Friday, October 27, 2006

Festival City

There is a place tucked away in the folds of the raucous, colourful, congested Meena Bazaar area of Bur Dubai, fairly close to the bustling abra station. It’s a place I chanced upon quite by accident last year, and if I’ve to pick out one of my favourite places in Dubai, this would be it. There’s a grand, alabaster-hued mosque with tall spires and wide steps, and standing next to it, looking out over the creek, is an equally solemn-looking temple. A mosque and a temple. Cheek-by-jowl. Worshippers streaming out from one. Worshippers streaming into the other. I happened to stroll by last year on the eve of Diwali, which coincided with Eid-Al-Fitr. There were fairy lights all over, and people in rustling silks streamed past with platters filled with flowers and candles. Solemnity mingled with gaiety. There was something mystical in the air that evening, and I wanted to go back there this year and soak in that magic.

Things didn’t turn out as planned. We spent most of last week anticipating the moon. Or more precisely, anticipating when the Eid holidays would be declared. Would it be a 4-day break? Would we work on Sunday and have the next two days off? Could we plan the drive to Oman without knowing the actual holidays? The newspapers were scanned earnestly for more information, but like the moon, answers proved elusive.

The government employees, always the lucky ones, had no such confusion. Nine days off, I’m told. Later, I discovered some of the benefits trickled down to us luckless private sector sorts as well. The parking meters all around the city cheerfully announce, ‘FREE PARKING UNTIL 28 OCTOBER’.

There’s more: according to a newspaper article, those caught in the act of a minor traffic transgression would be spared a reprimand or a fine, and given an Eid greeting instead, courtesy the beleaguered Dubai Traffic Police. A friend also related how he received a full refund for his ticket fare on his way out of the Dubai Museum along with a Eid card.

Fireworks are banned in Dubai, but that hasn’t dimmed the ‘festival of lights’. Multi-hued fairy lights strung across balconies shimmer alluringly. A special effort is made to assert the festival, in a way, to affirm one’s identity in a city as multi-cultural as Dubai.

A colleague mailed urging us to dress in Indian attire on the lone working day wedged between the weekend and the Eid holiday. Most of us poked around the bottom of the wardrobe to pull out a rumpled kurta or sari or salwar kameez… A sporting colleague from the UK also showed up in a kurta, and there was much appreciation as well as good-natured ribbing. Several boxes of Diwali sweets in shiny, cellophane wrapping made the rounds of the office until people groaned at the sight of them.

‘Eid Mubarak’, I wished a Syrian colleague, and without a pause, he responded, ‘Happy Diwali’.

If only there was a way to spread that feeling throughout the world…

22 comments:

Ash said...

What Leela, no photos ?

Cherie! said...

Captures the spirit of the last few weeks so well Lee. Nicely done! Mubaraks and greetings to you.

khotta said...

two vvery different ppl in very different place with two very different diwali experiences. neways...how u been? nice new blog place u got.

Leela A said...

Ash: *sheepish grin* Next year...

Cherie: Thank you. Did you have a similar experience?

Khotta: Hey!! Here I was moping that the old gang had moved on, and all you guys show up here. Good to see you. And where is your blog?

Cherie! said...

Actually I did...and people aren't sure whether it was eid or Diwali 'mubarak' (who says we are a diverse race!)so we ended up with 'Hosni' Mobarak! Pjs apart I was on Jebel Hafeet yesterday all thanks to your post on that. Oh, AND I have been to Leh too,so I understood what you meant :)

Sonia said...

don't EVER go to the temple during diwali. my mum forced us to go this time, and i got stuck with trying to find a prking spot, went round and round and round and finally parked a mile away and then when i got back to the temple, there was this loooong serpentine queue there, u'd had to wait for at least an hour to get in.
that totally ruined it for me!

godo said...

and also reduction of call charges to India on Diwali and a full page ad wishing Indians by Etisalat and Jafza..that made me feel good

Patrix said...

You have your camera ready for 'priceless photos' but not for a festive atmosphere...kya re! Anyway, you have promised some for the next year.

AmitL said...

Hi there...whew- did u try to enter the temple,amidst that bustling crowd?Hats off to u if u did.:)Err,if u can spend a week pondering over the moon,I guess u're pretty relaxed at work.Lucky u,Lee.:)

parmanu said...

A mosque and a temple - It is nice to learn about such religious coexistences. If only such examples were followed elswhere...

Leela said...

Cherie: Can't help chortling over 'Hosni Mubarak'. I was on Jebel Hafeet last Monday. It was like Sheikh Z Road during rush hour! You've been to Leh too?! We must chat about it sometime.

Sonia: I can imagine your plight. As for me, I never venture into Bur Dubai in my car. In any case, this was last year, and I was walking along the creek (read, getting lost). I didn't go into the temple, just watched the spectacle from afar.

Godo: Ah yes, the call rates. I realised that only later when I needlessly zipped through a few conversations.

Patrix: *head bowed low* In my defence, I thought I was painting a picture with words.

Amit: My reply to Sonia should answer the first part of your question. As for relaxed at work, not at all. We thought about the moon only when we weren't playing carrom.

Parmanu: I found it quite fascinating too.

Cherie! said...

We must. Doesn't the road to Hafeet remind you of 'Jalebi mond' in Leh? Did you do that on the way to the 'Moonland', because there is another (shorter) route. Incidentally, the pjs doing the rounds on the recent trip was "Which is the highest AND the lowest point in the UAE"? (The answer is guranteed to make anyone throw up!)

AmitL said...

Aahh...I forgot- playing carrom is part of the work schedule..:)Usually in Dubai,the most popular game is 'passing the buck',err parcel..:)If u have the pending issue in your table when the ball stops rolling,u're IT.:)Touchwood,i dont see much of this in my new job.:)

Leela A said...

Cherie: I don't recall the place you mention. Was this in Leh or on the outskirts? And what IS the answer to the pj? Drop me a line, will ya?

Amit: Good to know your new workplace is treating you well.

Cherie! said...

On the outskirts more towards Kargil.....I wonder if you ventured there at all. And the pj? Jebel Half-feet? (eeeeps!)Will get in touch soon, swamped with work :D!

Ph said...

Lovely writing Lee.

anish said...

Dubai can sometimes be personified in positive light...like through this post.

You write really well!

Chanced upon your blog through the Desi-Pundit directory, because you happened to be from Dubai.

Aren't you updating it any more?

Glad to be one of the suckers to comment though!

Blog on!

Leela A said...

Cherie: We didn't go as far as Kargil. Manali to Leh and back. Good luck with work, it's been a busy week here too.

Ph: Thank you, ma'am :)

Anish: Welcome, and thanks for saying nice things. This blog keeps chugging along, so do drop by again. :)

Sonia said...

i recently went to this friend's place and i happened to see a neat little trinket on his bookcase. He told me he got it from the Paki guy at work as an Onam gift.

:)

pradip said...

yeah..its the same for the people out on the streets...they just like to be human beings...hope you have heard the mal song...manushyan madhangale srishtichu...

Leela A said...

Sonia: That is cool. Usually on Onam, we only pester the mallus in office to treat us to the elaborate lunch.

Pradip: Human beings? Mallu song? I wouldn't know if I heard it... I'm not familiar with Malayalam. (Psst... the name 'Leela' doesn't imply I'm from Kerala)

sabu mangalasserril said...

Leela...the mallu talk makes me right this..Let me confess that even I thought that ur a mallu...

This Dubai writings gives me a nostalgic feeling...

Sabu