For the GEEK in you

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

An ode to Bjorn

August, 1994. My family had completed our latest move from Abu Dhabi to Dubai (we ping ponged back and forth since 1980). To be honest, I was not sad to leave AD; it was a quiet, sleepy place, good for growing up in a Wonder Years kind of way. But the powerboat blitzkrieg of adolescence was fast approaching, dumping unceremoniously the sweet haze of childhood in its wake.

And Dubai seemed to be the perfect place. It was alive in motion, restless with possibility. Unfortunately, we didn't move to Dubai; instead we lived in Sharjah and did the commute. I honestly don't know if that was better or worse. After a 2 hour trip in no A/C school buses, Sharjah was a great place to come home and rest. You'd better like rest though, because there was absolutely nothing else to do. Going out to Dubai was just as impossible then as it is now, endless traffic et al. So in lieu of any other avenue for socialising, school naturally became the center of my universe.

But what a school. My old one was Islamia English in AD; the guys in terrorist training camps in Afghanistan probably have it better. It's definitely a full post in itself. The new one - St. Mary's Catholic - was loads better. Honestly, it was like Neo waking up in the cocoon and seeing the world as it was really was. Loads of new people, proper teachers, and a laid back atmosphere. It wasn't school, it was a holiday camp.

So many new faces, so many new cultures. There didn't seem to be enough hours in the day to meet people. Unlike the kids today who have all their cells and IM contacts, most of that generation has scattered all over the globe, out of reach. I do remember this one kid, though. Bjorn, his name was.

Why do I remember him? I don't rightly know. I don't even know his last name. Met him some time after I entered St.Mary's; he was one of the few Christians in our class, a Catholic. His colour suggested Indian, the facial features otherwise. Average build, average height. Average guy. Stunningly average. On occasion, I talked to him. A nice bloke, shy, inoffensive. We had the sort of conversations about nothing that occupied hours on the playground, but I'd be lying if I say I considered him a close friend. Or even an acquainance. Truthfully, I still don't know anything about the guy, except that he seemed a good chap. Boring even, but nice.

So why is he important? He isn't. None of the classmates I've run into have ever asked about him. He didn't seem to have any close friends. Just another nice guy in a sea of nice guys. About the only noteworthy thing I can remember him doing was in that same year, during one of our maths classes. We were listening to the teacher drone on about graph thingies when out of the blue, a nokia ringtone started belting out. The teacher was frozen in shock. You have to remember, it was '94. Most of the our dads didn't own mobiles yet and most of us hadn't seen one either.

Of course, it was Bjorn's. He seemed stunned, but picked up anyway. The teacher got over her surprise and marched over to this table. By this point, the class was cloaked in all enveloping silence as we waited to see what would become of him. But Bjorn just kept talking away, while the teacher waited next to his desk, steam flooding her ears. The call was from his mother, one of those 'are you okay' things. Nothing life and death. He politely finished his call and turned to face the beast.

And then the levees broke. We winced as we listened to the tirade spewing. Bjorn seemed oddly reticent, unwilling or unable to explain himself. Without fuss, he was dispatched to the Principal's office. And that was that.

A minor incident in a minor day. He was a celebrity for all of ten minutes and then life carried on. I was midly curious about why the need for a phone, but he said his mother worried about him, and this was easier than sneaking out to a payphone. His mother's a bit odd, I thought, but none of my business.

After that nothing. Three years passed and I don't think I ever spoke to him again, although I saw him around, of course. We graduated and the unity of school and social life was sundered, to be replaced with endless college application forms. I certainly wasn't thinking about Bjorn.

In 2000, I got another call from my buddy, Free Mind who went to India right after St. Mary's. All the usual pleasantries. Ten minutes of catching up. Then he asks about me about Bjorn. Do you know, he asks. Know what? Bjorn who, I reply. Bjorn, that quiet guy from school. He died last year.

Bjorn died in 1999 of liver failure. He had been having problems all through his life, which is why his mother gave him a cell phone in case he needed to call an ambulance. The doctors could do no more. When Free Mind (who didn't know him any better than me)
called his mother up, she told him, through the tears, that he was the only person who called. Didn't he have any friends, she asked. Did other boys not like him? Were you a good friend of his?

Of course, replied Free Mind. I'm sure loads of people will call, they just haven't heard about it. I'll spread the news, he offered. But no one else called, and Bjorn went into the ground in August that year, in a service attended by only his mother.

Who was Bjorn? I wish i knew. I wish I knew more - anything really - about him. Knew what man he might have become. I wish I had talked to him a little more, tried to get him to open up. Anyone can be fascinating if you find the right combination of words to unlock their personality, but I'm just as guilty as the rest of my class of not trying and being caught up in our precious adolescent world. I didn't call his mother either. What would I have said? Should have at least offered my condolences, but I was scared that his mother might ask if I was his friend. And what would I say then? Could I lie, like Free mind, to soothe a grieving mother?

There are millions of Bjorns out there. People who live and walk like shadows in this world, fading in and out of the ether. While most people are obsessed with how other people perceive them, and eventually, what their legacy will be, what becomes of people like Bjorn, who were real life invisible men? People who we ignore, call nobodies, are too busy to return calls to, bump into and never apologise. People like me remember them as wisps of memory, but that does little justice to what was once a real, living human being.

I think Bjorn must have been an atheist. No loving God would put a person on Earth to be alone.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

La paille finale?

If the buzz on UAE Community is to believed, they've gone and blocked my beloved Torrentspy. The source of literally all my entertainment, my gateway to a world of film and TV beyond Dubai's pathetic Virgin Megastore-sized offerings.

And now it's gone.

