Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My Visit to Dubai

An invitation to participate in the 8th Arab Media Forum at Dubai was indeed a pleasant surprise; and more so, when I found that Seymour Hersh, whose exposure of the My Lai massacre, was listed as a speaker in the conference. There were also sessions on the Media and the Palestinian Struggle on offer.

Well. The terminal at the Dubai International airport is a huge structure. It would have taken almost an hour to walk up to the entrance. But I did not have to. And once out of the terminal, my car was speeding away at 100 KMPH on the six lane road. The road signs warn you: This road is monitored by radar. And hence, you shall not drive at more than 100 KMPH. That is fine. But the road signs also prescribe a minimum speed: Not less than 60 KMPH.

And Raj, my driver, had his roots in Kerala. He, however, has lived most of his life in the Emirates and was enthusiastic about showing me the landmarks in Dubai. Lest someone gets the impression that Dubai has such landmarks, let me clarify at the outset: One building is bigger than the other and of course there is one that is still waiting for completion. It is already billed to be the tallest building in the world.

Dubai also boasts of the Palm Islands. It is distinct because the whole swathe of land, extending about 70 square kilometers of land, was part of the ocean (the Persian Gulf) was converted into land by men. Nakheel group, one of the world’s largest privately owned real estate developers set out on this project in 2001 to create the Palm Island. And now you have a huge hotel, several thousand flats meant for the up-market sections in Dubai and elsewhere in the world and of course several hundred villas meant for the rich from across the world. I was informed that most of our own stars from popular cinema own villas in Palm Islands.

The point is that there is no scope for any such civil resistance, in Dubai, as the campaign against big dams and elevated roads through the coasts. The political system in the Emirates does not allow demonstrations. Dissent is not permitted anywhere in that region. No wonder that the rich and the upper middle classes in our own land frown at democracy. They are denied of the ``right’’ to buy villas and flats on land that was part of the ocean and then boast of all that. The democratic system in our land also denies the rich the possibility of driving down for miles on end without having to apply the brakes. And that explains why the voting percentages have been low in places such as the Malabar Hill in Mumbai.

It is impossible for anyone to stir out of the hotel to see the place as one could do in any of our own towns. The scorching heat makes it impossible to walk around in the open for long. And in any case, you walk around only to see the villas, the flats and the commercial complexes. It is possible to hire a taxi but then the fares can be prohibitively expensive: Particularly if you have the obsession to convert Dirhams into Indian Rupees. And you stir out of your hotel only for shopping. Dubai is a shopper’s paradise they say. I recalled Rene Descartes postulation: ``I think, therefore, I am.’’

Well. In Dubai, you are not encouraged so much to think. ``I shop, therefore, I am’’ is what defines life in Dubai. Lest it is mistaken, this is not how the lakhs of workers, brought from across the South Asian nations, live when they are in Dubai. They live in small rooms; most often, in double decker beds and are provided access to a common kitchen, a common bath and a common toilet. They are taken to their workplace in Ashok Leyland buses (just that the steering wheel is on the left side of the vehicle) early in the morning and brought back to their living stead later in the evening.

Unlike the others who travel by air-conditioned cars the buses are not air-conditioned. But then, since they go for work before the sun gets scorching and return only after sun-set, they do not suffer the heat while commuting for work! It is another matter that they work in the open yards and suffer the heat without having the will to complain. They know that their options are limited: To put up with all that and live as animals or to return to their home-land and starve to death. They know that their monthly remittance from the Gulf ensures that their kith and kind back home go to sleep with food in their stomach. They also hope that they will also buy a car one day because some of those who lived this way, when they first came to Dubai, have managed to climb up the economic status!

Lest I sound negative, let me clarify that I did find something positive too. Dubai, as is the case with other countries in the region, is a crucible of nationalities from all over the world. There are people here from as many as 147 countries according to an officer from the Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing. Well. The chairman of Nakheel, group, that is credited with creating the Palm Islands is a white; Chris O Donnell. And all of Dubai’s newspapers have whites working as Editors. They are all owned by the Arabs. And walk into any commercial building in Dubai and you will find men or women from nations across South Asia.

