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Saira didn’t want to get married to Mustafa, but she did. At the tender age of 17.

Saira didn’t want her Gulf husband to leave her and go only 10 days after their nuptials. But he did.

All she had to cling to when he departed was the smell of his Brut on her pillow, smeared with her soft sobs. All he took with him was the fragrance from a bride’s jasmine decked hair.

Mustafa didn’t see Saira for two long years after that. Saira couldn’t speak about her incipient love for him till he returned.

Two years. By then, a lot had happened in their lives.

There was no whatsapp back then; no video call; no means to convey love and longing except with tears. Sighs were the only medium of expression. And the silhouette of their lives was filled with sadness.

When I wrote about Mustafa and Saira in my debut novel, 𝙎𝙖𝙣𝙙𝙨𝙩𝙤𝙧𝙢𝙨, 𝙎𝙪𝙢𝙢𝙚𝙧 𝙍𝙖𝙞𝙣𝙨, nearly 20 years ago, this was the case with Indian migrant labourers who left their newly-wed wives back home and came to the Gulf.

It still is. Nothing much has changed in the realm of the heart, except that technology has given a semblance of proximity to their parting.

But does that mitigate the pain of having to live away for years together?

Yesterday, Mahesh (name changed), the docile, young man who helps us keep our home clean, came with a box of Gulab Jamun,

‘𝘔𝘦𝘳𝘢 𝘴𝘩𝘢𝘢𝘥𝘪 𝘬𝘢 𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘴𝘢𝘳𝘺 𝘩𝘢𝘪,' he said.

'𝘉𝘢𝘥𝘩𝘢𝘪 𝘩𝘰,' I twittered with delight.

I was surprised that a year had already passed since his marriage. It was around the same time last year that he had joined us, and I remember the pictures he showed us soon after he returned. They looked like stars on a marquee.

Mahesh’s wife is very pretty. Almost juvenile-looking and demure, like Saira.

He left her behind 10 days after their marriage. Like Mustafa. I wondered how the narrative had remained almost unchanged in 20 years.

‘When will you go home next?’ I asked as I took the sweet from him, regretting the question soon after. I wondered if I had touched a raw nerve, silently admonishing me for the mindless query.

‘After one year,’ he said.

Mahesh, by nature, is a soft-spoken person. It is hard to feel any emotion in his voice even in routine conversations. But it requires no major wisdom to sense the sadness in his reply. You don’t need special sensors to feel the pain the couple must have felt on a day like this. You don’t need a stethoscope to hear the throb in a lover’s lonely heart. Its noiseless din can drown the sound of heavy traffic on the Sheikh Zayed road outside.

Mahesh and his wife can attest their love in words any number of times over a video call. They can replicate passion in myriad ways over text messages. But nothing can substitute being with each other in the flesh and blood. Nothing can replace the raw sense of love that the occasion demanded.

Love cannot be expended in the proxy. It needs the real presence of the object of love. Anything other than that is mere fantasy.

I wonder how Mahesh’s young wife must have spent the day back home; how she will pass the next one year; how she will keep the memories of love’s most intimate moments alive; how love itself will transform in the long interim; what shades it will add and what hues it will shed.

Saira hadn’t even known Mustafa well in the 10 days that he was with her. How much of Mahesh and his wife would have known each other in their 10 days?

As Mahesh took our blessings after we gave him a small amount as a present, I felt a dull ache in my heart for the couple.

‘Hope you go home 𝘫𝘢𝘭𝘥𝘪,’ I said, knowing the 𝘫𝘢𝘭𝘥𝘪 was still a good 360 days away. It won’t be easy to bide their time away. Neither for Mahesh, nor for his love-sick wife.

One of the many injustices in life is the one that keeps loving hearts apart. Separation is one of life’s cruelest woes. And the hope of reunion is all that keeps life moving from one hopscotch square to the next. Although, there is little solace in the sentiment of standalone hope. At best, hope is only a placebo.

Tonight, I will write a poem for Mahesh and his young wife. I will live their pangs of separation. I will mourn their deprivations. I will sing a song of faraway love.

It’s in a poet/writer’s destiny to tell people’s stories as if the stories were their own.


(If you would like to read Sandstorms, Summer Rains, head straight to

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(Khaleej Times dated 15 May, 2023)

I come from a culture and country, India, where academic qualifications define a person and his social standing. An individual’s worth is often distilled into a few certificates that are believed to either propel or retard their careers. It is so in many other parts of the world too.

Years of rigorous cramming and enormous expenses culminate in academic outcomes that range between the stellar and the mediocre, and yet, when graduates walk out of their alma maters, they don’t feel all set to launch into their dream futures. There is a yawning gap between the knowledge they have accumulated and the demands of the workplace; between the students’ bona fide aspirations and the endgame; between what they want to learn and what they are taught.

This disparity in ‘what is’ and ‘what needs to be’ in our educational system and our notions surrounding it is made apparent to me by a frequent pronouncement my students make in my writing classes. ‘We hate school. They don’t teach us what we want to learn. We go there only for our friends.’

It is difficult to dispute them, for I have been watching over the years how students are getting less and less equipped to fulfil the real-world needs and have been force-fitted into straightjackets that constrain knowledge and education. The stress on gaining academic excellence in subjects that will have no future use has deprived them of opportunities to build skill sets that are becoming indispensable to carving fulfilling careers.

