Dubai Diaries: The 'Gulfie' rite of passage
Your rite of passage as a ‘Gulfie’ hangs on the weight of your shopping cart meant for a trip to India.
Deodorant: 4, Yardley talcum powder: 4; Deep Heat: 3, Panadol Extra: 5pkt. My mom’s Dubai wishlist landed on my WhatsApp a week before I was flying home. Off I went to the nearest supermarket for the customary shopping expedition before my trip to India. As always, I loaded my cart with a little more than what was needed. A few boxes of chocolate, shampoos, bodywash and olive oil will do no harm. “Acha, do you want anything else?” I called my dad for a final check. He crosschecked with mom and assured that is more than enough. “Fetch some dates, may be,” he blurted before I hung up. My vacation shopping was over in just 30 minutes. But back in my early years in Dubai, shopping for the annual homecoming was a different animal. Your rite of passage as a ‘Gulfie’ hangs on the weight of your shopping cart. The cardinal rule is not to err on the side of austerity. There is a long list of demands from everyone in the family to everyone they knew — their friends, their colleagues, their neighbours, their teachers, their bosses. The list is long enough that your pay check will cringe in shame. I used to walk into the nearest Carrefour or Lulu Supermarket with a mission to suck the fiscal soul out of my credit card.
After running amok in the chocolate and cookie section like a bull on a rampage, you lunge toward the next target — Nestle milk powder and Tang. An NRI suitcase devoid of these two provisions will be treated with the disdain it deserves. No one dares take that risk. So, you procure enough to feed an army. After swooping down on soaps, shampoo bottles and moisturizers, your attention turns to perfumes and deodorants. You go on a buying spree as though the onus is on you to make an entire town smell good. Your month-long holiday is a logistical challenge of criss-crossing the length and breadth of the state to make sure that every member of the family gets a share of your ‘Gulf’ fortune. “Didn’t you bring anything from Dubai?” “What did you get for me?” “When are you coming to visit us?” With each question, the suitcase will get thinner.
But over the years, the shopping list started getting shorter. So did the weight of the shopping trolley. The fancy for all things foreign started waning as foreign goods made their way into local markets. Even the local bakeries in my small town sell Toblerone and Ferrero Rocher. The image of the swanky-rich NRI also took a beating as the country prospered and people got wealthier. “There is nothing that is not available here now. You just come,” my sister-in-law quipped when I asked her whether she wants something. And this time around with a virus being an unsolicited visitor, I can safely land with feather-light baggage. The only question people will pose is whether I got the Covid jab.