I first went to Bahrain in 1984 as an expatriate officer working for an English bank. I was intrigued by the ancient “Dilmun” civilization and Bahrain’s importance later, during the British “Raj” (rule) in India when the British Political Resident responsible for the Persian Gulf was based in Bahrain, reporting to the Viceroy of India and the British Foreign Office in London. The bank had established a local presence around 1957 I believe, and enjoyed strong ties with the ruling family.
At the time, several expatriate officers from the British Isles worked for the bank in Bahrain. Protocol required every officer to seek audience with the head honcho upon arrival, to introduce himself. The General Manager was usually a veteran English, Irish or Scottish officer of the bank. After the usual pleasantries the GM would admonish each newcomer, “Please respect the laws of the land. You may purchase alcohol in accordance with local regulations and do what you will, privately. However, God help you because the Bank certainly won’t, should you end up in jail caught drinking and driving. Ahlan wa sahlan, welcome to Bahrain.”
Among the bank’s expatriate officers there were several young bachelors, most coming out of London for the first time. Enjoying a great salary and lifestyle, they were always looking for ways to liven up an otherwise humdrum existence. The standard joke then was, “Other English banks hire officers from public (in North America, termed private) schools; our bank hires them from public houses (pubs or drinking houses)”. Simon, Tony, Ron, Mark, Graeme, Andrew and another young bloke (whose name escapes me), befriended me soon after my arrival. It did not take long for me to appreciate the truth of the statement about the officers’ prowess in holding their drinks!
A few weeks after our arrival we were to celebrate our first New Year in the country. My new friends decided on a novel New Year eve celebration. We were to have a “Gentlemen only, Black-Tie Deep Sea Fishing” party on the high seas! Wives and girlfriends were requested to make alternate arrangements for their entertainment. A suitable seaworthy vessel was arranged and loaded with an adequate supply of champagne (only, as no other form of alcohol was to be served.) We would dine on lobsters, traditional Bahraini chicken machbous, assorted salads and such. As I did not possess a dinner jacket, evening waistcoat or cummerbund, my friends graciously allowed their “newly arrived friend from India” to wear my national dress. I had to call my brother in law in India to mail me his churidar, kurta and a Nehru jacket poste-haste for the occasion.
I had not yet acquired a local driving licence and did not have a car, Tony gave me a ride to the wharf in his Datsun 500X (a prized possession, readily used for other “networking” jaunts). We all arrived and clambered on board. Then, resplendent in our formal attire we stood on deck just as the boat sailed away and toasted Bahrain, England, India and the bank, I think in that order. Music was provided, partly by Radio Bahrain who had a DJ, Ahmad Al Khinna. Most listeners tuned in to his program only because he used his accent and mannerisms to sound funny. The evening remains a hazy memory, jogged only by some out-of-focus, misaligned polaroid pictures that someone had been attempting to take through the night. We did land some baby sharks and one of the guys nearly lost a finger trying to untangle his catch from the baiting hook. Trusted Ahmad, a veteran driver in the bank’s service for many years was at hand the next morning when we docked. He was, and continued to remain a trusted “designated driver” for many of us through our stay in Bahrain. He was still there when I returned to Bahrain several years later.
Beautiful indelible memories of otherwise transient relationships, as one journeys through this life. Each moment gone by, is the start of the next one. As an eminent poet, Najeeb Ahmad states:
“.. har ek saañs nayā saal ban ke aatā hai
qadam qadam abhī baaqī hai imtihāñ merā”
[ .. each breath arrives as a New Year
every footstep instantly is the remainder of my (endless) test]
A favourite of mine from 1982:
2 Replies to “Musing on the old, in a New Year”
I have this compulsive habit of writing names behind photographs. When I did it as a young student, writing down 30 names behind class photographs, I wondered why I did it. It was not like I would need to be reminded of their names, not like I would ever forget. An old school friend visited this past summer and we spent an enjoyable evening playing “Do you remember?” Many “…and a bloke whose name escapes me” moments later, I know that names and addresses fade from memory as newer experiences get layered on. However, what remains sharp is the emotional connect thoughts of those days generates. Reminds me of this old favourite:
Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.
We are the sum of all the stories we can recall. And if one possesses the gift of beautiful narration, as you clearly do, it’s a life well shared.