Jan 14, 2011
I was thrilled as I boarded the aeroplane which would carry me to Oman. This was my first journey by air and I had to come to terms with it as yet. As I entered the plane, I was glad to know that I had got a window seat.
Soon a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach informed me that the plane was airborne. Excitedly I looked out of the window. To my surprise and delight I could see us leaving behind the ground of my motherland at Santa Cruz Airport. I was a little scared at leaving the security of the earth behind me but all around me I saw people quite unconcerned at this phenomenon, so I tried to relax too.
No sooner did I take my window seat and the plane was heading leisurely than I started to reflect upon how I left my hometown, how excited I was to get into the Mumbai-bound bus and had almost forgotten to bid goodbye to my wife Wilma and sons Ronny and Johnny, aged 5 and 3.
I reflected upon my promise to Wilma of my return after three years to start a business. I even started to question the wisdom of relinquishing my four-year-old government job at the Civil Court in Mangalore,
As I was reflecting upon this, I soon got a breathtaking view on either side of me - we had entered into the airspace of Oman. On my left I could see the blue Arabian Sea and on the right the never ending cliffs of bare brown mountains and in between stretched the black ribbon runway of Seeb Airport.
The plane touched Seeb at 4 pm and I stepped out on the evening of January 19, 1983. A gentle cool breeze arrested my attention from an unpleasant loud screech and after the immigration formalities I was out to be collected by a local and driven straight to the office of my employer. I greeted him while he was well ensconced in a sprawling office overlooking the Arabian sea.
The big white man hurled at me the first question, “How was your flight?” I replied, “It was nice Sir,” while I was quite surprised to notice that he was busy giving orders to the driver to take me straight to my living cabin without even caring to listen to what I had to answer!
There were only Indians in the camp, in all nine, working for the British Company I had just joined. Some were working in the accounts, and Jerry Lobo was the chief accountant but he was not happy to live as a married bachelor, in fact I later realized neither did any of them. Only Keralites and Mangaloreans were among the Indians.
My first week went on well but as I drifted into the second, I became terribly homesick, I missed my wife, and children.
I liked my job as I was attached with the Chief in the office and all the office staff was quite friendly and even the locals were in a pleasant mood and soon six months were over and it was time for me to visit my homeland.
I got many letters from my family members to bring presents. I bought my first wrist watch, then a music system, bit of gold and plenty of presents for family and relatives.
On arrival at my hometown, many invitations started pouring in to dinner or lunch and by the time I was ready to return I was hardly left with any money.
On my return, I came to know that one Terry Desa, a fresh recruit, had arrived at the camp. He had come with a determination to get to New Zealand at the first opportunity and settle there. Oman was just a stepping stone for his future plan.
Terry and I became thick friends as we both were relatively new and were about the same age - 31 years.
On rare occasions there was this uneasy calm in the canteen, particularly during the late hours of the day and once Terry and I had to intervene to restore peace.
Days rolled on, and I had made my second visit and on return I realized that one Richard Pereira had joined us and his ‘mantra’ was to work only for five years and go back.
He was a clever fellow, this Richie, he would not buy anything in Oman except soap and toothpaste, and used Indian stamps for letters. He went on buying land wherever he got it cheap in Mangalore. One day I heard that he even bought land close to my house at Chimbi Gudda in 1985 at just Rs 5000 per cent!
He had occupied the cabin next to that of mine and would talk to me anything and everything but would not even so much as mention about that land purchase almost next to mine – isn’t that clever??
I went on making regular visits home and every time I visited, I determined that the next trip would be my last and I would soon settle and start a business. But the good salary, food and above all the Scotch would keep me from hometown.
Among the Keralites, both Ravindran and Gopinathan were very enterprising. Gopinathan was still young; he soon got married and went back to his old company – Indian Oils – as he did not want to live the life of a married bachelor. Ravindran was quite mature and had already sent his son to the USA for studies and was planning to settle there after his son’s studies.
Very soon five years passed by and one fine morning Richie announced his resignation, and went back to Mangalore on completion of five years.
Terry being a good friend of mine, kept me well informed of the progress of his effort to settle in New Zealand, and as luck would have it just on the heels of Richie’s departure, Terry too got his visa to New Zealand and left Oman and took his family and settled there.
This was the period when localization was at its peak and every time one of us left, the locals were by now decently trained to replace us.
As was expected, soon after I returned from my next trip home, Jerry Lobo announced that he too got a job in Qatar with a furnished family accommodation and better salary, and he left for Qatar. He brought his wife and children there. His wife, a teacher, started to supplement the family income by giving tuitions and Jerry being a good family man went on giving good education to his children and the last I heard of him was when he wrote to me to say that his sons had finished studying in the States and would settle there.
But I continued to work and make regular visits home without much caring as to what my sons were doing at school. My wife Wilma was a good housewife no doubt but too liberal with the children and as the money started coming, my sons Ronny and Jhonny just grew up with no proper direction, and became school dropouts. .
Each time I returned to Oman, I started carrying several passport details of my friends and relatives and virtually all of them remained untouched.
As the years rolled on I found myself involuntarily getting hooked to drinks which initially I used as a means to circumvent my homesickness but later became a slave to it.
My promise of returning home in three years had wilted long since and now it is almost 27 years since I have been at my job. I was PA to the top boss and none could replace me. So, as the years rolled on, and I started to turn older; the rich food, the drink, and lack of exercise have all conspired to debilitate me to the point when I found that even getting to the first floor was an ordeal.
Men had come and men had gone but I remained at my job disregarding all the consequences.
I was now 58 and one fine morning I found a letter from the company on my desk and it read “While we thank you for your long service, we regret to inform you that your services are no longer needed from the first of next month…”
I remained silent for a while and then reflected upon all my erstwhile colleagues: Richard Pereira, who had gone on buying land, now after twenty years, is sitting pretty on a gold mine as the price of land in Mangalore has gone through the roof. Then Terry Desa and Jerry Lobo both of whom very wisely used their stay in Oman to fine-tune their future.
Ravindran writes to me to say how happy he is now in the USA and he has still a few years to retire there and Gopalan is still working for The Indian Oils.
After the termination, I went to the accounts department, and the Omani officer settled all my dues and I returned home after serving 27 years in the Gulf.
Much of my money now goes to pay my medical bills, my sons have got married but they are earning a small salary and naturally I have to be a good father to them for I was never there to guide them, and my wife is no longer young and is neither happy to see the state of our sons nor to see my poor health, and the dwindling bank balance.
Majority of my colleagues at the Civil Court have happily retired and the first week of every month they see the ATMs coughing up a good sum of pension at them, and they are as healthy as ever and now I feel that if only I had continued to work at the Civil Court and continued to mind my family and farm, I would have been much better off than what I am now.
As for friends, relatives and invitations to lunch and dinners, it is history now.
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