Shambugan, barely in his twenties is from Trivandrum. Employed in the Atlantis hotel, this young boy cleans up the wash basins in the washrooms there. Like him, one found young boys and girls from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Phillipines, Malaysia and Mauritious doing the same job. They also share a room that their employer provides as living quarter. I do not think that Shambugan would have bothered to clean the bathroom back home. He would have been brought up in a way that he found that to be a demeaning job to do. But life in Dubai makes you do that.

Likewise, there are men and women from all these countries working in all the departments in the hotel. And almost all drivers are from one of the South Asian countries. There is an Indian and that too a Malayali working as a policeman in Abu Dhabi, said someone whom I knew from my hometown and has been living the United Arab Emirates for thirty years now. He used to live alone when he first went there and was 18 years then. Even after his marriage, he was living alone there for several years. He had thought of returning to India after saving a decent sum. And when it occurred to him that it may not happen, he decided to take his wife and two children there and spent the rest of his life in the Emirates.

Well. Dubai is so many things to so many people. It is a concrete jungle. It is a neat and clean place. It is a shopper’s paradise. It is a crucible of cultures from all over the world. It is a hard life if you are a manual worker. It is a hard life if you are unskilled. But then, you earn more money than you would for the same work back home. And as long as you are prepared to live alone, your kith and kin back home can afford a life of an average middle class person. And if you believe in Descartes, you better resist the temptation of all the glitter and the speed and live where you are as you are!

As for me, the conference was a rewarding experience. I should say that Seymour Hersh was an inspiring experience.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

who funded your trip?

6:52 AM  
Blogger Jiby said...

that was a nice read, sir. loved the sarcasm about applying brakes in mumbai!

10:48 AM  
Blogger V. Krishna Ananth said...

The trip was funded no doubt. But, I now wonder as to who is funding this ``communist'' who is now posting comments as anonymous.
The point is: If this creature is earning his money by way of working somewhere, it has to be either with the state or with a private enterprise. In either case, he is compromising with his revolutionary cause he claims to espouse.

The third possibility is that he does not do any productive labour and strives on the money he makes by claiming to be a full time professional revolutionary. In that case, he is a parasite.

I am writing this only in order to set the facts straight. A comment on a blog is fine and welcome as long as it raises some debate. This creature is just bent on scoring points and hurling innuendoes. It's infantile to say the least.

6:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why losing temper? After all the question was simple and straight forward - who funded your trip? - it was funded alright! But do let the public know who funded it. That will add masala to your Dubai narration.

8:38 AM  
Blogger V. Krishna Ananth said...

I did not lose my temper. Only asked one straight and simple question so that you are exposed. But then, you are only proving beyond doubt that you are a coward and also a parasite.

10:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did not find anything explorative that had not been written before.
The sarcasm in narration is unnecessary. Surprising that a "communist" is talking about life standards meant to be talked by the bourgeoisie. Despite their chosen life standards, many of these people are earning adequately (compared to an average lawyer working in chennai high court) to support themseleves and familes.

People make the choice to work in the gulf and no one is forced to go there (particularly from the Communist paradise of Kerla).
When you earn tax-free dollars, it is all the more worthwhile to work there.

You should have written more about your sponsors to allow us to come to the conclusion on the nature and purpose of your visit.

NB: As for your narration, I still like the one on your/family visit to temples in TN. The narration was really good that I could see Srirangam in your writting.

I Hate Commies.

4:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Sir

Could you provide the link to the narration of temple visit one reader refers to here?



1:27 AM  
Blogger V. Krishna Ananth said...

Dear Kuruvilla,
The short note about my visit to temples is here in this blog only... an entry in October 2007.

As for the one who hates comies, I do not have any quarrel with him/her. And my writing about what I felt there, when I was in Dubai, was not meant to be explorative that had not been written before. And do not know why a communist shall not write about the condition of the life there... I remember one such brilliant work by Frederick Engels about the Conditions of the Working Class in England... anyway, mine was just a short impressionist piece and nothing more.

2:17 AM  

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