People on the streets sashay to music from car speakers as fireworks light up the night sky

Friday night broke many stereotypes in this Gulf country. From the air, while accompanying External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna for the twin Independence and Liberation Day celebrations, the city looked clinical in its layout. Roads, surgically straight and neat, interspersed with neatly constructed houses and commercial complexes.

But there was an aberration. Two red slashes seemed to cut across the city. As it became clear an hour later, it was a traffic jam of gigantic proportions. It seemed as if the entire population had decided to turn out on the streets. Children in Mohawk wigs sat on car rooftops waving Kuwaiti flags, a door opened and the unthinkable happened as one long suffering driver chucked his empty Coke bottle on the road.

As Mr. Krishna's convoy edged forward, there were scenes that many of us, brought up on a diet of stereotypes about Arab impulses, had to abandon. As news comes in of many Arab majority nations being in revolt, here were people sashaying to music from car speakers while the night sky exploded in a multitude of colours from fireworks. A lady, while her children in the backseat jostled with each other, had one careful hand on the steering of the stationary car while she clicked photographs from her mobile's camera.

For years, the images being brought in have been those of a repressed people who knew no joy. Add to that, the impression that Arabs know of no other means of expressing disaffection except through bomb blasts and bloodshed in general. Those stereotypes were flattened when unarmed, ordinary people of Tunisia took to the streets in numbers and were followed by the Egyptians, the Libyans and now the Jordanians.

Image laid to rest

The other image of their being grim, joyless folks dominated by the Al-Qaeda ideology was now being laid to rest. The Indian Embassy's idea of hosting a dinner for the visiting Minister did not seem a good idea after Mr. Krishna spent more time on the road than at the mission. But it gave an opportunity to absorb more than a glimpse of the Arab street in Kuwait. And that broke a recently emerging shibboleth. That the Arabs always act in unison.

As the Kuwaiti Ambassador to India Sami Mohammad Al-Sulaiman told The Hindu, “We have a way of regulating the relationship between people and the monarchy and that is through institutions.” It helped that the Kuwaiti Emir announced a bonus of nearly $3000 to each citizen to correspond with the celebrations lined up this year.

For the record, Kuwait Liberation Day falls on February 26, the day Iraqi troops withdrew from its territory two decades back.

“It is a whole day of public gatherings and parades organised by many different civic groups and government organisations. The country also remembers the 605 Prisoners of War who are still in the hands of the Iraqi government,” noted an official news release.