Expat Diaries: The A to Z of being an NRI

Dubai - What it means to look at your burning roots

By Malavika Varadan

Published: Thu 6 May 2021, 2:02 PM

A few days ago, the Burj Khalifa lit up with the message #StayStrongIndia. And I was suddenly aware of who I was. An N-R-I. A Non-Resident Indian, who is watching my country burn and gasp for air. I am an outsider.

Like many of my NRI friends, India, for me, has been a bubble, a photo album that I revisit every couple of months.

I land into my home city, drink my favourite filter coffee at the airport, marvel at how the neighbourhood I grew up in has changed, visit a few nice restaurants and clubs, comment on how expensive India has become — wipe my hands with hand sanitizer and come back home, to Dubai.

This system that is failing, is foreign to me. I am removed from it all and yet I am not.

This is what my circle looks like right now — my circle of NRIs in Dubai.

A is watching the news, all the time. News report after news report talking about numbers — number of cases, number of deaths, number of vaccines.

B is frantically calling her mother, checking in four, sometimes five-times a day — listening to coughs and itchy throats.

C is praying. In all the tongues she knows, for all the people she does not know.

D is weeping for her best friend who she lost to Covid-19. “She was my age,” she says. “Her child is only two years old.”

E is blaming the government, the healthcare systems, the journalists for not doing their job.

F is blaming the corporations that are profiting from this tragedy.

G is blaming himself, for not having brought his parents to Dubai while he could.

H is wondering when she will see her partner next, he is in India right now and can’t fly back.

I is explaining to his seven-year-old son what it means for a country to have no oxygen for his grandmother.

J is relieved. At least, we are here. At least we can celebrate my birthday without worrying about a lockdown. Is that a selfish thought?

K is feeling helpless. For the first time, it feels like money and connections and knowing people in high places means nothing.

L’s parent is a doctor. Every day watching her leave to work is watching her walk onto a battlefield ill-equipped.

M is scrolling through social media watching Indian influencers put up dance videos and makeup tutorials. Is this the time to be posting this?

N is questioning what it means to be a parent now, when you are here and they are there.

O is checking the stock market, and his investments. What will this mean for the economy?

P thinks the people in power are doing their best. These are unprecedented circumstances, after all, how could we expect them to be prepared?

Q is the lucky one. He managed to fly his family out before this wave. Now, they sit in a hotel apartment and play video games waiting for ‘this’ to end.

R is donating, whatever she has. What else can we do, but send money back to those who need it?

S is struggling to make sense of this sinking feeling. Maybe she will get help, but therapists are expensive and busy nowadays.

T thinks she probably won’t be going home this summer, so she should make other holiday plans.

U is on the phone with his father — an octogenarian, who insists on walking to the grocery store to buy vegetables in India. “Don’t leave the house Pa, please. Just for one month.”

V is virtually connecting with all her school friends — each day there is a new update on which classmate is in which hospital, and what they need.

W is wondering what the aftermath of this wave will be? How many more people will be left without homes, or parents, or children, or the will to survive?

X is tired.

Y sits in her car, and cries for her country, and all the grief she sees on her Instagram feed.

Z gets back to work. It’s what keeps him sane.


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