The painting assignment

Jamal saw the ad in the local paper – it asked for experienced painters who had some exposure to the print industry, location - in Alkhobar Saudi Arabia. Little did Jamal know of the rigours and tasks that awaited him in the desert sands. He wondered if he was the right guy, but he wanted a job. The ad asked him to appear in person for an interview at an address in Mumbai. He was a painter all right, but not one who had any idea about the print media and all that, he was a house painter in Malappuram. He did know about emulsions and grades for brushes & rollers, he knew how to painstakingly do a house over in the hot Kerala sun, but like I said before, he wanted the job. So off went our enterprising Mallu friend for the interview. Our man got the job finally, but that is another story and not entirely pleasant reading. The guy at the interview told him nothing about the job (he was told not to ask too many questions by the brusque interviewers), Jamal assumed that he would have to paint some structures though something made him feel that it won’t be houses. He was asked if he was a devout Muslim, which he was..

Landing at Khobar, a place he had heard so much about, our man was shown his living quarters (room shared by 5 others). He was taken the next day to the work place. What he saw surprised him, some 10 guys sitting and colouring big piles of books based on a specimen. He was to become the censoring arm of the Muttawa who had done up a specimen. The modus operandi was simple. A publisher from India (or wherever) sends the sample magazine, the Muttawa read it and blackened the objectionable parts and passed on the marked copy to the, lets call them ‘blackeners’. When the bulk stock came, they sat and continued blackening all the copies as per the sample..

Actually they were the only lucky guys who saw and read the magazine, as it should be. Others mainly saw their handiwork. Sometimes house painters like Jamal were really enthusiastic when the pictures were racy enough.

After a time in Saudi, I had gotten used to the blackening of images and texts with what are, I am sure the blackest of black ink markers. I recall my friend lifting the magazine up to light to see if he could see Claudia Schiffer like she should look instead of being a cute face with a misshapen black blob on the rest of her body…no way! no light could permeate through, denser than a black hole I guess. I remember the early days when we tried to sponge the images with water, didn’t work either. So we resigned ourselves to the censored life…

Magazines, especially those dealing with Bollywood and Malluwood were the ones subjected to severe cropping and paint-over. In the beginning we could see that the blackening was very crude, a huge blob of black ink, then they started to become quite artistic, a belly would be covered with contour hugging black paint giving a feeling that it was part of the dress, the exposed leg would be covered with a stylish black salwar or trousers depending on the painters mood I guess. The worst was when entire pages were ripped off, thereby making most of the book useless and so thin that a Femina had only 20 pages or so at times.

One day, we purchased a thick hardbound cookbook by Madhur Jaffrey. It cost well over 30$, but in the middle a complete section had been sniped out, I checked the contents, it was a section on pork dishes..

Movies were very short in length; Indian movies were half the running length of those in India, no songs at all, which of course some guys enjoyed. Then I remember a friend who went to get married and came back with the videotape of the event. As is required, all bags were hand searched at customs and tapes are taken in to be checked and certified as ‘Saudi friendly’. He was asked to come back after two days and was aghast later when he put the tape in to check it out- Embedded were serious Islamic recitations in places where the Hindu religious ceremonies took place.

Who said life in Saudi is monotonous and no fun??

There are many more of these Saudi & Turkey stories from my living days in those countries, some other day maybe, if there are no objections..

See some recent hilarious examples in this blog

More examples of Iranian censorship here.


Nanditha Prabhu said…
I would definitely love to read the incidents of your saudi life that took aways it monotony .
it was a real fun read...
could imagine jamal's first day at work .....
and what they did to the vedio tape was too much!..couldn't help laughing...
waiting to read more of these..
MyVision said…
have heard only l'le bit about censoring in all aspects of life in saudi arabia.. but got a feel for what it is when i read your post... it's their beliefs and they are enforcing in their own way... keep writing.. will keep reading and commenting.. they are enlightening..
MyVision said…
the post made nice reading... i have heard about the censorships in saudi.. but never thought its this much.. hmmmm... yes, they are enforcing their beliefs... if people from outside has to come and work there, they have to fall in line... that doesn't happen in many other countries...

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