Friday, April 03, 2009

Dubai as a Melting myth

Dubai is a melting pot. This is a phrase used so often that is has almost lost all meaning. But is it? Do people of all ethnic stripes living here form a homogenous whole?
Dubai View

Dubai is a microcosm, they say. That people of 180 different nationalities live and work here peacefully is paraded as evidence of this.

A melting pot is one in which all the ingredients blend to exude a new aroma. In reality, Dubai may be a pot with a variety of ingredients. But the ingredients don’t always melt. In fact, there are three distinct Dubais: The first one starts from the glass towers of Sheikh Zayed Road, spreads across the lanes of Jumeirah and stretches to the fashionable gated communities of ‘New Dubai’.

The second Dubai starts somewhere around BurJuman and encompasses the mid-range restaurant district and encompasses Bur Dubai, Karama and Ghusais.

The third Dubai is dwarfed by the shadows the tall buildings cast. The people who belong here work as gardeners, houseboys or are transported in truckloads and disgorged at construction sites. They live at the periphery.

The lines of demarcation are very clear. The first Dubai is the Dubai the world sees. It’s picture perfect — made for tourist brochures and travel programmes.

The second one is the subcontinent stronghold. That’s where those who arrived in droves about two decades ago to save money for a house back home or to earn a dowry for their daughter settled. They thought it was going to be a two-year stay. But it has now stretched to a 20-year one. They live in a permanent state of flux, though their children have now grown up and found jobs here.

For those on this side of the divide, Bur Dubai is an exotic, Indian bazaar — colourful, chaotic and ‘ethnic’. It’s a ‘touristy’ place to take visiting friends to. But for the South Asians living there, it’s their neighbourhood. And how many people living on the other side of Karama do you see shopping at Souq Al Bahar or lounging in the lobby of Madinat Jumeirah? They visit these places for ‘sight-seeing’. This doesn’t imply that one part of Dubai is superior to the other. But no matter how vociferously the ‘melting pot theorists’ deny it, there is a ghettoisation of society here.

Every city and society has its ghettos. You have the fashionable side, the unfashionable side and the unseen underbelly. We humans are clannish. We are often xenophobic. We stick to our own kind. We settle in ethnic pockets and create our own comfort zones. So if people from the European diaspora hang out together at a pub after work, they are coping with a migrant society the best way they can.

If Indians huddle together at the Bur Dubai temple, it’s because the scent of jasmine garlands and incense sticks remind them of home. There’s nothing wrong with it. But the two cannot or do not swap places. How many UAE national friends can expatriates honestly claim to have?

Yes, Dubai is a great place to live and work in. It’s a place to learn how the other side lives. It’s a bustling metropolis. But let’s not perpetuate the myth that it’s a melting pot of cultures. We all have created our own watertight compartments in the pot.

Pratibha Umashankar (Metro)

1 comment:

Mogz said...

The vagueness of this rant makes it seem as though ethnic ghettos only exist in Dubai.