Dubai, the Home Away from Home for South Asians



Safe, secure and strategically situated with the best life has to offer–Dubai and UAE are the closest South Asian expats—and others—can get to heaven

By Abida Rahmani

The biggest airport in the world opened recently in Dubai. Emirates Airline is the first in the world to have three A380s, the world’s biggest aircraft, in its fleet boasting shower in the first class and seats that can be turned into full flat beds. Dubai’s aviation industry crossed another milestone with the new Al Maktoum International Airport welcoming its first commercial flight.

Located in Jebel Ali and as part of Dubai World Central, an “aviation city” that the government launched as a free economic zone,Al Maktoum International Airport is expected to become the world’s largest upon completion.

Currently operating with just one main runway, Al Maktoum will ultimately operate five runways with an annual capacity of 160 million passengers and 12 million tons of cargo. Dubai has turned into a mega cosmopolitan city and the Emirates airlines into one of the world’s greatest and finest airlines.

It was back in January of 1996, on my way to Austin, Texas from Karachi that I had a 20-hour stopover in Dubai. My travel agent had booked the seat through Emirates Airline with a Dubai stopover before flying onwards to Gatwick London. From there I had the connection through Continental Airlines.

In those days, Emirates only flew up to London, a relatively new airline but with already a good reputation. Pakistan International Airlines provided technical and expert support to build up this airline. Now Emirates has emerged at the top of the heap, leaving PIA far behind. (This is of course another legacy of endemic corruption in Pakistan).

Today, Emirates flies to 135 destinations all over the world. In North America it flies to New York JFK twice daily besides Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Boston, and Toronto. I might have missed or skipped some more cities. In Pakistan–and India–it covers all the major cities.

The United Arab Emirates, often known by its misnomer Dubai, has emerged as the financial and economic hub of the region and an oasis for job seekers from around the world. It has also turned into a virtual media hub for South Asian countries. The last time I looked, Pakistani television channels like Geo and ARY had been running many of their operations and broadcasting from their offices in Dubai Media City.

Last year during my stay, I had a good chance of roaming around the city. It has a taste and look of Manhattan, Chicago, Los Vegas and Singapore. The dancing fountains in front of Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower on the planet, look like the same as in front of Bellagio in Vegas.

With all its modernization and liberalism though, the UAE proudly holds on to its Islamic heritage and traditions. You see Emirati and Arab women invariably in abayas and hijab. All major malls have special well maintained and equipped areas for offering prayers for both men and women. I really miss these payer places in North America and even in Pakistan. It was amazing to see fresh flower arrangements in the Ladies at Ibn Batuta Mall.

My brother, who once lived in the UAE, calls the Emiratis Memons of the Arab world. Like the ever enterprising Memons of the subcontinent, they just mean business and know how to get it. To attract international tourists and investors, they are constantly coming up with new ideas and ventures. For the first time when I witnessed in my hotel the couples holding hands and arriving after midnight, with women in evening gowns and even skirts, it showed me the liberal side of Dubai. There are all the tricks and treats at work to attract tourists with some Islamic restrictions. Open vulgarity and obscenity are not tolerated though.

In Burj al Arab and Burj Khalifa, there are diamond crushed spas costing thousands of dollars. It’s mindboggling to see to what extent the luxuries could go. It is generally said that while Dubai is modern and international in its outlook, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah are more traditional and Islamic in values.

There are hundreds of grand, absolutely beautiful mosques in Sharjah. During my stay a few years back in the UAE, I would wonder about the seamlessly merging boundaries of the emirates. After every 10 or 15 minutes’ drive one enters into a new emirate. It is commendable that these seven emirates are joined together under one authority. May they remain protected from evil eye!

Just 1-1/2 hour away from Karachi and 3 hours from Islamabad, the world changes completely and dramatically in Dubai. Safe, secure, strategically situated, great infrastructure, towering buildings, cleanliness and no power shutdowns or load shedding! Petrol is cheaper than drinking water and luxuries unlimited. It’s the closest South Asian expatriates and those from around the world can get to heaven.

It has now emerged as the capital of world cricket as well with the International Cricket Council headquarters now being based in Dubai. After the attack on Sri Lankan team in Pakistan some years ago, no international cricket team has been willing to visit Pakistan. Therefore the UAE is the closest and the safest hub for cricket lovers.

Earlier Shrajah cricket matches used to be a great entertainment and fun to watch. The famous sixes of Javed Miandad against India remain unforgettable. Now there are more grounds in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. A world class tennis tournament now takes place every year. These days filmmakers from Bollywood, Hollywood and even the crumbling Lollywood routinely shoot their films in Dubai.

Many of our Pakistani politicians and businessmen have sprawling, properties, villas, buildings, hotels or even palaces in Dubai. Some of the investors suffered huge losses during the property debacle a few years back.

Half of my village folks from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are working in UAE. The older generation is retired now and back home. Their new generation is a bit more skilled, educated and has replaced them. They have worked hard and given their sweat and blood to build Dubai and UAE. Some of them shared their stories with them.

“It’s not an easy life. Hard work and labor in the hot summer months is particularly difficult. We live here alone, eight to ten persons in a room. After our duties we do all the chores of cooking, laundry, doing dishes etc. (This is considered an unmanly act in Pakhtun culture.) The wives and kids back home though are living in great luxury. They just want more and more money to spend and show off. On 20th of the month the calls would start coming for demand of money,” they would tell me.

Most of them live in labor camps and are fluent in local Arabic with Pashto, Urdu and some even in English. Many of them work as drivers and cabbies with a few having their own limos and services. Their hard-earned money has, however, dramatically changed lives of their families and transformed entire neighborhoods back home.

The Dubai Chalo phenomenon has had a dramatic impact on millions of Pakistanis. Most of them have got or built nice houses with all modern amenities back home. Some of them have got properties and houses in different cities. Their children are getting good education in good schools, colleges and professional universities.

So much so my village is now known as “Chota Dubai” (small Dubai). UAE’s late leader and first president Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan had a special place in his heart for Pakistan. Rahimyar Khan was like his second home.

One of his wives used to live there and the local people would wait for his visit to be blessed with lots of bounties. It was his hunting retreat as well and he had built a modern airport there for his frequent visits. He also got a big hospital built in Lahore and was a generous friend and contributor to Pakistan.

With all the turmoil going on in the Middle East, the UAE remains an oasis of peace, prosperity and stability in the Muslim world which we can all be proud of.

Abida-Rahmani*Abida Rahmani is a Pakistani writer, translator and interpreter based in Toronto, Canada.

Clarion India - News, Views and Insights about Indian Muslims, Dalits, Minorities, Women and Other Marginalised and Dispossessed Communities.


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