The ‘Odisha Samaj’ (community) in Dubai literally brought the fragrance and colors of home to UAE and resurrected a mini-India on 15 April 2011. The function was possible due to the efforts of a dedicated group of organizers and participants. These are schoolchildren studying in a competitive environment, participants and organizers excelling in their demanding professional fields. They stole moments from their busy lives, churned out an impressive program that held viewers captive and left them hankering for more. The program was bejeweled with a scintillating line of group, and individual performances. The program was initiated by an inaugural group song and an Odisha classical dance recital, where Lord Jagganath was paid homage. Various individuals’ songs, group dances showcasing the various folk and classical forms of Indian culture, followed.
The most endearing element of the program was the fancy dress competition for children. Earlier, a painting competition for different age groups of children had been arranged, where the central theme was Indian culture. The winning entries were honored with prizes during the program. Odisha Samaj (community) is a small start to an exemplary vision of keeping alive the Indianness in the minds and hearts of children who never had an opportunity to experience their homeland. No matter how far from home one is the heart always yearns for its roots. The mundane irritations and ordinary memories become the most cherished. The daily doses of power-cuts, sweaty and hot evenings equipped with newspaper-fans in dark ritualistic family gathering, antaksharis, word power games, etc.
Even the most errant, irksome memories are adorned in a citadel of nostalgia. Homing pigeons find their way back home from the odor carried by the wind. Salmons, thousands of miles away from home, are guided by an internal magnet back to their dwellings. Nature has designed each of these animals to find their way back home. Humans are devoid of such natural directors, perhaps because their survival is not hinged on it. Their intelligence enables them to adapt to all environment. Yet for people residing away from their homeland the thirst for their roots is real and acute.
The estimated Indian population in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as of 2009 census is two million. This constitutes about 35% of the total population of six million. Ironically, the local Arab population is a mere 20% of the total population of the UAE. Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai are the cities where a majority of the Indians resides. If numbers were a determinant of power, Indians can literally rule the country. Indians, however, have traditionally enjoyed an amicable and cordial relationship with the UAE. Certain incidences of ill-treatment of immigrant Indian laborers in the recent years have brewed up discord in the relationship between the two countries. Indians like other expatriates prosper and enjoy the employment opportunities in many other sectors like construction, real estate, petroleum, transport as well as in entrepreneurship and professional services.
The proximity to homeland, convenience, security, infrastructure, and comfort attracts Indians to UAE like bees to honey. Being in UAE is like being in a comfortable, secure and modern India- A pseudo-home land, devoid of the concomitant headaches that are part of a resident Indian’s life. The UAE is also a relatively lenient nation that offers opportunity, for cultural/religious expression and freedom. India club, Goan Association, Keralite association, temples, churches, Indian schools, and an enviable line up of Indian restaurants and food joints are testimony, to the fact that Indians are allowed to be Indians in UAE. It is, however, not Utopia and there are certain limitations and restrictions like non-Muslims are not allowed to proselytize their religion publicly.
Three years back when I was to embark on my journey to UAE a Muslim country I did have certain reservations. This was triggered by a seemingly innocuous statement by a friend. When she had come to wish us a safe journey, I had invited her to visit us sometime in UAE. She had blunted out promptly “Oh! I’m sorry, but I cannot visit a conservative Mohammedian country.” I do not know what had elicited the reaction, but it stayed with me for a long time. I am happy that now, having lived here for 3 years, I feel a little sorry for her complacency. We celebrate Holi, Diwali, Easter, Id and Ramadan with as much élan as any Indian Muslim, Hindu or Christian would have. The only difference is that we have friends who are Muslim, Hindu and Christian and not necessarily only from India. Employment opportunity, financial constraints or comfort of living and a myriad of other reasons brings us far from home. We survive the homesickness by recreating a semblance of home, perhaps a more tolerant and accommodative home.