42. No question about it.

We are not the citizens of this country; we have not been residents for long enough. In fact, a few years ago we knew nothing about the place except that it falls in the Middle East.

And yet, last year on December 2nd we had a strong urge to don the U.A.E. colors and celebrate its National day as our own. The frenetic celebratory mood was so infectious!

It started with every house, building, mall, store and restaurant getting decorated in black, red, white and green (the U.A.E. flag colors). As the day approached we saw flag-themed caps, T shirts, badges, wigs and other such merchandise at the local supermarkets and pop – up shops in the malls. All we could see around were only the flag colors. On 1st December, the eve of National Day, we decided to visit the capital Abu Dhabi and what we saw there left us amazed.

We could only see the number 41 (since it was the 41st national day), ‘Spirit of the union’ (official theme of the celebration) and the flag colors everywhere. Cars of all kinds, painted for the occasion, zipped past us. People’s faces, hair and even nails were painted. Clothing, from T shirts to mufflers and stoles were all made up of flags colors, but most endearing was that even hijabs and abbayas had a dash of U.A.E. flag colors. The presence of the flag was so awe inspiring that we started seeing it even in the traffic lights. The black of the pole, red, green of the lights and the yellow passed off for white.

Young Emirati boys chased and shot snow sprays at each other just like in India we spray coloured water on each other on Holi. Families were picnicking together even at night. Just as we reached the corniche the most bedazzling fireworks show started. The fireworks were being launched from 3 boats afloat the creek and this made the show even more beautiful because the sparkling lights of the fireworks reflected on water too. This experience was very reminiscent of Diwali back home.

It felt as if U.A.E.’s National Day was their Holi, Diwali and all other festivals rolled into one. This truly left us puzzled and impressed because we had not seen such ecstatic jubilation even on Eid, which is the religious festival.

That day we understood that a country that celebrates its National day with a greater fervor than its religious festivals is definitely committed to its growth and development. In India we do celebrate our national festivals with great zest but the fierce enthusiasm that we witnessed in U.A.E. had a connect that we had not seen before.

The cherry on this delicious, festive cake was Sheikh Mohammed’s personal message on our phones. It made us feel like we belong. Why wouldn’t you accept a country as your own, if it embraces you with open arms?

A year passed, and with the 42nd National day approaching, it gave a sense of deja vu. The flag colors appeared everywhere, celebration filled the air, and then something grand happened. Something that gave U.A.E., especially Dubai, another reason to celebrate! On 28th of November, Dubai won the bid to host Expo 2020.

The build up for the bid had started two years ago. The logo of Expo 2020 was all over Dubai. A few months short of the voting, the campaigning became even more vigorous. Articles and advertisements tried to educate the residents about how the Expo will help Dubai grow and more importantly how they are going to grow with Dubai. As the judgment day approached, most businesses and various individuals could be seen showing support for Dubai’s bid. Best wishes could be seen printed supermarket bills to Laban tetra packs. The Expo theme could be spotted on cars, nail art, cupcakes and where not!

On the 28th of November the excitement was palpable! ‘Is Dubai going to win’ was the question was on everyone’s mind and was the topic of living room and meeting room conversations alike. Baskin Robbins announced free ice creams on Dubai victory and the malls celebrated with offers to mark this achievement. All eyes were fixed on the live streaming of the voting from Paris. We didn’t even have to look at the results, as Dubai skied filled up with celebratory explosions and fireworks as soon as the announcement was made in Paris. Everyone was out of their homes to catch a glimpse of these fireworks and we even saw Indian residents bursting their leftover Diwali crackers. This kind of celebration was usually reserved for times when the Indian cricket team won matches. These were people who are not citizens of Dubai. People who are not even sure of staying in Dubai till the Expo. Yet, everyone joined the frenzy! Everyone seemed to have a feeling of having won!

Dubai made them feel this way; it is this spirit of the government that brings them closer to the citizens and the expats and unifies them for common goals. What we witnessed on the national day was this spirit, this vision of putting your country first and it is this vision that won Dubai this bid, and the way this victory was celebrated, assures you that this spirit is even stronger now.

