Outlook Money: Singapore & Beyond

 

 

Singapore and Beyond

The perfect post-summer retreat for the travelling soullarge_Ub1lQ2017_10_12_10_19_35

By Arefa Tehsin

Snaps by: Adityavikram More 

Oh yes, most things are high about Singapore. Its glittering high rises, hi-tech amusement parks, high-end shopping streets, the 541-feet high Singapore Flyer, the dizzyingly high Marina Bay Hotel’s swimming pool and the highest indoor waterfall in the world at Gardens by the Bay. Highly artificial though it might be, Singapore still has character, unlike the green desert of Dubai. Night Safari, River Safari, Clark Quay, Little India and not so little malls, the round-the-clock open Mustafa choking on electronics and the Sentosa Island with its nightly star attraction—a surreal light, sound and water show on the sea. There is something to do for every age group, the island country attracts tourists in drones.

Having been there and having done all that a couple of times, the Lion City does not dazzle me anymore. But this time the highlight of the trip was a cruise from Singapore to Penang Island and back. Before that, however, Universal Studios beckoned. If you have a family group 29-people-strong and you do all the rides together, Universal can be universally fun. From being a part of the Transformers’ mission to save the world to being inside a boathouse in a stormy New York City to being tossed like a tropical salad in a roller coaster, the theme park has the makings to give you either a hell of a good time or a panic attack.

Colourful Cycle Rickshaws in Georgetown

After the usual sightseeing (posing before the Universal Globe, the Merlion, the Marina Bay Hotel etc. posted by 50 other Facebook friends), we boarded the giant Ovation of the Seas, a cruise liner of the Royal Caribbean that falls in the Quantum Class—the second largest class of passenger ships. So what do you feel like today? Wind surfing? Pixels show with robotic screens? Rock climbing? A country pub? Live music? Gambling in a casino? Robots making you a cocktail? Japanese food? Mediterranean? A Las Vegas style show? Bumper cars? Jacuzzi? Football? Viewing the ship 300ft up in a capsule? Basketball? A massage in the spa? Nah… none of these. What if you just feel like flying in air? No big deal, you can do that too. And though you’re made to dress up for dinner daily, don’t expect a Titanic style grand ball.

However, one needs to book some activities months in advance. Else, you can miss out on much, especially if its a short 4-night cruise. The customer complaints redressal person would flash a dazzling smile and tell you they can’t do anything about you not being able to do any of the activities for which you took the cruise in the first place. So you have to pretty much be content with shopping, swimming and getting dressed in your fineries for dinner.

The best part of the cruise for me was when I stepped out of it. The ship docked in George Town, the capital of the exotic Penang Island and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You need more than a day to explore this heady cocktail of a city, an eclectic mix of the time-worn old world charm and the outlandish new. Imagine a city punctuated with crumbling yet colourful Chinese shop houses, pedalling trishaws, mouth watering hawker stalls, unexpected museums (like the Upside Down one), Buddhist temples and Chinese mansions. Above all, George Town epitomises street art. The 3D artworks decorate the streets with their quirky humour and offbeat imagination. You can push the cycle with the two happy kids on it or crouch behind a boy crouching on an old motorbike. Or you can just stand and admire the art, without making a motley fool of yourself.

Dragon Art at Gardens by The Bay

Not to be missed in George Town is the Blue Mansion. Built by the iconic Cheong Fatt Tze at the end of the 19th century, the mansion rose from its ashes in the 1990s when a couple of Penang conservationists purchased it from Tze’s descendants. Now a heritage hotel, the lavish mansion stands proud on its indigo blue walls flaunting its granite floored courtyards, louvred windows, art nouveau stained glass and Feng Shui design. You can take a guided tour of the place. We were lucky to get the tour from the owner of the Blue Mansion herself. We saw the grandeur, got insights into the Chinese architecture and history and even saw some possessions of the family, including those of the most favourite seventh wife, while some men in the group sighed about the good old days.

And then we were back to the Kingdom of Singhapura, with its skyscrapers and friendly taxi drivers. Oh yes, you need to visit Hong Kong to see that most of the cabbies and others don’t want to flex their face muscles to smile. The last stop was pure delight for me – the Singapore Zoo! The real, after the artificial. Twenty-six hectares of a lush forest where white tigers roar, lemurs check you out, iguanas give you a withering look and orangutangs have their breakfast nonchalantly as you sit goggling at them.

Street Art in Georgetown

On the way back to the airport our tour guide gushed about Singapore being so “green.” Yes it is, green. But where were the other colours…of birds? It is uncanny that in a city with so many trees, there are hardly any birds. The guide said, “Oh, they are resting on the treetops.” What she didn’t tell was the Singapore government’s policy to shoot pest birds, who dirty their city, in thousands – common mynas, crows, feral pigeons, white-vented myna, purple backed starlings and Philippine glossy starling. The official culling program started in 1973 and today the Singapore’s National Environment Agency employs a security agency as well as volunteers from Singapore Gun Club to shoot the birds. To quote an article in New York Times (Nov 8, 2006), “Crows are everything that Singapore is not — raucous, indisciplined…and disorderly — and they are not welcome here.” That sounds more like tourists from our part of the world. If only the birds could sing their way into the island with Singapore Dollars too.

