Jobs @ MG
Bliss & blisters
By A G Khan
|It was bliss and euphoria the moment we
alighted for Haj at the Jeddah airport on 8th February. Our entire stay of
forty-two days was a spell of ecstasy. The first glimpse of the Kaaba
filled us with unfathomable joy – we completed Umrah in a state of
trance! Our gratitude for this immense Mercy in granting us this
opportunity was expressed through tears. Never did I know that there was
such an abundant supply of tears.
In our bliss and euphoria we ignored minor incidents or inconvenience
caused by the Mu'allim (Maktab 8) or our fellow pilgrims. Domestic
transport was horribly poor and inadequate. Our first trip to Mena from
Mecca was a tale of suffering – the AC was out of order and the windows
were firmly closed. To add to our misery neither the driver nor the
Mu'allim’s guide knew the destination (exact location of camp). On 9th
Dhu'l-hijja the buses were so over crowded that we decided to hire a taxi.
We did not waste our time in trying to locate the camps/tents meant for us
and preferred to reach Muzdalifa by covering the distance on foot.
Residential accommodations provided were surprisingly fine and
comfortable. We have nothing to complain about them. We found the staff of
the Hajj Committee both at Mumbai as well as at Mecca extremely
co-operative and hardworking. They were always eager to assist. The
medical assistance we received at Misfala was quite satisfactory. The
entire staff worked with a sense of dedication.
We must record our gratitude towards the super human efforts that the
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia makes in providing all possible comfort and
assistance to the pilgrims. Huge amount of money is spent in providing
facilities at the Haramain keeping them clean and air-cooled. Continuous
supply of water, fresh air, commodities and concern for the welfare of the
pilgrims is evident in untiring efforts that the entire staff make deserve
praise. One wonders if our bureaucracy could work with just ten- percent
efficiency and dedication with which the public servants and officials
work in Saudi Arabia.
However, our journey from Mecca to Medina was a tale of suffering.
Normally it takes 7-8 hours to cover a distance of 450 kilometres: We took
16 hours. We had to change bus thrice as each bus dutifully developed some
kind of mechanical fault. On all such occasions the police party would
come with a relief bus and porters to transfer luggage from one bus to
another. We had a narrow escape when the front wheel of the third bus flew
away and the bus rolled for almost a kilometre on a single front wheel.
All the passengers fell in sajda-e-shukr as soon as the bus came to a
halt. One wonders whether such poorly maintained buses are specially
chosen for the pilgrims of the third world because there was no dearth of
luxurious buses in which pilgrims from Arab and Western countries were
travelling. Yet, we are willing to forget and forgive whoever made such
However, we find it difficult to forget and forgive what we underwent at
the Medina airport on 22nd March. First, an unexpected rescheduling of
flight. SV 5624 was to take off at 11 A.M. but, all of a sudden, we were
asked to leave at midnight and reach the airport at 4 A.M. We were asked
to dump our Zamzam containers because we were carrying 20 lit containers
and neither the cargo nor the cabin was big enough to carry them. We had
ten litres of Zamzam per passenger as per the instructions we received
from time to time. There was no instruction with regard to the size or
shape of the container. At 4 A.M. in the morning at Medina airport with no
shopping complex around we could not find smaller containers and thus we
were compelled to proceed without Zamzam. One cannot think of a greater
cruelty on a Hajj pilgrim than to deprive him of the most precious gift.
With tears in our eyes we dumped our ten lit of Zamzam lamenting our loss.
Had it been a domestic organization we would have approached the National
Consumer Redressal Forum for such breach of a business contract. It was
not only a religious obligation but also a business commitment on the part
of the Airlines to honour. We do not know who was responsible for
communication gap. This blister on our soul we are not willing to forget
The baggage counter unnerved us. Every pilgrim was allowed a baggage of 45
kgs plus 10 lit of Zamzam and additional 10 kgs as handbag in the cabin.
Our total baggage (for two passengers) was 95 kgs and this included our
handbags too. But the officer was adamant. Reduce your luggage by 5 kgs. I
pleaded that we were entitled to carry 90+20 = 110 kgs and therefore total
baggage was within the prescribed limit. I also argued that as per
instructions pasted at Mecca and Medina hotels every additional kilogram
could be charged at 135 Riyals and I was willing to pay 65 S.R. for this
‘excess’ baggage. I was made to unpack and repack the luggage thrice.
It took me one hour and intervention of three officers to convince that my
luggage was within the limits prescribed. Another pilgrim complained that
he wanted to carry handbag in the cabin as it carried two copies of Qur'an
but he was not allowed and when he insisted his passport was snatched.
Quite a few of us were made to feel as criminals rather than pilgrims.
There were no such problems at Jeddah airport. We wish to record our
appreciation of the swiftness and efficiency shown at Jeddah as well as at
Mumbai airport. The Hajj Terminal at Mumbai cleared us within fifteen
minutes without subjecting us to any kind of harshness. It was so warm in
Mumbai airport. ‘Welcome Home’ was the slogan on the lips of every
officer at Mumbai.
Dr AG Khan teaches English in Ujjain University