samedi 28 juillet 2018


I can’t remember how long I have been loyal to Qatar Airways?
But the new Hamad international had not opened and the old airport and the lounges were organized at different levels. A Parsee traveller to Bombay was sitting with me sharing a snack when a pleasant young man introduced himself. He was from Sri Lanka. 
I was on my way to Jakarta to visit Pak Joe whom I had recently met on a flight who was to become a good friend later. On my return journey through Doha, once again I ran into my friend from Sri Lanka. Our friendship grew over the years and we kept up a correspondence.
I had a trip booked on Cochin this week, on Qatar Airways of course. My friends in Cochin advised me not to come as the weather was chaotic and many of the roads under water, thus would make my journey less than palatable. As if decreed elsewhere, I received an enquiry from my Sri Lankan friend wondering where in the world I was and when I explained my quandry; he helped me organize a sojourn in Sri Lanka. A Car, A hotel and some sight seeing tips all arrived quickly.
Thus I find myself in a hotel, in the Asian sense of the word, large space with attached bathroom, with air conditioning, a restaurant attached. The view of the large Madhu River is very soothing and I have ensconced myself to recuperate from other travels.
The driver assigned to me is a childhood friend of his and today the driver suggested that we drop by the house of my Sri Lankan friend whom I had met many years ago, while in transit at the Doha International Airport.

In many parts of South Asia, the magnanimity of the employment in the Gulf States is easily visible. Old villages remain the same, but interspersed with some opulence, by their standards, usually in the ornamental gates or the car or motorcycle parked outside. Kerala in India is well known since at least half of their able bodied youth are employed in the Gulf countries, in jobs which require very little outside expenditure (the employers  are very generous with their benefits to their workers) and they remit their earnings to their families in their ancestral villages.
These are humble people with no great pretensions, salt of the earth, who express their genuine pleasures and happiness. Wife and two children of my friend, with her parents received me in their airy home.
I could see from their faces that they were genuinely pleased to see a friend of the star of the house, who is away working  and makes sure that their future is secure.
The communication was a little difficult. My driver was a childhood friend of my  friend, and I could see his reluctance in translating from Tamil to English and vice versa.
They belong to an interesting ethnic group, generally referred to as Muslims, distinct from Muslim traders from India or Tamil speakers of Muslim faith in the north who can trace their ancestry to Tamil Nadu. Like all converted people professing Islamic faith, they like to link their origin to the Original Muslims, the Arabs. I hear this often in Malacca that it was the Arabs that brought Islam to what is now Malaysia that was founded by a Hindu Prince from Majapahit in Sumatra.
The similarities in their thinking and food and aspirations to the Muslims of Malabar Coast are striking and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a historic connection. The Malabar Muslims and Moplahs have Arab connections, at least in trade if not in blood and I would expect the Sri Lankan Muslims to be something similar.
My friend’s family prepared me the milky tea chai that spread from the South India to Malaysia as Teh Tahrek. The chai offered tasted very similar to the Princess street chai stalls in Fort Cochin!

The next day I was going to Galle Fort but they insisted that I come to their house on my return for a typical Sri Lankan Muslim food. I told them not to prepare anything elaborate.
(this is what they prepared)

I felt very gratified with this piece of human contact. An innocent encounter in 2014, I think at an International Airline Lounge has blossomed into a friendship and we have carved each other into the memories… for years to come, Inshallah!