Memoir: Snapshots of Ramu
by George O'Brien
In Doha, capital of Qatar, on the shores of the Arabian Gulf, as in orientation everyone was cautioned to call it, one of the perks of the job was an allowance covering car rental. Within days of my arrival I had a new Nissan Altima under me. For seven quid or so, a pump-hand in petrol-blue overalls would fill it up, self-service being considered infra dig, or possibly a security risk, in that servant-saturated, security-conscious country. I was repeatedly reassured by Arjun, right hand man of Majdi, king of the car-renters, that I could call him day or night should I have any problem — ‘My pleasure, sir,’ he said. I had everything a motorist’s heart could desire. Except a driver. But why did I need a driver? I don’t mean a chauffeur. The roads of my new domicile might be choked with sheikhs, but I wasn’t anyone important and didn’t aim to be. Somebody who now and then would drive my wife and myself here and there in his car was what I wanted. And even that had an air of acting the sahib, far from which I’d been born. Yet, a driver I had to have. Because I was afraid.
What had me in a funk was not just being in a strange place. It was a more practical matter of the amount of strangeness that was on the roads, one of the few areas of social activity where I had assumed everybody would be pretty much on the same page, or at least as much as they ever were. But the police, swarthy and semi-shaven, looked extra scary even doing nothing and, according to expatriate urban myth, had noses so keen to sniff out alcohol that, if stopped, you could be carted off to clink for wearing strong aftershave. But even if someone was daft enough to drink and drive – yes, drink was officially available, though to buy it was a day’s work, and then some – local driving habits instantaneously cleared the head, not to mention put the heart crossways.
© George O'Brien
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