Has it ever happened to you that you believed that because you have moved house to inhabit an area nearby to someone you know — a friend, a family member — you will see more of them? It is part of the dynamics in a place like Dubai, where, if you don’t own a place, you are a rolling stone, moving from one part of town to the other, in keeping with fluctuating market — and personal psychographic — trends. When I moved here in 2008, the buzz was “certain areas” are beyond my ken. Financially. Then, as time passed, those areas became more affordable, and soon, I heard, people who couldn’t imagine renting out apartments there, were now seeking out those domains.
In 2008, one reason why I chose to live in Mankhool/Bur Dubai (“Oh God, you’re living in the ghetto!” was one line I got often from better-heeled acquaintances) was a colleague, who hailed from Lahore, who soon became a dear friend, and then a soul sister. She was already living on a street parallel to Rolla Street. “Sush, you have to live near my place, no two ways about it!” I jumped on the bandwagon happily, and sought out a studio exactly three buildings away from hers. We’d be at each other’s places every single weekend; on weekdays, we’d be at work — and, of course, we would go to office together and return home together. It was an incredible arrangement — till she moved to Singapore, just a year later.
By then, I had gotten used to Bur Dubai, its hustle, its creature comforts, and I lived there (though I changed apartments) till I left Dubai in 2019.
But that never meant I saw more of those who lived in — and around — the vicinity. Quite the opposite, in fact. I think I met folks who lived a considerable distance apart than those who were domiciled a stone’s throw away. For the latter set, I’d always think, “Oh, I can meet them anytime, what’s the hurry?”
It’s also about far greater distances than just city limits. In 2019, when I went away to Delhi, I’d visit Dubai pretty often — once every four-five months (in pre-pandemic times, when travel was a hoot). Whenever I did, I’d make it a point to meet certain people. And we’d always talk about how despite my living away, our ‘physical’ connections had not been lost.
Yet, when I moved back to Dubai on my second stint, almost a year ago, there are some from that same set who I haven’t met for almost more than 11 months despite being in the same city. There’s Covid playing spoiler, I know — but that doesn’t stop me from wondering why things came to such a pass. (Obviously, this is a phenomenon not peculiar to Dubai. In my hometown Calcutta, a twice-removed aunt had once told me, “We see more of you even though you live in a different country than we do your brother who lives in the same city… that too, he lives fairly close to us, a mere 15-minute drive.”)
When I returned to Dubai in last January-end, the place where I started living, on Sheikh Zayed Road/Al Wasl, happened to be right next door to a couple of very good friends. I thought I’d be meeting them all the time: impromptu dinners on weekdays, lazy movie binges on weekends, Diwali and Christmas shopping together and so on.
Alas, it never came to that. I met them precisely a couple of times. We bewailed how little we see of each other by exclaiming: “Honestly, we saw more of each other when I/you lived in India!”
Recently, I moved home, shifting to a place right at the other end of town (I realise I still benchmark all geographical locations from Mankhool which had been home for more than a decade), one that is teeming with friends and like-minded acquaintances. Most of them are really chuffed about my killing the distance: “Finally, you made the move to my part of town, it’s gonna be so great you will be close to me now, you’re practically my neighbour — now I hope to see you once every week [at least], sooooo exciting!!!”
And I’ve started telling them, “Don’t bank on that… there’s a really good chance you’d have seen more of me if I lived farther away.”
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