As U.A.E. turns 42, it can reconfirm that it indeed is a special number. There is no question about it.

UAE NATIONAL DAY

Remember Remember. 15th November.

November. The time when the axis of the Earth in the northern hemisphere starts spiraling away from the Sun. Occasionally, it has also been referred to as the advent of winter. This is also when Dubai relocates from the sun to the earth.

Since the sky is not breathing fire anymore, mortals start treading outdoors. Greedy ones like me form a team with colleagues or neighbors to play cricket early morning on weekends. 15th November was one such day. A fine Friday. Wonderful weather. Beautiful breeze. Laden with more such terrible alliterations. Just month or so ago you would have confused Dubai with Tatooine. But today? Heck, no sun till 11 am!

Five more teams, starved of good weather, have the same great idea and reach the complex. At least fifty souls deprived of life outside their caves (albeit air conditioned ones) have desperately come gasping to the adjacent grounds. Most teams are strangers to each other. Someone is losing a marathon against a ball, while another has mauled it for a six and one just got banished for life for dropping a sitter. Everyone is lost in his own universe. The orderly chaos (or chaotic order) continues for hours no one counts.

All this is brought to a screeching halt, abruptly. Everyone just stands frozen at his place. A bizarre madness fills everyone’s head and they begin to clap. And keep clapping. Strangers keep beaming at each other and continue to applaud. This goes on for five minutes. Five minutes they don’t care about their own games. Nobody says anything. Is it Mass hysteria? Mind control by a mad scientist?

Nah! Sachin Tendulkar has just scored a fifty in his last innings.

Thank You for walking these 22 yards.

Thank You for walking these 22 yards, Sachin.

 

EPILOGUE

The humans resumed playing. The weather gods had been kind or busy elsewhere,  so we kept playing till noon. It was a perfect day for cricket, till the breeze started to lose its mind. Suddenly from moderately insane wind it turned into a lunatic sandstorm. The sand had a sudden urge of wanting to get into our ears, noses and eyes. T-shirts were pulled over heads to deny it any such satisfaction. Nowhere to go, it decided to uproot our stumps and stop play for fifteen minutes. Amidst this betrayal by the weather, some techno obsessed geek managed to check his BlackBerry and scream- “Sachin seventy four pe out ho gaya!” (Sachin got out on seventy four runs).

And the sandstorm ended.

I am a big fan of superheroes. HE is the only real one.

I am a big fan of superheroes and HE is the only real one.

Sachin Tendulkar experience expressed in words and illustrations by- Varun 
Disclaimer-
If you don’t know who Sachin Tendulkar is or what Tatooine is, get busy. You have some catching up to do.

The other side of Dubai

We live in Dubai, the city of gold, glitz and glamorous cars. It is a city where penchant for luxury is infectious and the temptation to drive around in plush cars irresistible. The low fuel prices and broad inviting highways make it almost impossible to not fall prey to this seduction. Still, we have never felt the need to buy a car or like we are compromising on luxury! How? The reason is Dubai’s public transport.

When Varun arrived in February 2010, he received a lot of free advice-

“You just cannot do without a car here.”

“The very first thing you must do is get a driving license.”

“It is a must in Dubai.”

These words may have been relevant at that time, but with him had also arrived the Dubai metro, all set to change this notion.

As he settled down in Dubai, the metro network expanded and by the time I joined him in February 2012, he had become a pro at travelling around Dubai in the metro and buses. He introduced Dubai and its way of life to me, needless to say that a crash course in using the public transport was the most important part of my orientation program. The scariest bit of the training, that seems the funniest in retrospect, was the list of ‘Don’ts’, ‘Don’t ever push that button; it costs 2000 dirhams!’, ‘Don’t sleep in the metro! It can cost 200 dirhams!’ While I was impressed by the stringent rules and regulations, I was also scared of doing anything wrong. So much so that I would not doze off even for a second while travelling, not realizing that the fine is on lying down on the seats and sleeping not closing one’s eyes.

