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Lesley Pocock

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Raj Shekhar Chandola graduated from Delhi University (Honours History with Philosophy as a Subsidiary Subject), and did his post-grad work at Lucknow University (Journalism and Mass Communication). He worked in an advertising agency, a detective agency, a market survey agency, a film magazine and a city magazine. He was also a professional magician for a nearly two years. He joined the City Montessori School (CMS), Lucknow as a peace educator in 1993. CMS received the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education in 2002, and the Nuclear-Free Future Special Achievement Award in 2004. It is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as world's largest school, with over 31,000 students. Raj serves there as Head of the World Unity and Peace Education Department (www.cmseducation.org/wuped), Coordinator of Indo-Pak Children's Penfriends' Club "Aao Dosti Karein" (Come Let's be Friends), and Assistant Convener, International Conference of Chief Justices of the World.

Monday, June 2, 2008
Muscat Morning Meditations

You get up and are surprised to see its not even 5 am and yet the morning is very bright. The Sun is still not up and you go to the kitchen balcony to see two pigeons necking next to you on the other side of the glassed railing. One of them looks like a typical Indian grey pigeon but the other one is a cross between a grey and a white with white head and neck and grey wings.

As you light a cigarette, they stop frolicking and watch you alertly, ready to fly off at first sign of danger. You lower the light slowly and don't look at them directly, not wishing to scare them. They keep watching you. As you exhale a stream of smoke they fly off in panic probably scared of the fire breathing monster. You watch them with regret.

Then a sparrow flies into the next balcony chasing a moth. The moth dives and ducks and twists and turns and the sparrow keeps missing it but finally the moth's luck runs out. The sparrow sits on the balustrade, its morning breakfast in between its beak. Your next puff sends it soaring in the sky.

You are on the seventh floor (the maximum allowed in Oman) and can clearly see the city skyline and soon notice the two flags of Oman fluttering in the brisk breeze. One is on top of the Central Bank of Oman and the other on a building about 70 meters away across on the other side of the road. You notice they are flying in different directions at 90 degrees to each other. Puzzled you try to figure out what's happening and it takes a while to realize that the wind is running in some sort of cyclic swirl. Soon you see that the flag on the opposite side has wrapped itself around the flag pole. You wonder if that happens often and if it requires some one to unfurl it somehow.

Inside the kitchen the air is still and you notice the smoke you are exhaling hangs in midair in distinct layers looking like evening clouds in the sky. You take a deep puff and blow it at the center of the clouds. The beam of smoke goes like a rocket burrowing a hole in the cloud and they starts swirling in all directions even as some parts form rotating rings while others swirl in different directions, the whole effect is as if you are watching stars and galaxies in outer space and you wonder if that's the kick Old Man in the Heaven is getting watching His creation. Transfixed you repeat the act again and again till your head spins with all the deep smoking so early in the morning. The forms and shapes of the smoke remind you of something you read somewhere, "Just as water can be solid, liquid or gaseous, consciousness can be seen to be 'frozen' oas physical matter, 'liquid' as mind and thought, or 'formless' as pure consciousness."

And then the Golden Orb jumps out from behind the Muscat hills and the within minutes the air starts heating up. By the time you finish your first cup of tea and the second cigarette, you are drenched in sweat and another hot day has begun.
Posted by World Citizen at 7:27 AM

Thursday, May 29, 2008
In High Seas

It's your first time on high seas and you are impressed by the mightiness of the ocean. The water in the Gulf of Oman is a deep shade of aqua marine and we are on a glass bottom boat (Oman's only such boat, informs our guide Rashad Al Wahabi) on a ride to see the dolphins. The boat, powered by twin Yamaha 225 engines that purr sweetly, moves fast cutting a foamy path in the water that slowly dissolves into blue stillness. You are fascinated by the vastness of the ocean and left gazing at its enormity. It has a meditative affect on the mind and listening to the drone of the engines and the rhythmic movement of the boat, one feels it's kind of erotic.

