‘Ma arif‘… It is arabic for ‘I don’t know‘… It is a phrase I’m capable of expressing in seven different languages… possibly the handiest phrase of them all. It is a multipurpose, multi-utility, trans-cultural universal time-saver, usable and reusable across different categories of questions. Personally, I use this phrase most frequently to combat with direction related queries.
Without being unduly harsh on myself, I can quite plainly say – I pretty much suck at directions. In the summer of 1999, I had given a group of highly stressed batchmates from my Engineering college directions within Cochin – a city I grew up in – to reach my house. This was before the time of Google maps and GPS devices, so I had to draw them a map on a blank paper, along with written instructions on the other side. They have not been heard from again. At this point, I don’t think I WANT to hear from them again, because logic dictates that anything they have to tell me would be – to put it midly – extremely caustic. As far as I know, they’re still wandering about the fair city, armed with sticks and stones that may break my bones. It’s one of the reasons I have now moved to Sharjah, UAE. If they want to find me here, I’ll be more than glad to give them detailed directions.
Another thing that I’m pretty bad at… is guiding people to the popular tourist destinations. Back when I was in Cochin, friends used to visit me (having obtained the directions the right way – through my dad), and invariably, they’d ask me which are the places to visit within the city. It was the same case when I moved to Bangalore. Visitors asking for the popular tourist spots in Bangalore were invariably treated to a puzzling and bewildered look on my face, eventually ending up in some mall nearby. And now, I am have moved on from Bangalore too.
I am now on foreign soil. The good thing about being on foreign soil, is that in nine out of ten cases or more, it implies an entirely different country. And for every country, it should be easy to point out ONE tourist destination… If someone had asked me for a general tourist destination in India, I would have been quick to point out the Taj Mahal; widely accepted as a tourist magnet. For the UAE, when someone asks me where to go, I simply point towards the Burj Khalifa.
For those who don’t know, The Burj Khalifa, at 828 m, is the tallest building constructed by man. From all accounts, it seems to have been built with the single objective of breaking world records. When old friends and colleagues talk to me about my life in the UAE, with very few exceptions, they ask about the Burj Khalifa.
It is a majestic sight to behold. If you stand at the base of the building and try to see the top, you’ll be risking serious injury to your neck. It is so tall that the climate at the top may not be the same as that on the bottom. If you drop a penny from that height, well… it’s never been attempted, but it’s a safe bet you’ll never see your penny again. Looking at the building, you cannot help but wonder at the grim determination and resolute spirit that went behind completing the structure right into the global financial crisis of 2007-2010.
The building reminds me of the Tower of Babel. It is a tale plucked out from the leaves of the Old Testament. For those who don’t know, the tower of Babel was an enormous tower built by humanity as a whole. The group of enthusiastic builders had gathered to create a tower so tall that the top of the building would be in the heavens… The story takes place after God had cleansed the slate clean by drowning most of the world in the great flood. Just when He thought mankind had learnt its lesson (Thou shalt not live thy life willy nilly), he comes face-to-face with this steadfast group of architectural mavericks. The tower would have been the end of privacy as he knew it. Imagine being the supreme, all powerful, omnipotent being, with all the universe to manage on a daily basis. Your work is piling up and you have to tackle humanity once in a while, but the one consolation that you have is that however badly your day may suck, at least you don’t have to face any random schmuck who can drop in at your place at any time.
But all that would change if the maverick architects had their way. Understandably, God spent several seconds stroking his white beard, contemplating the best way to tackle the new menace. But He is nothing if not filled with shrewd schemes. He decided that the people were able to create such structures only because they were able to communicate with each other… So his plan was simple and to the point… He created different languages so that they wouldn’t be able to talk to each other. And lo and behold, construction stopped, and the tower was left unfinished. God had won again. I imagine he spent the rest of his day laughing maniacally.
Confounding the human language was a pretty nifty scheme, but it was only a temporary fix. Today, we have dictionaries and translators and Google. All of which, I am sure, helped in what finally turned out to be – The Burj Khalifa. The actual height of the tower of Babel is never mentioned. But the tallest structures around that time was around 100 meters tall… and the limit was primarily because of technological limitations, so the tower built by humans, however much they talked in the same language, could not have been that much higher than 100 meters – say 200 meters. In this light, it is easy to imagine the whole construction of the Burj Khalifa as an in-your-face act of defiance. So if God was miffed at humanity for the tower of Babel, then I can only assume that he somehow overlooked the Burj Khalifa, what with all the other problems he was dealing with at the time. Then again, maybe God DID intervene… maybe the building we see today is only half the work originally planned.
But we’ll let the historians and theologists fight that one out. For me, the building is a boon because it is now a no-brainer to direct all first time visitors to the Burj Khalifa. It is one thing I know that they haven’t seen before. “What is there to see in the UAE? Why, the Burj Khalifa, of course” – And if they want directions on how to reach there, I am always glad to draw them a map on paper, along with written instructions on the other side.