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The Indian Express: Love Will Keep Us Alive

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Love Will Keep Us Alive

Written by Arefa Tehsin | New Delhi |
Now, more than ever, we need love jihad. For, isn’t that how societies and the world change, one heart at a time?

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Where even inter-caste marriage becomes an issue, how open are we about inter-religious marriages? (Source: Thinkstock images)

 

Disclaimer: This is a true story of love jihad, based on real characters in real circumstances. The names of the characters haven’t been changed (it’s a different thing that I haven’t named any of them).

Oh yeah, it is a filmi romance — a girl from the sleepy, lake town of Udaipur; a boy, two years her senior in college, from badass Bombay (uh-huh, Mum…baai). A college picnic in the remote, forested tribal lands of Jadhol. A few students from the picnic group go on a trek. The girl and the boy get lost in the jungle. Alone. Period. Need we say any more?

The girl is from a Bohra joint family, which has a history of love marriages from the early 1960s. Hindu-Muslim, Shia-Sunni, you name it. The reason: the grandparents — the matriarch and patriarch of the family — were both much ahead of their times. But the girl’s mother is a conservative Bohra, wanting to marry her daughter into a pious, godfearing family. What? A son-in-law without a beard? The clean-shaven, agnostic husband has been more than enough on her nerves all these years, thank you very much.

The boy, a rebel from a joint business family, an Agarwal — pure descendants of Agrasena himself, that too. Love marriage? Love happens after marriage, anyway. Inter-caste marriage? Unheard of. Inter-religious marriage? Heart-stopping. “Chhoro naak katavega!”

The boy and girl break the news to respective next of kin, or rather the news breaks itself. Ishq aur khansi chhupaane se nahi chhipti (love and cough can’t be kept secret), the girl’s mom’s prophetic words come true.

Both the sides are appalled, but they still have faith in providence. Surely, this is jawaani ka josh, which will soon die down. When it doesn’t, hell starts to break loose. A small word of caution travels from the boy’s family to the girl’s, through a common acquaintance. The boy hears about it and travels from Mumbai to Udaipur to apologise and have a word with the girl’s dad, a well-known and mild-mannered naturalist. They meet on the banks of the famous Fatehsagar Lake; both the wanting-to-be groom and the not-wanting-to-be father-in-law arriving on their scooters.

Boy: I really love your daughter.
Father: Boy, what’s the sense of it all? Your family is opposed to it, my wife is opposed to it. How will you make it work?
Boy: We will. You see…
Father: Hang on a second! Do you see that turtle there? Do you know about the hardness of its shell? (Father goes on to explain the scientific reason). But, my boy, what will happen when you have children? When they go to your place, they’ll teach them namaste, when they come to our place, we’ll teach them salaam.
Boy: Oh, it’ll all work out since we love each other.
Father: Wait a minute! Do you see that bird on the tree trunk? Do you know why it makes its nest there at that particular angle? (Another explanation follows). You know what, why don’t you both just run away and get married? I can’t convince her mother. You have my blessings.

The father is not spared the trouble as the couple doesn’t elope. However, the girl and boy realise that trying to wait for the families to agree one fine day is like waiting for a flight on a bus stand. The girl, with the secret help of her hassled father, calls her mama from Mumbai to convince his fiery sister. The boy, pursuing his MBA, conveys to his father that it’s either this marriage or lifelong celibacy. The father grudgingly agrees. And so does the girl’s mommy after a night-long convincing about fate and faith by her elder brother.

The boy, with the girl’s father, approaches the district court in Udaipur to file for their court marriage. The lawyer looks at them as if they have let loose venomous snakes on him. “Boss, why do you want to incite communal riots in our peaceful city?” It takes him a day to locate and pull out the dusty form for an inter-religious court marriage.

The boy, seeing the supreme reluctance of the lawyer, approaches the Mumbai courts. Without even looking up, the babu at the registrar, says, “Which date do you want? The 14th of February is completely booked.”

The small-town girl and the guy from the metro get married in the Mumbai court, and squeeze their way out after signing the paper, as the registrar calls, “Next!” When they emerge from the crowded court, they see the two Mummyjis hugging each other and crying, and not out of joy.

People forget that there is always a reception before the “happily ever after.” In the evening, with just the two families and a handful of friends, the wedding reception is held at a resort. While the couple flashes 200 watt smiles, the rest look like fused bulbs.

Yes, it has been a filmi journey for us, minus the slow motion shots and background music. After more than a decade of being married, the families have accepted us wholeheartedly, opening their hearts and their minds. They have changed for us, and that speaks volumes. But isn’t that how societies and the world change, one heart at a time? And what our society needs more than ever today is love jihad. Let’s tickle the tender sentiments of the anti-Romeo (and anti-Juliet?) brigade and mix it all together so that they are completely confused about who to place before the firing squad. For, I believe, we do not have to save love. Love will save us.

Arefa Tehsin is an author and environmentalist.