• Mohana Prabhakar

The effects of civilisation

Updated: Jan 13, 2019

I love the fact that I live in one of the cleanest cities in the world (and a big thank you to the men in green who keep it that way). It strikes you afresh each time a visitor comments on how the city sparkles. Even for those of us who live here, the manicured greenery weaving in and out of the bare mountains, the stretches of smooth highway that you see just after getting out of the airport is a great welcome home each time.

One of the things that took my breath away on my first day out in Muscat many years ago, were the mountains. Coming from a land where mountains are almost always covered in green, it was a strangely alien sight and stunning at the same time. After all these years, each time we drive out of the city, the Hajar mountains bring back that same sense of awe.

It’s getting to a point though where you will soon have to drive out of the city to see the mountains. I have no idea why so many of them are being cut down all around us to put in buildings of some sort. It’s not as though there is a lack of space.

Earlier you had pockets of gleaming white structures playing hide and seek as you drove through the winding roads. Now they hit you from everywhere.

The one road I am glad got built cutting through the mountains is the road to Sifah. This is probably because it is a lovely drive with the mountains all around and the sea bursting through in sudden flashes of blue.

The old, beached dhow, the fishing boats tethered here and there all add to the picture of old Oman in your head, even though the blacktop is decidedly not.

I miss the Muscat of just 15 years ago. The system of keeping structures low and widely spaced was uniquely Omani and outsiders always commented on its beauty. It’s definitely good to see more high-rise buildings come up, and yet more malls or hypermarkets, as that signifies development. 

And yet it is surprising that development has taken this form as maintaining tradition has always been an integral part of Oman’s raison d’être.

The trigger was the boom of early 2007 when anyone and everyone who had land decided to build. Those who didn’t, bought and then built. And build they did, so much so that you still have buildings across the city with no lights at the windows at night.

I’d like to think I’m pro-development but I mourn the loss of simple outings that people could have in the early 2000s, like at Qantab beach. The wide expanse of beach - where anyone could have a barbeque, a swim, go for a boat ride - was especially popular as it was affordable entertainment for the masses. The same holds for Yiti beach.

I hated the day the Bimmah sinkhole went from a beautiful secret with its mysterious emerald waters to a concrete park with the water now serving as a receptacle for plastic trash. All of this is undoubtedly the effect of civilization and the trouble is that you can’t have progress without some of the inevitable issues that come with it.

While you will never be out of sight of a structure of some sort while driving around today in the city, we are still not at the stage where there is a crane in the horizon wherever we look. I sincerely hope we never get there.

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