I was watching Dubai on TV today. Dubai, is a 2001 Malayalam movie, starring our very own Mammooty in its title role.
Well, that film was filmed in dubai for its three quarter portion, but the Dubai in the background is unrecognizable. Its surrounded by clear mountains, buildings not even a quarter of The Khalifa’s size, being given a prominence of picturing the ‘big city’. That Dubai, 15 years younger, was just emerging, with its purity still in place, just like any other Middle Eastern city. But then, the face of Dubai changed. Glittering skyscrapers, posh cars, glamorous lifestyle equals Dubai now. It had successfully taken its name on the list of the world cities, until it lost its lusture. There used to be a time, when I always bugged my father to take us to Dubai for a family vacation. I used to religiously follow the TV programmes featuring the Dubai Shopping Festival to take my share of the colourful cities. In those programs, I saw expat families like mine, enjoying their life in a colorful world, in contrast to my mundane restricted life in a country next to UAE. My innocent eyes saw the glitter in their eyes, the love in the togetherness, bits and pieces of the whole world in a small city. I remember I would tell myself, that some day, I would go for the festival and buy a little something from every country’s stall. Well, that dream is still unfulfilled. My eyes has never witnessed the wonders of Dubai from land. Witnessing it from the sky, everytime you fly in Emirates airlines, with a connection in the Dubai Intl Airport doesn’t count.
So I was just wondering, how much that little city called Dubai transformed within a span of a few years. At times I wonder, if my little city, which I so dearly call home, would transform one day, to one that I would never be able to recognize someday. The thought scares me. The congestion in Batha and Hara, with its buzzing streets full of expats, small residential buildings and shopping complexes that are food to many. The roads that sell various things and sellers who run at the very sound of the Baladiya. The yellow trucks with yellow uniformed men, who clean the city when its residents are still waking up from their slumbers and going back home to rest after another day. Olaya, our developed part, which houses our dearest 2 towers – The Faisaliyyah (The Needle Tower) and Kingdom Tower (The Necklace Tower), the posh hotels and restaurants, that seemed to exist in another world, so different from mine. Malaz, another semi developed area. Deerah, with its traditional markets and mud structures and the court, majestically standing amidst the mud structures. Naseem, with our schools and quite residential villas and vehicle showrooms. And many other smaller parts unique in their own way. The malls, with its splendid infrastructure, bringing the world to us. The masjids, around every corner offering moments of peace. The main cross bridge in the Road, its been a part of my life since the day I started understanding things. We crossed it, daily twice, during our commute to and fro the school. That croos bridge with its swirling road, used to take my little mind wo the world beyond the worls infront of me.The parks with its date palms, lining the lanes, kids fearless, the bullies in the slides and swings waiting to push us around or scare us away. The 20 riyal pizzas, Qubs, Shawarmas, Broasteds, Kabsas and Mandi, that became the taste of our tongues, warming our plates, filling our stomachs. Everywhere you look, you can see people who has embraced the land odf deserts, put their faith into the blessed land of the two Great Mosques, to fill their stomachs and save their families back in their homeland.
The Riyadh that I knew and lived in was never the glamorous one filled with malls and brands and posh lifestyles. It was the Riyadh of the parched hearts, struggling to stand on their two feet to support their families, home for kids like us, whose parents hated the dryness and lack of the greenness, that they so closely held dear. For them, this was a place of livelihood because of no other choice, and for us, home. That shaped us to what we are, that consists of little bits and pieces of our being and memories.
That was the Riyadh, where the yellow uniformed street cleaners were underpaid, the cleaners of the two Great Mosques considered blessed, where you see expats, working their life away.
That was the Riyadh, which was hell, for the thieves who were punished severely, people beheaded publicly due to which crimes were less, for people who were wrongly jailed and punished with no money to pay the government to free them, no people to fend for in a foreign country, no love to be showered, treated like dirt by some Saudi, years and youth wasted away, bearing the harshness of the sun, toiling.
Like any other city, it is filled with secrets and pretenses. Secrets, of expats, royals and the common men. So deeply concealed.
It’s a land of tears, of lives lost in the face of fate, souls shattered in the name of livelihood.
That’s the purity of it, this multi-facetedness, this mix of people, culture withing the strong realm of the traditional culture and I am sure, you will see this in every major cities in the Middle East. Even beyond the glittering city of Dubai. This might have been the face and soul of Dubai once, before another face of glamour came into the forefront as its tag. And I wonder , 10 years down the lane, if Riyadh would be the same place that I lived in. That I grew up in. Will it lose its purity, its real face?
Only time will tell.