Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 November 2019

I speak more Hindi on the streets of Dubai than I did in Mumbai – why I might live in the UAE forever

Abu Dhabi and Dubai – the cities I work and live in – can both be as Indian or international as I want them to be

Panna, in yellow, at a Diwali party in Dubai 
Panna, in yellow, at a Diwali party in Dubai 

Conversations with all and sundry about “home” inevitably yield opinions about “where next” after the UAE. From tips on applying for permanent residency in Canada or Australia and seeking out a job in Singapore, to learning about the laid-back charms of Bangalore over my home city of Mumbai, I’ve heard it all.

My unwavering response? Legalities notwithstanding, I’d never leave the UAE.

Why would I? The country is a cleaner, more systematic version of the one I was born in, with no gaping potholes and greasy politicians to contend with. Even the driving experience, which many of my peers grumble about, is so much smoother when you don’t have meandering cows and errant rickshaw drivers to worry about.

There’s no Indian dish I can’t find in the UAE. Rava dosa with grated coconut and garlic chutney? Check. Parsi-style patrani fish? Check. Indo-­Chinese chicken lollipops with tongue-­tingling schezwan sauce? Check.

Further, the work hard, play hard philosophy appeals to my life goals; Abu Dhabi and Dubai – the cities I work and live in – can both be as Indian or international as I want them to be; and the three-hour flight and easy visa availability means my mum comes to town as regularly as seasonal sales hit shops, bringing with her a rare titbit not available here.

The tomato-banana chips and paan-flavoured mouth freshener from the corner shop behind my parents’ house are a particular weakness. My dad once flew in for a morning to bring me freshly baked pav bread (much to my mother's dismay).

Other than these odd treats, there’s no Indian dish I can’t find in the UAE. And I’m not just talking about butter chicken, biryani and black dal, either. Rava dosa with grated coconut and garlic chutney? Check. Parsi-style patrani fish? Check. Indo-­Chinese chicken lollipops with tongue-­tingling schezwan sauce? Check. Gulab jamun, payasam and mishti doi? Check, check and cheque.

Masala dosa at Mavalli Tiffin Room, Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National 
Masala dosa at Mavalli Tiffin Room, Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

Foodie fantasies aside, language is another facet that makes life easier in the UAE. Every big Bollywood movie makes it to the cinema next door; Indian and Pakistani singers and performers regularly fly into town; and even Dubai Opera brought the Taj Express musical here not long ago.

In fact, I speak more Hindi on the streets of Abu Dhabi and Dubai than I do in Mumbai and am seriously considering taking Arabic lessons to really have my finger on the pulse of the Emirates. As it stands, knowing Hindi – with a few Urdu words thrown in – is a game-changer when I’m dealing with everyone from the maintenance guy in my apartment building and keen call centre staff to every other supermarket employee and salon technician.

Phone conversations are not as torturous as they seem to be for many of my non-Hindi-speaking colleagues. Plus, faulty light bulbs are fixed without delay and an extra foot rub is often thrown in with a massage, all while exchanging convivial chatter about the state of the world.

Of course, I’ve now heard from seemingly every taxi driver in Abu Dhabi and Dubai why bearing children imminently is crucial to my existence, but I suspect even my chatty English-speaking peers are subjected to these wise pearls.

The UAE also celebrates with much gusto almost every festival I grew up with, from Diwali and Holi to Ganesh Chaturthi and Onam. Just this week for Diwali, an array of restaurants, shops and outdoor venues proffered themed menus, Indian-wear capsule collections and fireworks galore.

Holi party at Jebel Ali beach. Photo: Reem Mohammed / The National
Holi party at Jebel Ali beach. Photo: Reem Mohammed / The National

Bollywood singers flew in for concerts, henna artists popped up at mini melas, cheery fairy lights twinkled down from many an apartment window and the office served sugary motichoor ladoos for breakfast. I may have missed the It party on Mumbai’s social calendar, but all in all it was a very happy Diwali.

At the same time, I’ve gone trick-or-treating, attended Fourth of July celebrations and St Paddy’s Day parties, as well as been invited to Christmas galas – and I was happy to see that each played out with as much enthusiasm as the most colourful Indian festival.

Best of all, I can dial up – or down – the Indian-ness as it suits me. I can spend weeks on end conversing only in the global lingua franca, eating masala-free food and visiting jazz bars – secure in the knowledge that Meena Bazaar’s street-food chaat, Bur Dubai’s Bollywood clubs and Hamdan Street’s haggle-happy vendors are but a stone’s throw away.

Updated: October 31, 2019 02:35 PM

SHARE

SHARE