History lessons at a late stage of life

In 1987, I got a job in Dubai, to work for a newspaper named Khaleej (Gulf) Times. I was chosen because the interviewer was a jolly Briton who came down to Bombay to do the interview on 12 June.

Malcolm Payne, the first editor of the newspaper that had been started in 1978 by Iranian brothers named Galadari, told me that he had always wanted to come and pick some people to work at the paper. By then he had been pushed out of the editorship by the politics of both Pakistani and Indian journalists who worked there.

For some strange reason, he took a liking to me. At the end of about 45 minutes of what was a much more robust conversation than I had ever experienced in earlier job interviews, which were normally tense affairs, Payne told me, “You’re a good bugger, Samuel. I’ll see you in Dubai.”

I took it with a pinch of salt. Anyway, I reckoned that I would know in a matter of months whether he pulling my leg or not in few months. I was more focused on my upcoming wedding which was to be scheduled shortly.

But, Payne turned out to be a man of his word. In September, I got a telegram from Dubai asking me to send copies of my passport in order that a visa could be obtained for me to work in Dubai. I had mixed emotions: on the one hand, I was happy that a chance to get out of the grinding poverty I lived in had presented itself. At the same time, I was worried about leaving my sickly mother in India; by then, she had been a widow for a few months and I was her only son.

When my mother-in-law to be heard about the job opportunity, she insisted that the wedding should be held before I left for Dubai. Probably she thought that once I went to the Persian Gulf, I would begin to look for another woman.

The wedding was duly fixed for 19 October and I was to leave for Dubai on 3 November.

After I landed in Dubai, I learnt about the tension that exists between most Indian and Pakistanis as a result of the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. Pakistanis are bitter because they feel that they were forced to leave for a country that had turned out to be a basket case, subsisting only because of aid from the US, and Indians felt that the Pakistanis had been the ones to force Britain, then the colonial ruler, to split the country.

Never did this enmity come to the fore more than when India and Pakistan sent their cricket teams to the UAE — Dubai is part of this country — to play in a tournament organised there by some businessman from Sharjah.

Of course, the whole raison d’etre for the tournament was the Indo-Pakistan enmity; pitting teams that had a history of this sort against each other was like staging a proxy war. What’s more, there were both expatriate Indians and Pakistanis in large numbers waiting eagerly to buy tickets and pour into what was literally a coliseum.
The other teams who were invited — sometimes there was a three-way contest, at others a four-way fight — were just there to make up the numbers.

And the organisers always prayed for an India-Pakistan final.

A year before I arrived in Dubai, a Pakistani batsman known as Javed Miandad had taken his team to victory by hitting a six off the last ball; the contests were limited to 50 overs a side. He was showered with gifts by rich Pakistanis and one even gifted him some land. Such was the euphoria a victory in the former desert generated.

Having been born and raised in Sri Lanka, I knew nothing of the history of India. My parents did not clue me in either. I learnt all about the grisly history of the subcontinent after I landed in Dubai.

That enmity resulted in several other incidents worth telling, which I shall relate soon.

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