Tuesday, August 08, 2006

the rich are the rich the world over

A good anecdote from the book which I am currently reading, Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim by Zia Sardar...

Zia is in Dubai in the mid 70s, witnessing the sudden, incredible re-birth of this strange metropolis. He is researching a book on Science and Technology in the Muslim World and is turned away from a government minister's house because he looks like a labourer, one of the city's countless poor.

He writes

The following day, I dressed more formally and left my hotel early in the morning. This time the gatekeeper allowed me in without hesitation. The minister received me in the garden by the swimming pool. It soon transpired he was not very interested in science and technology. His standard reply to every question I asked: ' Why bother about it when we can afford to buy it?'. He kept gazing around, turning his eyes here and there, everywhere except in my direction. I tired of my questions and turned my attention to the pool, which was unusually large. "Is it because you have a very large family?", I enquired.

"No, just an average family", replied the minister. "But I do like to swim a good length".

I nodded to show I understood.

"Do you know that I have three swimming pools?", the minister volunteered. "This one has cold water - it is kept just at the right temperature. Over there - you can see it if you stand up - is the pool I use in winter. It is heated to just the appropriate temperature".

I stood up to admire the second pool. I couldn't help making the point: "But in Dubai the temperature stays more or less the same all the year round".

"Well, it can get chilly in the morning", replied the minister. "You can see the third pool from here". He grabbed my hand and escorted me to a spot from where the third pool was clearly visible.

"But it's empty. It has no water", I observed.

"Sometimes," the minister, upset at my interventions, retorted sternly, "sometimes I just do not want to swim".
Marvellous! The book is a cracking read, incidentally, one of those books you can't help but read everywhere - walking down the street, climbing the stairs, in the bath. Great stuff.

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