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Home > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/ Syed Firdaus Ashraf recently in Brasilia

A brief visit to heaven

September 19, 2006


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If you are male and if you are one of those with a pair of glad eyes, Brazil is the place for you.

For, all around you are women in clothes that reveal more than they conceal.

You enter a Brazilian shopping mall and you feel you are surrounded by houris in heaven.

Even as I was mulling over the general state of affairs in Brazil, a fellow journalist pointed out something I had been blind to: While the women were casually dressed all around us, the men were dressed in suits and ties.

My curiosity aroused, I asked a Brazilian why this was so.

This was because, he pointed out, women had more options when it came to clothes than men, who are forced to wear formals.

But the journalist in me was not satisfied with the answer. In skimpy clothes, how do the women manage in air-conditioned rooms or when it suddenly becomes windy on the streets?

Another journalist friend who claims to be a specialist in such matters explained, "Women have adipose tissue (fat for those not trained in biology) which men don't, and therefore they don't feel cold."

Made me wonder if it was a case of sexual discrimination by the Maker...

***

Muslim, but no namaaz

Seeing the sun set, my guide Diego asked me, are you not going to pray?

I said no.

He immediately asked me: Isn't it true that Muslims are very religious and pray all the time?

I said no, it is not that way. Some are religious and some are not, like with any other religion's followers.

There are very few Muslims in Brazil and most of them hail from Lebanon. The average Brazilian is ignorant about Islam and the Muslim world.

Diego also wondered how women can cover themselves in scarves and wondered if it is difficult for them to do so. I have not met Muslims but I feel Islam is a very difficult religion to follow, he told me.

His friend Francisco Roncal felt Islam is an easy religion to follow since as far as he knew one can take four wives.

Diego was not satisfied. "It is difficult to have one woman, I think it would be hell to handle four of them. Isn't it?" he asked me.

Like all married men, I preferred to remain silent since I had to return home and face my formidable missus.

***

Football mania

Across Brasilia you will find many football grounds.

Children think they are born to play football and everybody dreams to become Ronaldinho.

In the night youngsters are out, playing football in stadiums lit up with halogen lamps.

Tania Monterio, a journalist, said her husband was fed up of football.

In his opinion, Brazilians were not being productive because of football. They stop working and are only interested in football. It was a national waste in his opinion. Tania asked if it was the same thing in India. I said with great pride, "No way! We are not at all crazy about football in my country."

Then I added softly, "But we do the same thing with cricket."

***

Portuguese samaj tha hain kya?

Those who plan to travel to Brazil must know a bit of Portuguese.

How bad is it otherwise? Quite bad, believe me. For instance, Brazilians don't know the word water. If you ask them for water they will bring you soda.

You ask for vegetarian food and that will be a bouncer.

In elevators the ground floor, G in our part of the world, is labelled T.

It is impossible to shop. You ask for coffee powder -- everyone and their aunt has told you about Brazilian coffee -- and no one will know what that means.

In spite of such language barriers, Brazilians are very helpful.

Every Brazilian will attempt to utter a word of English, but don't worry, you won't understand it anyway.

I spent 10 minutes asking a Brazilian where I could get coffee powder.

Sure, they will go the extra mile to guide you, but it is better you pick up some Portuguese words before landing in Brasilia.

***

Globalisation

We went shopping in Brasilia's malls and came back very disappointed.

They all sell international brands; there was nothing Brazilian.

We saw Nike, Adidas, Benetton, name any international brand and it was there.

Plus, the prices were astronomical. I could get the same stuff much cheaper in the malls in suburban Mumbai, which I visit every other fortnight.

In disgust I told Diego that there was no point in buying anything because it was cheaper to shop in India.

Roncal intervened to say, "This is what globalisation is all about. Same clothes, same shoes, only the models differ."

He paused to add, "I am sure Indian models must cover their bodies more than Brazilian models."

"No," I told him. "Globalisation has come to India too."

***

Beware of yellow fever

It is mandatory for you to take a yellow fever injection before landing in Brazil.

The regulations state that you have to get the injection 10 days before you embark. Please note, 10 days prior to travel is important or you may not get entry, you are warned.

So I plodded to the Mumbai airport one afternoon to get my injection. But surprise, surprise, when we reached Brazil no one asked for the yellow fever injection certificate.

I asked an Indian official about this, and his colleague intervened, "They know we are Indians. We are immune to all these things as there are so many diseases in India."

The other official replied, "No, the certificate will be asked when you return to India."

Moral of the story: keep the certificate safe. Or else you could end up like actor Dino Morea who was quarantined on returning from Surinam, which is on the same continent as Brazil because he didn't have his yellow fever certificate.

Syed Firdaus Ashraf traveled to Brazil as part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's media delegation. Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh


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