Friday, February 3, 2012

Travels in foreign lands-XLII (Journeys to Saudi Arabia-III)

After the morning visit to Governor’s office, I spent sometime with Dr.Sofi at his hospital. I was amazed see the set up there! It was the most modern with best possible equipment. The inside as well as the surroundings was so clean that I felt ashamed about our own institutions back in Kashmir. One wonders how these people keep everything so neat and clean. May be it is the strict discipline imposed by their western trained bosses? Dr. Sofi showed me a diabetic patient lying on a bed. He had sores all over his body and had been bed ridden for quite sometime. I told him that back home the guy would have passed away long time back! On his subsequent visit to Kashmir, Dr. Sofi told me that the guy went home walking up to a car! Well, one must give credit to the health care in the Kingdom. In the evening, Dr. Sofi dropped me at the airport to take a flight to Hail. I had spent very interesting couple of days in Riyadh. The flight to Hail took about an hour and a quarter. The most interesting thing in Middle East is to watch the lights of various cities from the air. I remember while flying during night in India one only sees some blinking lights but here in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries one sees bright spots everywhere. On landing one can see roads clearly with cars driving over these. Power generation is oil based which these people have in plenty! We too have a similar resource and that is water. However, unfortunately, we are the most power starved area in this part of the world. May be the fault is our own? Finally, we landed at Hail airport which reminded me of the Jammu airport of old days. A short runway with a small terminal building. My brother Hamid had come to receive me. We drove straight to home. Kids, Sajju (Sajjad) and Tuffy (Muzaffar) were happy to see me. Hamid had been working here in Kadi Establishment which was setting up electrical projects in different parts of Saudi Arabia. At that time they were laying transmission lines to different pockets of population. There was an interesting anecdote. The King wanted every village and population pocket to be electrified. He wanted the people to see the artificial “light”! However, Hamid told me that as soon as they reached the village, the people would run away and set up a new village. They preferred their own spiritual light than the King’s artificial “light”! It was the same situation as with the multi-storey apartments constructed in Riyadh. Another bit of interesting information I gathered from Hamid was about the manner of executing various works in the Kingdom. He had been coming home very late during my stay in Hail. He was engaged in a tough project. Kadi, the company for which Hamid worked were the contractors for setting up the transmission line but the government had also engaged consultants to check that the work was being executed strictly as per specifications. These were two different agencies. It ensured the quality of work and its timely completion. They had to dig out transmission poles at random in scorching heat to confirm that the specifications had been strictly adhered to. I wish we too had a similar procedure for construction of such projects which normally drag on for decades and then the quality is not maintained at all! I did do a lot in Hail except visiting a village supposed to be the birth place of Hatim al-Tai, the famous character in the Arabian nights. Hamid’s driver Salah-ud-Din who was from Pakistan, told me about it. He drove Sajju, Tuffy, and me to the village. We branched off from the Hail-Madina highway and then drove for about half an hour deep inside the desert. There were bushes and date trees all over. The village had a number of wells and for the first time we ate dates right from the tree itself! The story of Hail and Hatim al-Tai is well described in Wikepedia which is reproduced here. “Ha'il is largely agricultural, with significant grain, date, and fruit production. A large percentage of the kingdom's wheat production comes from Ha'il Province, where the area to the northeast, 60 km to 100 km away, consists of irrigated gardens. Traditionally Ha'il derived its wealth from being on the camel caravan route of the Hajj. Ha'il is well known by the generosity of its people in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world as it is the place where Hatim al-Tai lived. Hatim al-Tai was a famous pre-Islamic (Jahiliyyah) Arabian poet, and the father of the Sahaba Adi ibn Hatim and Safana bint Hatem. He was a Christian, and belonged to the Ta'i Arabian tribe. Stories about his extreme generosity have made him an icon to Arabs up till the present day, as in the proverbial phrase "more generous than Hatem". There is a hill overlooking the city of Hail which has a reproduction of the campfire he lit to welcome his guests, which is turned on every night and can be seen from the center of the town. According to legends in various books and stories, he was a famous personality in Tai (Najd province in the central part of the Arabian Peninsula, now in Saudi Arabia). He is also a well-known figure in the rest of the Middle East as well as India & Pakistan. He travelled to dangerous, distant places to solve the seven questions that he faced, in the cause of justice and truth, and to help the poor and the weak”. After Hail, I went to Madina and Makkah which I will relate in the next episodes. (To be continued….)

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