By Mahmood Saberi, Senior Reporter www.gulfnews.com
Riding the Metro to downtown Dubai the other day, I wondered what happens when Iftar is announced.
Do the trains suddenly screech to a halt as Muslims run out of the carriages to the stations and stand around devouring dates and soggy samosas, while tourists wonder whether this is a usual ritual of the Dubaian when the sun slowly sets over the horizon. (Harry, what’s happening dear? There is nothing in the tourist guide book about this. Should we also get down and eat? They might get offended if we don’t eat with them).
What happens if there is a malfunction and the driverless train whizzes past the station without stopping?
Do you surreptitiously take out a sugary date from your pocket and pop it into your mouth making sure the Roads and Transport Authority staff don’t catch you eating on the train, and get rid of the seed by dropping it in the grocery bag of the passenger in front of you?
The Metro authorities kindly allow passengers to end their fast in the pristine clean stations while they are travelling. During other months, eating and drinking is forbidden on the trains and in the stations. The idea being to keep the carriages clean.
A large section of the passengers on the Metro are from the subcontinent. Times have changed since the time I rode on a regular train in India a couple of years ago.
I was travelling from South India to Mumbai (this was much before budget airlines and cheap air travel) and my relatives had warned me not to eat any food sold at the stations; “You phirangee NRIs have delicate tummies,” I was told. (A phirangee is a foreigner, namely a Briton, and NRI is a non-resident Indian, usually working in the Gulf).
Indians come fully prepared when travelling by train (they also come fully prepared when they travel by budget airlines where you have to purchase your own snacks).
Besides carrying all their worldly belongings, they also carry something called a ‘tiffin’, which is like a leggo version of a lunch box. It is a neat contraption which holds rice, lentils, vegetables, pickles and yoghurt, in small containers that fit neatly on top of each other.
As soon as the train left the station after a lot of hugging, crying and garlanding of the passengers, everyone reached under their seats and took out their tiffins. Soon, the carriage filled up with smell of curry and the scene was like it was break time at one of the schools with a humungous student population.
Back to Dubai and a few weeks before Ramadan, I was waiting at a bus station in front of our office when a colleague came by. As we chatted he warned me not to chew gum on the Metro. “There is a huge fine,” he said. “I luckily escaped paying the last time.”
“Thanks, I will remember that,” I told him, but when I got to the Metro station I couldn’t find a trash bin to get rid of the gum. I didn’t have a piece of paper to wrap it up and put it in my pocket. I couldn’t remember what the fine for chewing gum was but the figure of Dh500 flashed in my mind.
“I’ll just keep it under my tongue,” I told myself, but you know how chewing gum works. I started masticating, my jaw going up and down, like a nervous teenager waiting for his first date, when I saw a security guard, wearing an olive-green uniform sauntering towards me.
Till today I can’t remember what happened; in my panic I think I may have swallowed the wad of gum because the guard slowly walked away.