment. Unlike in India, where bribes can settle matters with the police, that is unthinkable here.

Another thing that keeps women in Dubai safe is the inevitability of punishment. There is no escaping that. A British woman was raped and kidnapped by three men last July. They were eventually caught and in eight months the verdict was out and they are now in jail. Justice is delivered quickly and efficiently.

Read her story here:

http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/general/call-me-a-survivor-says-gang-raped-woman-in-dubai-1.1155077

Recently an intoxicated Pakistani bus driver tried to rape an American lady tourist in an empty bus only to be beaten up by her. She escaped from the bus and reported the incident to the police. The man has been arrested and the court proceedings have already started. I will not be surprised if the case is settled quickly. Read about it here:

http://gulfnews.com/about-gulf-news/al-nisr-portfolio/xpress/female-sailor-escapes-rape-during-dubai-visit-1.1175039

In this regard I would like to share an incident that put my friend in a tricky situation. This happened a few years back when she had just moved to Dubai alone. She and another friend were returning home late from a party when some men in a four-wheel started tailing them. They drove around town trying to shake them off but to no avail. Then after much deliberation they called the police. The officer on patrol duty immediately came to their rescue, did not ask them why they were out so late, escorted them home and needless to say, nabbed the men immediately.

Dubai Police patrolling the city

Dubai Police patrolling the city

My friends with teenage daughters growing up here say that they are less worried about them when they go out for their tuitions or to meet friends than they would have been had they been in India.

That day a friend asked, “What is it you will miss about Dubai when you move back to Kolkata?”

My instant reply was, “I will miss venturing out of my home, even at unearthly hours, without a care in the world.”

When I move back to Kolkata I guess I will have to sharpen my claws all over again.

(Photographs: Amrita Mukherjee)