Something very special happened in Arabic class yesterday. I went there after bunking two previous classes. I wasn’t busy though, and I’m finding learning Arabic rather easy and interesting. Still I was discouraged. Anyways, that’s beside the point, as like all obstacles, small or big, I have overcome even this. So, I was saying that something happened in the institute that made me very happy. You know what! A girl around my age spoke to me inside the elevator yesterday. A tall fair girl in deep blue knee length skirt, and french braid, she was naturally beautiful. She said she is from England, and that her sister stays in Mumbai. She said she loves visiting Mumbai. I told the her about my recent trip to London, and how I enjoyed it. Small talks in the brief moment held inside the elevator. Nothing special you might think. But to feel how I felt, to know why it was so special to talk to Isabelle, you will have to know from the beginning.
Not knowing Arabic is hardly a constraint in Doha. I see more Europeans, Indians, Pakistanis or Philippines than the Arabic speaking Qatari nationals around me, every day. Everybody speaks English in bits and pieces here, even the cab driver or the fish seller. Indians from Kerala are a majority. If you speak the language, and love their food (Dosa and Uttapam – yumm !) you won’t need to step out of your comfort zone at all. Bengali is another common language here, not because there are too many Calcuttans like me out here. Hardly any. But Bangladeshis are really a majority. So much so, that I can spend an entire day without having to utter a single word outside my vernacular. Lucky for me, our language has not changed, even though the countries have parted. Hah!
So my intention to learn Arabic was purely for fun and knowledge, and of course to mingle with people from different culture and racial background. Thanks to my recent travel and trips, I had managed to miss the very first class of Arabic Language in Fanar – Qatar Islamic Cultural Centre. Naturally I was little apprehensive in the next class, which was my first. I reached early, and the teacher had not yet entered. There were some 30 girls of different nationalities, brunettes and blondes, tall and short, elegant and tomboyish. Some were in Jeans, some in beautiful dresses or in gorgeous golden embroidered abayas. It was an excellent affair!
I went in, totally prepared to make some good friends and sat next to a familiar looking face. Some faces are just that – seems you know them from before. She had long black hair and large eyes on an olive face.
“Hi there! I’m Arundhati. It’s my first class today.”
She looked at me, and said nothing.
“Were you there in the last class? How much has been taught?” I tried again.
“Nothing much. Where are you from?” she spokethis time.
“I see. Hey, excuse me”, she got up to sit with some other group of girls, whom apparently she had already befriended in the earlier class.
Then some more girls came in, and they all were talking and giggling amongst themselves. No one looked at me, no one spoke to me. Not that day, not the next day, or the day after that. They see me in class, they see me replying correctly in Arabic when the teacher asks, before and after the class, inside elevator, they see me when my eyes meet theirs and I give my habitual smile. They don’t. Do they see me at all ? Or am I simply invisible to them! But why ?! They don’t even know me, it can’t be anything personal.
Lending a polite smile even to a stranger upon eye contact, is not a part of Indian culture. (Careful, it is frowned upon in Middle East). We learn moral science and social studies in junior school, but social etiquettes – not explicitly as much. Besides, all Indian kids don’t get to attain Kindergartens either. No, not yet. Still we learn, we copy our learned colleagues. We try to develop. We are developing, aren’t we?
Anyways, coming back to my story, after a few days I realised we are not a group of expats in this Arabic language school. But we are separate groups of Pakistanis, Iranian and Egyptians, Europeans.
Indian? Well, this unfortunate Indian is alone in the class. Sans a community and no one to talk to, I observe others keenly. Irrespective of accents and hair colour, I feel I know them all from before – girls just like me or my class mates from back in India.
In front of the teacher we practice our conversation skill.
“Anti min aye balad?” Which country are you from?
I reply, “Ana min Al Hind”. I am from The India.
“Fursa Saeeda” – Nice to meet you, they say.
“I have the honour to meet you”, I reply. Tashar Rafna 🙂
[Names and descriptions of person used in this article are fictitious in nature]