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…