The fact that most students trudge through their school and college years to notch up numbers and credentials that only partially fulfil job requirements begs the questionis it time for us to ditch academic degrees in favour of informal education that will give rise to a generation of unique innovators? Will the emergence of technology and therefore access to specific knowledge bases outside of premium institutions make us more willing to accept core skills as a prerequisite than degrees?

Let us accept it without pretentionsour schools and colleges don’t have a foolproof setting that provide our children with an environment that sync with their individual capabilities and learning tendencies. Neither does our formal educational system provide them with challenges at a very individual level, where they can assess their capabilities and evolve into what they truly want to become.

They are stuffed with information that are often redundant to their future needs for creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. In the many years that I have been a children’s mentor in the informal sector, I have seen an acute shortage of originality in students. Their curiosity is stifled by an overload of pedagogics and the opportunity for experimentation is almost down to zilch.

We are at the cusp of huge paradigm shifts in the kind of intellectual resources that the world needs to keep mankind evolving positively. This transition to a new set-up cannot be successfully accomplished by saddling our children with irrelevant knowledge that precludes essential skills from its itinerary.

It may be argued that in a job market that still values degrees and pins them as prerequisites, it is impossible for us to jettison degrees from our resumes. This, however, may not be as true as it used to be a few years ago. Companies are now willing to discard their old screening methods and take a relook at candidatures based on hands-on job requirements. There is increasing awareness of how the bespoke skills that candidates bring to their workstations will improve the company’s bottom lines than their degrees (that may not have made them job ready). The inflated degree syndrome of the past is slowly fading out.

There is an abundance of talent floating outside our universities that if harnessed can be utilized purposefully for our collective growth. The potential is such that we are currently witnessing the emergence of a parallel educational universe that nurtures skills, and prepares a new, efficient employable generation. Online courses, digitized learning, and private internships are paving the way for a new climate of skill gathering based on individual interests and passions. New turfs are being built to cater expertise to a fast-paced and tech-driven world. But are we ready yet to embrace these new ways to competence and career building?

Researchers, governments, and policy makers will have to revise curriculums to suit our emerging needs. Companies will have to drop their fixation with degrees and endorse ingenuity as qualification. And we, as consumers of knowledge, must shed our resistance to informal methods of learning and accept them as equally efficacious as traditional education. Only then will schools stop being boring and irrelevant to kids, and universities cease to churn out degree-holders with little practical skills.

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(Khaleej Times dated 9 April, 2023)

Happiness, one would agree, is a chimerical concept hotly pursued by people without a clue about how to accomplish it. All human endeavours are directed towards this one goal of attaining eternal happiness and a sense of well-being, and clearly, it doesn’t fall to everyone’s lot.

When the global happiness index report was released a few weeks ago, enumerating the national average life evaluation of countries in the world, it was a given to me that the United Arab Emirates would feature among the top 25 or thereabouts, not based on historicals but on my real-life experience as a long-time resident.

The UAE ranked 26th with impressive scores on almost all parameters deduced from specific well-being measurements, which often make little sense to a commoner. But ask a person if she is generally happy in the external circumstances that she currently lives in and see if the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’ or a dismal ‘no’, and you will know if she genuinely belongs in the happiness zone of life. To me, this is the most authentic way to gauge satisfaction, and it would be near impossible for us to find a person living in the UAE to answer that question in the negative.

The ranking aside, there are no two ways about the high levels of happiness that citizens and residents in the UAE enjoy, and the reasons can be given in a flurry, each one competing for primacy. For starters, this is a country that gave most of its expatriates a positive jumpstart in life. The word ‘abundance’ became a reality to us, thanks to a tax-free income structure and a work environment that aided growth and long-term prosperity. Even the smallest denominator on the social ladder here will admit that their life flourished and its quality improved phenomenally with their relocation to this country.

It is a place that is built on multicultural values that allows people of nearly 200 nationalities to co-exist in love, peace and harmony, permitting them to follow their faith without disruption or discord. The heterogeneous fabric of the UAE allows freedom to make life choices, and only a few countries in the index report have excelled it in this regard.

For the most part, no political or social turmoil that rocks other parts of the world affects the peace of the people here. It is almost as if we are insulated from all the ills of the world, including crimes of the meanest kind. I know instances of people leaving their wallet or phone in places like the metro train or food courts and retrieving them without a Dirham lost. Where else in the world but here can one walk on the streets in the middle of the night without the fear of being mugged or stalked? Rules that are laid out are followed to a tee by people, not by force but of their own volition. It is an ecosystem of good living where citizens and residents are acutely conscious of their responsibilities and have pledged not to topple the apple cart by misdemeanour of any sort.

One could endlessly extol the virtues of living in a place like the UAE, but what makes it all a perfect amalgam of happiness is the manner in which the government of UAE has put happiness of its people on priority as an operational objective. It’s creation of a Ministry of Happiness in 2016 is a pointer towards the responsibility it has undertaken to ‘align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction.’

Only when rulers and authorities insist on building a nation based on its people’s skills, security and satisfaction can it be called effective and empowering. A country can be labelled as successful only when its people are happy uniformly, which is not to say there will be no social and economic discrepancies, but if there are sustained positive emotions that support and drive the lives of a people, then it is a paradise on a planet that is increasingly struggling to find reasons to smile. Seen in that light, to all who have pitched their tent in the UAE, life here is a blessed sanctuary.

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