Sunday, August 30, 2009
Glitter of the souk
It was my first girl’s day out in Muscat although it has been two months since I came here. Of course, there have been the mandatory trips to hypermarkets and malls to purchase the essentials. But a girl’s day out — that’s different, and more fun, as anyone who has had the experience knows.
So there we were, four of us from the office, trooping into the office car on a bright Monday morning. “Muttrah souk,” the driver was told. Mohan, our office driver, looked askance. “All of you have official work there?” he asked, disapprovingly. “Oh c’mon, Mohan, just an hour or two,” we cajoled.
Although a driver, he’s senior to all of us, both in terms of age and the number of years he has worked here. Well, it’s not fully unofficial, too. A colleague does have a lifestyle story on Omani gold jewellery slated for the next issue. While in Muttrah souk, the famous traditional market in Muscat, she could get inputs for her story. And the rest of us, of course, can shop and help her — in that order.
Since all of us were comparatively new to Muscat, we coaxed Zeinab, our Omani colleague, to come along. Burqa-clad, she’s the typical Omani girl, vivacious, boisterous and bold behind that burqa. She was our passport to an incident-free outing. We wondered whether we were properly attired for a souk visit, except Zeinab, all of us were in trousers, but we concluded that everything should be fine with burqa-clad Zeinab.
As we reached the souk, there was a sense of deja vu. This could be a smaller version of Chandni Chowk or, for that matter, a market in any of our old city areas in India. The only difference was that the Muttrah souk was an enclosed one, with a skylight canopy covering the lanes and by-lanes flanked by tiny shops. We got busy with shopping — frankincense (the Dhofar region in Oman produces the best in the world), bokhur (an exotic scent), attar and the intricate attar bottles which come in a myriad of colours and shapes, found their way into our shopping baskets. Some bargaining and we were getting stuff really cheap.
We were in a gold shop checking out rings when we heard Zeinab say something angrily in Arabic. We looked up from our shopping to find a rather red-faced man in a dishdasha trying hard to look inconspicuous. Soon he left in a hurry. That’s when Zeinab decided to enlighten us. The man had been following her for sometime whispering his mobile number and seeking hers. She tried to ignore him, but when he followed her into the gold shop pushing a chit with his number, she just lost it.
I was stunned, to say the least. Brought up on a diet of culture vultures telling us women that we invite trouble by the way we dress, this was just a bit too much. I would have thought a burqa would ward off any undesirable attention. But then, as they say, bikini or burqa, it’s all in the mind.