We travelled around the entire city, visiting all its star attractions and the fact that they were so accessible and well connected by the transport system made my extended vacation in Dubai extremely enjoyable. We have some wonderful memories of that time, how we started picking up some basic Arabic from the metro announcements, ‘Al Abuab Tuglaq’ – Arabic for ‘doors closing’ was the first Arabic phrase we learnt. Travelling in taxis or cars was like looking at a YouTube video of Dubai but the metro gave us an IMAX view of the city. I fell in love with Dubai in those very days.

I also loved how the theme based metro stations were beautifully designed to blend perfectly well with the cityscape around. Futuristic structures adorned the newly developed parts of the city dominated by skyscrapers and traditional Emirati architecture-inspired and quaint looking stations dotted the heritage areas. The theme of the station reflects in every detail, right from the lighting to the trashcans even!

Our best experience with the public transport came in just my second weekend in Dubai. We were staying in Varun’s accommodation in Bur Dubai temporarily and had found a home in Discovery Gardens. We had a week to buy our furniture and shift. We decided to go to IKEA, located in the Festival City which is not directly connected to the metro. We had no idea how to reach there, all we knew was that we had to cross the creek first, since the place is close to Deira. Living very close to the Old Souq, we walked to the creek side, took a water taxi (Abra) to cross the Creek and just by fluke, reached Al Sabkha. At the Al Sabkha bus stop we read the information board and found a bus that indeed went to the Festival City. Surprisingly the bus arrived in moments and we boarded it but we still had no idea about where exactly we must disembark. But when on the very next station a guy wearing an IKEA uniform boarded the bus we joked it was divine intervention at work. We used two modes of transport to reach there and had to ask no one for directions; it came so easily to us. On our journey back we took a taxi to the metro station and then took a metro back home. Having travelled through water, road and rail we were only short of using an air plane that day.

Months passed and after a long vacation when I decided to start work, I found work 50 kms from home. Had it not been for that day, probably I would never have been comfortable travelling in Dubai and wouldn’t have mustered enough courage to travel almost 4 hours every day. Ibn Battuta to Burjuman, change over to the green line on Burjuman to Palm Deira- I loved this journey on the first day itself. In the mornings, I could just sit, relax and catch up on my sleep for an hour, no driving stress. On my way back in the evening I could read, play games or just sit idle and look around, no traffic, no rush hour stress! I take this journey everyday now and have come to love this travel time even more; it is a reenergizing break in my hectic schedule.

My Daily Dose of Dubai

My Daily Dose of Dubai

By the end of the very first week I had started recognizing my fellow passengers. From exchanging smiles with some of them, it went on to exchanging niceties and in less than a month I had made friends. Now, I look forward to meeting them and they’ve become an integral part of my daily life.

When I travel from one side of the city to the other, I see the entire city every day and I find it enthralling that I get to see all those places every day that people from all over the world are rushing to visit. It makes me feel lucky but the most exciting part about my travel in the ladies compartment is the fashion trends I get to spot. The hairdos, bags, shoes, watches and jewelry that I notice on my fellow passengers tells me volumes about what’s in. Both working women and homemaker mothers from hundreds of nationalities travel with me and each one has a unique style that reflects a bit of the culture she comes from. Amongst my regular travel mates is a woman from south India who wears bright colored, neatly pleated silk sarees, an Arab woman who wears shining designer abayas with intricate embroideries and prints, a British girl who wears the latest designer label dresses and gorgeous shoes. It makes me feel look forward to seeing them every day. As a designer myself, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

Who needs the gym?

Missed the gym? No worries!

Many people ask me and Varun to get a car but I really wonder how it would make my life easier? I would have to drive in the morning with eyes full of sleep and the evening with a head heavy with the day’s fatigue. Not to mention the parking woes and the maintenance hassles. It will take away my travel mates and devoid me of my daily dose of real-time fashion news.

In fact, had it not been for this free time that I get, you wouldn’t be reading this!

We’ve realized that peace of mind and time for oneself is the biggest luxury and Dubai has given us that by making our travel so convenient and safe. And what’s better we don’t even have to bear the guilt of leaving a high carbon footprint and lead a green lifestyle without much effort.

Enrique Peñalosa, Mayor of Bogota once said that a developed city is not the one where the poor have cars, it is the one where the rich use the public transport. We can vouch for it.