x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Indians tune in to national day pride

A national day parade that unfolds thousands of miles away in New Delhi is a crucial link for Indian expatriates who have made the Emirates their home.

Shabbir Rokadia stocks wrist bands, pins, badges and flags for India's Independence Day.
Shabbir Rokadia stocks wrist bands, pins, badges and flags for India's Independence Day.

DUBAI // A national day parade that unfolds thousans of miles away in New Delhi is a crucial link for Indian expatriates who have made the Emirates their home. Silver-haired Indians stay glued to the televisions for hours watching the August 15 parade that features colourful processions and breathtaking aerial displays. The event marks India's independence in 1947 after 200 years of British rule.

"I burst with pride," said Shabbir Rokadia, a businessman who owns hardware stores in Sharjah and Dubai. "There is a feeling of national spirit. You can see the different states all on one day. It's unity in diversity on display." Mr Rokadia, 59, takes a trip to India every year in July to buy badges, stickers and wristbands imprinted with the saffron and green colours of the national flag to distribute to Indian children in the Emirates.

"I like to come back here and celebrate it," he said. "I'm happy when I'm back in my shop. I'm proud of my country but I'm happy here." Like thousands of first-generation Indians in the UAE, he was a teenager when he travelled in 1967 by ship for four days from Mumbai. Mirroring the feelings of many Indian elders, Mr Rokadia balances patriotism for India with gratitude towards the Emirates. "Our ties with India are very strong, but it's possible to love two countries," he said. "We will always have a link with India but we have seen our golden years in the UAE. This is where home, family and business is," he said. Many expats are in the habit of watching Indian TV news for up to four hours a day, a ritual that helps strengthen the bond with their homeland.

"Every time I see the parade my hair stands up," said Shyam Bhatia, a businessman who runs a steel processing factory in Dubai. "It's fantastic to see every state with their pageants showing off their culture and dances." Mr Bhatia, 58, heads off to work only after he has watched the Independence Day parade. "In the olden days before the consulate opened, we had functions with music and dinner and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum [the late Ruler of Dubai] used to attend," he said.

G Vijayan co-ordinates cultural programmes at the Indian consulate and recalls that there were only Arabic channels when he came to Dubai in 1975. Three years later, he watched clips of the parade on Channel 33, the Emirates' first English-language channel. "When we got Indian channels and could see the entire parade in the 1980s it was a big event - families, friends would sit together to watch," Mr Vijayan, 58, said.

Jogi Raj, the director of the well-known Indian choir Malhar, plans for a 20-strong choral group to sing 1980s songs in a programme at the consulate. "We will bring together 16 Indian languages with some Bollywood lyrics," he said. K Kumar, the convener of the Indian Community Welfare Committee, said distance from home heightened emotions. He turns nostalgic on remembering the 1970 parade he took part in.

"It's absolutely thrilling to be part of the march," he said."When I watch the parade, those moments come alive - of starched uniforms and hours spent polishing belts and shoes. It means a lot." @Email:rtalwar@thenational.ae