Sigh. It's not like I have any other vices to fill my time - I don't smoke, drink, or party. Books are nice but a tad wearing after a long day at the office, so to my everlasting shame I don't read much anymore. Heck, the last book I really sat down and read is the last Harry Potter. My formerly voracious appetite is largely satisfied by the Internet now.

Films, my abiding passion, are kept in check by Dubai's rotten release quality (I'm looking at you, VideoScope, purveyors of badly photoshopped posters and guilty of quoting 'Scene Selection' as a feature on the back) and my inability to afford to continuously import from overseas.

And in any case, quite a few of the films I watch don't show up on places like Amazon so looking for a torrent of a Region 3 release is sometimes my only avenue. How else would I watched something like Brokeback Mountain, which will likely never be released here? Or worse yet, something which gets a release but is sashimeed to smithereens by our thoughtful censors.

Plus, it must be noted, TV has really caught up these days. Good shows like Prison Break and House (er, sorry're wearing a wee bit thin) need to be watched as soon as they come out to avoid that forbidden fruit of online spoilers. While I understand people who like to wait for season boxsets, it means that you have to wait six to seven months for it. I'm sorry, I'm from the culture of instant gratification. I don't want my MTV, but I sure want my TV.

Wait till it comes out on satellite? More waiting. Nice. Plus, we don't get to see it in widescreen and I'm an OAR whore. To crown it, all these so-called 'entertainment channels' want to do is show off J.Timberlake's new cylon love song or 'direct from the US!' American idol. Not to mention Nancy. Freakin. Ajram. All. The. Time.

What a corker of a homecoming gift from Etisalat. So either I: a) find a great job that takes up all my time b) find some friends (fat chance) or c) find a straight razor and an open vein.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Ah, Irony, you Rascal

Walking down the street today. At the chinatown crosswalk, waiting for the lights to change. Lights go green. First car out the gate is a real larrikin aussie, crawling up past in a beatup VL Commodore. I could smell his sweat - and the beer on his breath - from three meters away.

Next up, a burly bloke, the traditional white van driver, with a huge ladder mounted on his roof rack. Must be making more money than my entire company.

Uni girl in a beat-to-shit old Corolla. Books, CDs, Kit Kat wrappers, and er - hot pink 'Extra Large Durex' packet in the back seat. That must be, umm, nice.

And finally, two chinese kids zoom in a brand new BMW 5-series. P-plates (which mean they're under 21). The car costs at least $120k (Dh333k). Neither one speaks a word in English. They look at the three Australiasns with an identical mixture of contempt and utter, snivelling disgust that speaks volumes. Then the passenger remark in Chinese (which my friend translates) that the Australians can't afford even a little bit of water to bathe and that even their maid drives a better car. Fat, uneducated, cultureless slobs, the driver agrees.

Fucking immigrants, I say. How dare they come into this country and then have the arrogance to try and tell the locals how to behave. If they had it so good where they came from, why did they leave? They couldn't afford to drive this car back in wherever-the-fuck-they-came-from, where the import tax would something like 150%. Anyway, their parents are the ones who spoilt them with such toys. In any case, their modern culture - unlike their ancient one - hasn't produced anything worthwhile, I conclude. Fucking immigrants.

Then I stop and think for a second. And slap myself loudly and conclusively on the forehead.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


And right now, there are none. Absolutely nothing at all. Nothing in the world that matters more than the life of this man hanging in the balance.

Don't quit on us, Hamster.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Madness of Me

Here, staring me right now in the face, is a chance to get out. To never come back to Dubai. To stay in Australia forever.

To never be stuck in immovable traffic again. To never be segregated in queues according to nationality. To never be paid differently because of the colour of my skin. To never be refused entry. To never have prostitutes propositioning outside my window. To never despair of ever spiralling rents. To never wonder when I will be thrown out through no fault of my own.

While here in Australia, I can buy a house. A drink. I can receive a letter and know that customs hasn't opened it. I can walk down a street and ask a policeman for directions. I can buy a tram ticket and it'll work on every other form of public transport. I can prosecute if someone discriminates against me - in any context - on the basis of race. I can be a labourer, if i want to, or drive a van, and still earn a handsome wage while receiving respect from society. I can use competitively priced, unfiltered Internet to watch anything, from anywhere. I can choose who will represent me at every level, from the Prime Minister to my local council. I can form a club or society and not have to worry that it meets any preset morality. I can drive too fast and be prosecuted for my negligence. And I can travel anywhere I want in the world with an absolutely bullet proof passport. And know that if I get in trouble overseas, my embassy will move heaven and earth to bail me out.

I can be free.

So why won't I take it?

Oy vei

So the Pope won't be the first person on Earth to praise Muslims. Wow, that's a shocker.

Two things.

First, it was a QUOTE he was using to illustrate the futility of violence, from a long dead byzantine Emperor. Not a direct address to the Muslim nation. The example was certainly ill advised, but I doubt he knew what the effects would be.

Second. Even if he did know that his remarks would knowingly offend, what's it to Muslims? You guys are like a cancerous cat with a big fluffy ball of string: easily distracted. Heck, the Pope doesn't even represent all Christians, just the Catholic Church. Granted, that's the largest Church in the world. And granted, it's probable that most Christians privately agree with the Pope in the belief that Islam started and will end with the sword.

It doesn't mean that you have to get up in arms about it though. By gathering up your saucepans and banging away at them as usual, you're just playing into their hands. Look at them, the Christians will say. Our Pope was parodied in a Genesis video. These guys can't take an insult from a man dead many centuries ago. They are as predictable as porridge.

So while I have no doubts that this will snowball into another endless round of protests and violence, I will still kindly request the Muslim Ummah to grow the fuck up.