Tuesday, July 04, 2006


It is a favorite place of mine and anyone who has ever been to the UAE would know that one gets a taste of India here. It was, in fact, a very intriguing aspect to me on first coming to the UAE in March 2000. Most of my visit was spent in the old Deira section of Dubai, particularly around the crowded, bustling intersection of Sabkha and Naif roads.

Experiencing India should not have been such a unique thing to me since I had come to the UAE from Sri Lanka (where I lived and worked the 2 years prior). But despite Sri Lanka's proximity to India, I had met hardly any Indians there, and I knew virtually nothing of near neighbor Kerala or the culutre of the Malayalees.

Of course, the India that one experiences in the UAE is a very distorted one. It has a distinct taste of the south of India, but without any of the colorful religious artifacts. It is a culture represented almost exclusively by its male members with nary a sari to be seen. But what you have of India, especially in a place like Deira, is a concentration of the masses, narrow difficult to manuever lanes, and small shops with goods of all kinds spilling out.

There are also the small eateries. A favorite of mine until only recently was a vegetarian restaurant called Bangalore. Unfortunately age and popularity has finally started to effect the quality of its offerings, but at its best it had the cheapest (Dhs 5) and most tasty combination plate, which included free refills and the company of many an Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani gent.

My later interaction with the Indian population was not limited to over-crowded Deira. As I would eventually settle in Abu Dhabi, the Indians and most notably the Keralites were to be found everywhere and in every capacity, from street cleaner to bank manager. When I finally visited India for the first time, after a year or so of experiencing it in the UAE, it already felt like familiar territory.

But things continually change, and that seems especially the case in a place like the UAE. The quaint touches of old India, distorted as they are, are beginning to fade. They are being replaced by more modern Western-style influences as the country constructs more and more shopping centers, luxury hotels, condominiums and large, sprawling villa communities.

The Keralites are being joined more and more by other Indians who take up the ranks among the harder-working laborers, while the Kerala gents struggle to hold on to salaried, white-collar positions or get forced to return to their green, coconut-laden pastures due to forces like Emiratisation and an influx of a greater variety of expats, all ready to fill or steal the many posts the Keralites once monopolized.

I'm certainly glad I had a chance to experience the old days of Deira 2000, but I love the way the country, especially Dubai, is moving to the pulse of ultra-modern development now, even as touches of India fade into history.

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blogrosh said...

Interesting article. I agree with the fact that there were so many keralites in the UAE for so long. They often seemed, the quite, working kind - minding their own business, pretty competitive at times, I think? Butt of Indian jokes etc...

I am a second generation UAE resident and am Brit/indian. To be brutally honest, Indians generally are not my fav folks (I get along well with the second/third generations from the UAE) It's the new crop who pretty much carry an insecure and crab mentality. DOn't know why, most of 'em think - others are out to get them - which I never understood?

Then there is the Indian emotions - I do not watch "Bollywood" crap - however if you say something negative (read truthful) about some silly people, who are called Actors - lo behold all hell breaks lose.

Before all the sentimental Desi's go guns and bullets - my comments are based on actual experiences.

Anyhow, I agree with the blog - UAE does have a lot of Indian influence, I also think there is a strong British influence.

I liked the UAE that existed 10 years ago - now there seems to be so much crap and so many new people, the old ones have moved elsewhere - the country seems to be loosing it's true charm - a safe, warm, quite and beautiful place, where everyone knew everyone else and people trusted their neighbours - oh well, it is what it is.

BD said...

Interesting comments. I like Indian culture--it's colorful, has a lot of variety and rich historical context. But like you I abhor Bollywood, and it seems to be anti- whatever good qualities India has. But that is a topic for another day.

I'm not Indian, and am sometimes surprised by the level of Indian on Indian contempt I hear. (Not referring to your comments at all.) For example, with non-Keralite Indians vs Keralites. But I guess that is to be expected from such a big country with a lot of diversity.

As a Westerner, what generally makes it easy to get along with Indians is the undeserved respect they sometimes (often?) bestow on Westerners. Of course, I know it isn't deserved and I don't relish it at all, but when I stranger repeatedly addresses you as "Sir" it has an endearing effect.

Again I recall my first visit to Dubai and I'd pass Indians on the street or start to chat on the abra or the bus--and so often they would address me as "Sir". I felt guilty. I thought I should try to respond in kind, but just had no habit of doing so.

Woke said...

Interesting question on how much of India is actually there in UAE or Gulf countries for that matter. I would say it is a bare minimum - especially the cultural and socio-political aspects.

There are several reasons for this none so glaring that, Indians(and I believe other nationalities as well) generally come to the Middle East for just one thing - to make money. Everything else is only a bonus.

This might be too much of a generalisation. But I have spoken to Indians living in Europe and US as well and as per their observations, even though the scope of an Indian cultural environment that exists in those countries is minimal; whatever exists is blended with the society and the respective local culture which gives an Indian a whole new perspective of acceptance and social understanding.

What happens in countries like UAE is that Indians(like other nationalities)exists as a separate community, not understanding or appreciating other cultures very well. There might be exceptions, but a general mistrust among different nationalities does exist here, possibly because of the limited social interaction and the social setup. There will be a time, I hope, when Indians and other nationalaties regards UAE as more than is just a comfortable temporary office and a money machine, but until then people like you who actually find time to try and understand other cultures is a distant minority.

BD said...

There will be a time, I hope, when Indians and other nationalaties regards UAE as more than is just a comfortable temporary office and a money machine...

Actually Woke, I think that time is now. The change in the UAE from being a place to work, save money and leave started I would say with the announcement of freehold in 2002. Of course that was just an announcment, but what has happened now 4 years hence? Thousands of people from other countries have bought homes, tens of thousands have started making payments on residences, and the numbers will soon reach hundreds of thousands.

As one of those making payments, I have to say one's attitude and comittment toward's Dubai and the UAE changes once one has agreed to make such a substantial investment. Sure, legally, a lot is still up in the air for expats--laws regarding property ownership and expat's rights , inheritance issues, etc. are in a state of flux. But things are clearly changing and I believe the contributions of expats are beginning to happen just the way you describe for other countries.

Woke said...

On a broader view, yes I believe some changes are happening. I am just concerned that UAE authorities does not consider it important for expats to contribute and be a part of their society as long as they get the work done and spend some money here.

Although the freehold idea was put forward completely as an business move, it might prove more fruitful in making the residents to be 'a part of UAE' like you said.

blogrosh said...

Very interesting thoughts BD & Woke - I truly hope things change for the better for the expat community.

I differ to an extent on Woke's thoughts " There are several reasons for this none so glaring that, Indians(and I believe other nationalities as well) generally come to the Middle East for just one thing - to make money. Everything else is only a bonus"

I was raised in the UAE when we could not afford an Air conditioning or a car - when the country was taking its first baby steps. My mom & dad gave up pretty comfortable lives and choose to move to the UAE - and I have seen them toil thru hot summers with little infrastructure in place. Anyhow, my point being, there are several native expats like I, who sincerely do not care, if the place has pots of monies or nothing at all - I left "home" because I wanted to find a "home" -a place I could live and not have to leave if I didn't have a work visa after 30 years.

I would go back to the UAE in a heart back if the UAE government introduces naturalization for long term expats and expats who were born in the UAE - even if there are no glitz and monies in the UAE.

Oh btw BD – the reason most Indians call you “Sir” – is because of the British influence. I am sure if you have visited India – the Indian English is very British (minus the accent and in some cases, the grammar). Hence calling you “Sir” may not be completely out of respect, but rather an inherent vocabulary as a result of hundreds of years of British influence.

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