Dubai to Delhi: The crossover, the hangover
Now, I could no longer milk my tourist card and my Emirates ID, I was back to being just a regular citizen.
I remember freezing while crossing roads in India when I returned “for good” after a more than 10-year stint in Dubai. “Where are the zebra markings? Why are cars hurtling by even when the lights are red? Why am I not being accorded right of way?” Anybody accompanying me on my jaunts would stare at me disbelievingly before expostulating: “Are you kidding me? Have you heard yourself speak? Right of way? This is India, darling, we don’t do such things, we’re like this only. Now send up a silent prayer and hop across.”
The “disconnect” had started way earlier. When I’d visit India during my previous stint (2008-2019) in the UAE — pretty frequently — I’d be on a high horse: airports were too dirty, queues too snaky, children too loud, people too interfering, north Indian men too loutish, women too out of shape, traffic too chaotic. But that was a different feeling. I was “on holiday” in India, like a tourist on ‘home turf’ while my real home was housed in the Mankhool apartment block with Spinneys around the corner. Many around me would roll their eyes and say, “God, you’ve become such an NRI”, while others would be more ‘sympathetic’ and say, “We don’t have running hot water, so let me put on the geyser for you, you’ll have to make the effort to stand on tiptoe to put on the switch — and we don’t want you to sprain your ankle.”
Then. And now. Now, I could no longer milk my tourist card and my Emirates ID, I was back to being just a regular citizen. Yes, it took me time, and a fair bit of hyperventilation, to ‘reconcile’. But then, I’d always tell myself it took me time to “get used to” Dubai. Initially, I didn’t like it, mostly because I was suffering from a stiff Delhi hangover. I had asked my then boss if I could leave in a year, and he had said, no, “You have to be here two for years at least”. I sulked. But gave it a chance.
Dubai gets to you. Despite your top show of resistance. It got to me. I flagged the feeling as “inertia”, but when a career prospect from India beckoned, I dithered. “See, I told you,” a senior colleague chuckled. “Before you know it, 10 years will go by.”
He was prophetic. Ten years did go by.
When I returned to Delhi, I missed Dubai in ways not easily “identifiable”. I never cared about its hi-tech evolution (I am singularly tech-unsavvy and wish to remain that way), its glitz, its shopping (I’ve always found shopping much better in India anyway), the ‘oh-so-Dubai’ litany of brunches, mall crawls, beach traipses, desert safaris or talks about a new car/handbag/dress you’ve bought over drinks in crystal stemware.
I loved how you could not care about these things and just be. I loved the tranquility on a Friday morning when everyone sleeps in late, and the neighbourhood mosque sounds its azaan. The headiness of walking back home at 3am without a care in the world. The supermarkets where I’d do walks down the aisles. How the city never slept. The food. The social anthropology with cabbies.
In Delhi’s cow belt DNA-infested terrain, I missed Dubai cosmopolitanism. There, I hated it when people said: “I feel so comfortable in Dubai because it’s so desi.” Okay, I loved its ubiquitous offerings of biryani and galouti kebabs, but I got ticked off when someone asked me to join an “ethnic grouping” where women sell saris on WhatsApp and discuss upcoming weddings and festive seasons. The closest I’ve come to having a younger sister is an irreverent Pakistani, and I found her there.
They say when Indians come to the UAE, they convert AED into INR. A taxi drive that costs Dh50 immediately morphs into a mental INR1,000 (with that amount of money you can have at least six taxi drives in India), and the carping begins. I did the inverse in India, I converted INR to AED, and was most pleased when I bought an awful lot vegetables at a posh South Delhi colony — I’m dropping the socio-economic context only because prices are deemed “inflated” in these areas — and was presented with a INR280 bill.
“That’s it?” I asked the vendor who was plying me with free bunches of coriander leaves and green chillies. He stopped short, looked confused, assumed I was accusing him of over-charging and proceeded to give me a breakdown, pointing out that the broccoli head I bought was “expensive”. I paid him INR300, asked him to keep the change, and buzzed off with a song in my heart. AED15 was what I paid for a week’s supply of fresh veggies, plus a tip.
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