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Being bossed while being boss

Boby-JohnThey may be working in Kuwait, faithfully following their company job descriptions. But on the other side of the sea, they are bosses. They are the workers turned entrepreneurs who live dual lives of employees and employers. They travel across the Arabian Sea for the smooth flow of their businesses on either shore, sleeping in the air fighting jetlag. Dinars, dirhams and dollars, just as euros and yen, are the forces behind many businesses, from hotels to barbershops to recruiting agencies.

Business flourishing, they finally settle down in their home countries. Some, however, come to Kuwait to capitalize again. Boby John, formerly a sound engineer with Al-Nasar Recording Studio, Hawally, opened his own studio in Andheri, Mumbai. While he was in Kuwait he worked all night and dreamt all day of setting up a studio back home. “Mumbai was the best place I thought,” said Boby, “as it is the film factory of the world.” He employs two people at Prathibha, the studio named after his daughter who was born in Kuwait and who he thinks brings luck to him. Specialized in sync sound technology, Boby’s studio removes the unwanted noise in the soundtrack of a film that used live sound recording instead of dubbing.

At present he is editing the sound of Daughters of Mother India, a documentary by Vibha Bakshi on the Delhi girl who was raped on a bus over a year ago. “Mumbai is tough, unlike Kuwait”, Boby said. “Here there are a lot of middlemen who outsource the movie post-productions. So it’s a play on chance”. Boby’s wife Shailaja, formerly a nurse at the Armed Forces Hospital, Kuwait now is a full time ‘housewife’ who takes care of their 2 school going kids in morning and afternoon shifts. “Life seemed easier in Kuwait,” Shailaja said, “as it moved according to a schedule”.

Dual lives
Preman Illath, a Mangaf-based businessman travels to Mumbai almost every month. As a supplier of household items to many supermarkets in Kuwait, his body is used to meetings in Mumbai - then off to the airport - and another meeting in Kuwait. “I don’t have any nostalgic feelings,” laughs Preman. “But if I stay longer in Mumbai, I start missing Kuwait”. A striking similarity, Preman said, between both places is the expat communities.

The associations here and there conduct stage programs, help the needy and celebrate the cultural festivals. Preman, also a writer and social activist is part of Janasakthi (people power) Mumbai that organizes Malayalam classes for expat children. Harsh Gupta, a Salmiya based computer programmer at a private company in Kuwait City does not miss Mumbai, where she and her husband owned a medical transcription center. “Prices are sky-rocketing in Mumbai”, she said. “Education is a big business there.

A capitation fee at the time of admission is in lakhs (hundreds of thousands). At one school I know they teach Sanskrit in English. Life in Kuwait is more organized. In Mumbai they are planning charging you for your car parking. One day municipal officials come and tell you the flat you’ve been living for years is illegal. Worse, the mal-structured skyscrapers are falling, killing people.” The medical transcription center is closed now, the couple said, after legal and business battles. “But now we are back in Kuwait, our second home”.

By Sunil Cherian

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This article was published on 09/01/2014