Leaning out of the side of the boat, you notice the splash being raised by the boat's nose, scything the water. The Sun is behind your back and you see a rainbow in the white splash of water. Mesmerized you keep staring at the rainbow and notice that that rainbow is always in the same place, though only visible when the splash forms the backdrop. The boat turns a bit, the angle of the Sun changes and voila! The rainbow is now visible in the ocean water away from the splash. You point it out to Jas, sitting next to you, and you both watch in amazement. It's the first time you are seeing the rainbow in the water and not in the sky. A sense of awe overwhelms you as you watch in amazement at Nature's beauteous handiwork.

Then you notice the hills in the distance, lining the Omani landscape. From far off they look like a herd of elephants crowding the shores. The movement of the boat creates the illusion that they are also moving.

You near the Muscat harbour which lies in the centre of a crescent with flatland in the centre but hills on the edge. You also see two magnificent looking forts on both ends of the crescent, relics of the past dominating the present. As the boat closes in Rashad points to a smaller fort-like structure at the edge of the hill and says that's where the registry is, that the staff there is responsible for taking down the name of every ship that enters or leaves the port, along with the date and time of its entry and exit. The fort on the right is now headquarters of the Royal Oman Navy. In the centre stands the massive gold topped palace of HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Rashad informs the Sultan doesn't live in this palace which is reserved for His Majesty's meetings with foreign guests visiting Oman.

As you head back out of the harbour and head for high seas where the dolphins are supposed to be, you notice the hills, sheared by water, their sides inscribed by cuts and niches that look like Arabic writings. Amazing!

Out in the seas, you see no dolphins although a couple of times Rashad says "Look there" but by the time you turn your head it is the same old peaceful sea, moving rhythmically. And all of a sudden you come across two giant sea turtles, one on top of the other and realize you have disturbed two lovers playing the most ancient of all sports. In a jiffy they vanish underwater. The image of their startled faces stays with you for some time.

Then you enter a lagoon and its time for snorkeling - your first such experience. You put on the gear and dive into the water. The sea floor is about ten feet below and you can clearly see the rocks and the numerous fishes amongst them but they are all grey unlike the ones you see on National Geographic in bright technicolour of the Tropics. And then you get salty sea water in your mouth and eyes and as you frantically try to pull the snorkel away you rub against the boat's sides and the blades of the propeller.

Coming up on the deck you find your legs badly scratched and bleeding from several places. Captain Yahya takes out a first aid box and soon alls well. After 45 minutes when every one is back on boat we move again back to the base. It's a 30 minute ride and we pass spectacular scenes, the Shangri La Beach resort and new buildings coming up on the sea shore. We also pass another construction site where a JCB is pouring big rocks into the sea, filling it to create land where a huge new hotel is to come up. The arm of the JCB looks eerily like a giant human hand busy playing God. You wonder whether you feel good or bad.So much like life's mysteries, one is left wondering whether to judge or leave judgement in suspended animation, till the Almighty gives us more knowledge and wisdom to judge properly.
Posted by World Citizen at 8:48 AM

Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Muscat Musings

My flight landed at Sultan Qaboos Airport around 10.30 pm and the 30 minute drive to the city was smooth and pleasant; the traffic swift and silent. The next morning at the office was uneventful as have been the days since. The pace of work seems decidedly languid although probably it is because the new colleagues are giving enough space to me to settle down slowly soaking in the atmosphere and the tempo of the place.

Oman is quite an amazing country, rather different from its neighbours. The Omani people seem rather mild mannered and gentle, tolerant and understanding. Was greatly impressed to see the hundreds of Neem trees lining the roads; actually made me wish if only the Indian government was as enlightened and not so biased towards planting eucalyptus everywhere. The landscaping on the road sides is particularly impressive.

The landscape is stark and striking, dotted by bone dry hillocks that are separated by narrow furrows cut by water ages ago. Some hills seem made of hardened mud, others of limestone, and yet others of slate and some of granite like hard rock. Having different colours, they together make up some very picturesque scenarios. My friend Atulya told that he recently met a German lady, a geologist who told him that the Omani landscape is absolutely unique in the world and also that once upon a time these hills were underwater.

Surprisingly (for me at least), one sees no dogs around though encounters with occasional cats are not uncommon, particularly around the garbage dumps. Amongst the birds, the only ones visible are all pigeons. Mosquitoes and insects also cannot be seen anywhere although I did see two flies in a restaurant.
Posted by World Citizen at 7:36 AM