Stuff that has everyone all agog with excitement
“So where will you be this National Day?”
I could forgive if the questioner is an outright stranger, but it sounds malevolent — not as funny as they try to make it sound — every time people who I know ask me what I plan to do during any upcoming holiday.
They know bloody well what I do to make a living and that unlike back in India, newspapers in this part of the world never take a holiday or a day off. Whether you read it or use it as toilet paper, we bring it before you break wind first in the morning.
Such commitment demands sacrifice. A lot, in fact. And we as hardcore journos do it without a grumble. We don’t call ourselves heroes; we reserve such honourable sobriquets for better-deserving ones like those workers who keep our locale neat and clean while the rest frolic.
We forget the little yeoman service we do when we salute those who keep our faucets running; those who are on their toes twenty-four seven to keep us safe and healthy; those who feed us all those exotic cuisines; and those who transport us from our doorstep to the hotspot of our choice in the dead of the night.
In the 12 years the Burj Khalifa has existed, I haven’t seen the iconic tower up close as it explodes in a kaleidoscope of colours. I want to be a blessed drop in the ocean of humans that surges into Downtown as the excitement reaches a crescendo at the stroke of twelve on New Year’s Eve. I had always been busy within the four walls of an almost empty newsroom, capturing the ambience in words and images in the most exciting way. I sleep in the office till 5am waiting for the traffic of revellers to ebb.
I write about the best five places to watch the pyrotechnics displays on New Year’s Eve, Eid, Diwali and et al, but never get to set foot on such hotspots and watch them for real. I never greet my own men in the field, rather shout at them for not delivering the right words and images. It never occurs to me. Decades in the newsroom have fossilised my heart and conscience.
I ceased to be a human on the day I signed on the muster of the Free Press Journal in Bombay on December 12, 1982. Every issue I have produced since is my own obit as a social creature. I ceased to be a husband, father, son, brother and friend. I moulded my evenings into a burrow of solitude ensconced in dark and dingy Indian newsrooms. I slept on mahogany news desks where many a pioneering predecessor etched their brilliance in golden ink.
I sleep when the world is wide awake. I slog when the rest of the universe makes merry. The traffic always flows in the opposite direction whenever I hit the road. I never knew what my wife and kids did in their evenings. I taught them that festivals were not made for them. Who brought them up at the end of the day? Who taught them the vowels and Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars?
The amber canvas after the sunset often looks alien to me in my rare peeks out the newsroom window. The words DJs and shindigs are all Greek to me. Humans and vehicles flow in a flowless motion while I struggle to find a rhythm in my own life. I always wonder where they all are headed to. Who are these people? What are they chasing? Dreams? An evening full of fun? A one-night stand? Are they reading the push notifications and breaking news that we waste our lifetime on?
So, it hurts when acquaintances try to rub it in with messages like “Game for a Georgia trip? Cool climate.” Rain or shine, spring or summer, snow or shammal, we send breaking stories, post social cards, push infographics while our passion — as well as the sandwich wrenched from a filling station in a hurry— goes cold turkey. The sitar I want to learn. The romance I always long for. The pint I wish to savour watching a Barasti sunset. The high dream to beat my boss at his own game. Not to forget the spicy potato bonda and dal vada you only get at the high-tea time in Dubai’s middle-class district Karama. It’s a mile-long, dog-eared bucket list pasted in the back of my mind.
Did my family ever miss me in the evenings? Did my kids ever wish to be read out stories by their invisible dad? Should I have held their hands more? Did they ever want to watch an episode of Tom and Jerry and share some laughter with me? I am not sure, except that I never got to share some creative evenings with them.
Is it too late and too much to ask: Can I have my evenings back? I want to stare at a desert sunset holding my own hand. Leaning on my own shoulders. Gazing into my own eyes. Kissing my own tears. Serenading my own soul.
Is it too late and too much to ask: Can I wake up the next morning to a new dawn breaking behind the serene dunes?
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