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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