July 2, 2012

The Wall Project: Muttrah Scribblings...

Muttrah, 2008

It is usually and often in the most quotidian, mundane, that I encounter an invigorating sense of wonder and story. On first glimpse, true, there is nothing arguably very arresting about this image: a sign-board, glass-window displaying freshly tailored garments, and a chunk of a sloppily painted white wall featuring exposed pipes, wires, and mobile numbers and other sundry numbers written upon its surface. 

I remember taking the picture of this wall four years ago; I am now trying to recollect as to why I took it. I was supposed to do a story about the Muttrah souk for an UAE newspaper; however, I was utterly exhausted of the conventional, trite pieces exoticising the souk and instead, chose to train my attention upon the alternate world which existed behind the souk. I wanted to talk to the people living there, who had made it their home for so many decades and what made them call Muttrah their home. I walked into this tailoring shop and listened to the stories of the Bangladeshi tailors, who had been here for almost two decades; there was a sixteen-inch TV positioned in one of the cornices of the room, which constantly played songs from 90s Bollywood and a noisy air-conditioner, which breathed out gusts of cold, oddly perfumed air, that accompanied our conversation. I emerged from the shop and out into the intensely hot June evening. The air smelt of a soup of odors uniquely peculiar to Gulf cities: shwarma, petrol fumes, dust, spices, and newly rotting fruit from the nearby green-grocer and the heat was like someone breathing down your neck. I momentarily stood there outside the shop, unsure of what to do or where to go next and my gaze must have then fallen upon the mobile numbers - and it must have birthed a dozen absently curious questions: whose numbers were they? why had their owners chosen to inscribe it upon the walls? who was meant to call whom?

Perhaps, if it weren't for the numbers upon the wall, I would never have taken this picture; for me, it's the presence of the numbers which invests this picture with a lively identity, always compelling those very same questions that popped into my mind the moment I glimpsed this wall. 

Yet, there is one more thing: that particular story about Muttrah souk never did get published. The stories of the Bangladeshi tailors and others whom I spoke to that evening are somewhere in one of my many notebooks, their words visibly present on the pages but destined to be unheard. All that remains from that evening walking through Muttrah souk is this picture - and whenever I look at it, I find myself stopping outside the glassed-in tailoring shop and hearing the stories once again.


  1. I love the stories behind places, so it's a shame the story was not published.

    1. Lovely to see you here, Sue...yes, I too was disappointed that I could not see the story through to publication. However, perhaps, I could always re-visit and re-work the story into a post for the blog...hmm, you've got me thinking:)


Thank you so much for taking the time out to leave a comment. I look forward to hearing from you!