April 17, 2008

The Traveller on Foot

Genesis speaks about how the world was formed. However, whoever wrote the books forgot one important detail on how oil was formed. When oil was discovered and more importantly its scarcity and thus its importance came into our notice, we had come too far away from the God person to rewrite the story of creation. In fact with oil set to touch close to USD 110 any day, it would perhaps be apt to say that Oil is the new God.

Amusingly the Emirate of Dubai does not have a lot of oil reserves but like Singapore it built on its geographical advantage to be counted as one of the World’s greatest cities giving a select percentage of its residents the ultimate sense of luxury.

Like all cities, Dubai has a face for the world and another which faces itself when the city cares to look into the mirror. It has well marketed its known face to the world. But in the labour camps full of Asians who have come for the search of a better life in the burgeoning construction industry here, the well known face of Dubai has no significance. Not only does Dubai have the largest percentage of cranes used in the construction industry across the world, it is also home to the largest migrant population in the world today with close to 80% of the population being non-nationals, most of them hailing from South Asia and the Philippines.

My window in my living room gives me a view of the Sheikh Zayad Road, a straight road leading directly to Abu Dhabi and even late into the night, the traffic never ceases on it. With a lack of well connected and reliable public transport system, you either depend on your own driving skills or hire a taxi who are typically difficult to be found. You can of course call them up. For people like me, who like to hop from one place to another it becomes a pain. Also pedestrian walks are almost non existent. As a result, the traffic is killing near the main city centres.

Interestingly, I have seen South Asian unity at all places outside South Asia. I guess we are not so different after all. Bangladeshi cabbies and cafeteria owners have been ecstatic on hearing me speak in Bengali to them. Pakistani cabbies have given me lots of fundaes on Hazrat Ali and Urdu while my good old Indian cabbies have suggested food places I must visit for vegetarian food.

Being an Indian has the typecasts that one must live with. We were perhaps once the land of the snake charmers, but today Indian IT proficiency makes almost everyone envy us. Well, sort of. Roughly every other day I get to hear, “Wow, you guys are so great with this stuff.” by doing almost nothing that can be called an extraordinary task. Like for example, running a virus scan.

Dubai has been fun. So in this last post on Dubai for the time being, let me tell you about my favourite trip. Your trip should start at the Gold Souk. Post lunch, pick a cab and go around the place, get dazzled and then take a long walk down the creek to the Abra stations. Abras are small boats, just like launches or steamers in India, which ferry people across the creek, which I hate to admit is much cleaner than the Ganges. Once you are done seeing the creek and the sun beats down on you, head for the museum. Nice audio visuals will greet you and you’ll have an understanding of how history shaped Dubai, but beware; it is more show than substance. In fact, the only good thing in the museum is the souvenir shop where you’ll have an idea about what you can find in Dubai. Rest awhile here or move to the Ruler’s Court and take a turn and come back to the Creek. The sun would be setting soon and you’ll find lots of people coming in to feed the gulls. As the sun sets, the two temples begin to get active and if you are there on the weekend, you’ll find the Indian community in their best attire filling up the entire area. Of course, you’ll get to see budding love stories, hopeful college kids trying to see if they can find someone special, boys trying to act macho and girls giving them not even a cursory glance. Once done, walk down to Bur Dubai, see the shoppers go crazy, pick up a decent dinner and then catch a cab back home. On the way back you can of course ask the cabbie to drive around the Consulates. It’s a good ride.

Also yesterday I achieved one in the ‘things to do before I am 30’ list. I finally went to all four BITS Pilani centres across the world – Pilani, Goa, Hyd and now finally Dubai. My alma mater is a bit crazy in terms of location selection. BITS Dubai like BITS Pilani is almost in the middle of nowhere. But given the rate of construction activities in Dubai, I guess, it will not stay so for long though.

So long Dubai. Shukran. The traveller must now set forth for his next stop - A sleepy village somewhere in the northern parts of India. And if I do find an internet connection there, I’ll keep you updated.

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