Thursday, November 11, 2010

Where's the food, dude?

All my previous years in Dubai were spent in and around Burdubai, which, in the words of a colleague, is “basically India’s cleanest city”. Now I live in The Greens, which is not only at the other end of the city, but on the other side of the world. It’s too far away for even the most enterprising of Karama’s delivery boys, which means I can’t just decide I want chicken curry and expect to have it brought to me in half an hour. It’s still Dubai, so there’s always some Indian food on offer, but one token Indian restaurant catering to all tastes is not the same as being able to choose between specialists from Chettinad, Madras, Hyderabad, Calcutta, North Kerala, South Kerala, Malabar, Mangalore, Goa, Delhi, Lucknow, Ludhiana, Kashmir, and infinite varieties of something called pepper chicken (which crosses the borders to exist in several Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi and Chinese avatars as well). And it’s not just a paucity of good Indian takeout – this applies to all kinds, including Arabic. The single version available close by is purely nominal. Maybe that’s why everybody around the pool is skinny. Maybe it’s called the Greens because you’re expected to only need two leaves of lettuce and a grape. Dressed with a teaspoon of Diet Coke. Maybe by living here I’ll finally attain size zero nirvana myself, but it’s far more likely that I’ll end up becoming a very good (fat) cook. It’s amazing how willing you become to season a cast iron skillet if you can’t just stroll across the road for a dosa. And when getting readymade batter involves a 45-minute metro ride, grinding your own becomes positively convenient. It’s the first time I’ve bought a food processor before a wine glass. There may of course be a more sinister reason for this - that there is a significant difference between being 28 and 37. Sob.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Plugging someone else's blog

I really like this post. And this blogger, for that matter. I've already given it some publicity on Facebook so why not do it here too?

Indianizing the Facebook "Like" button

In India, we do things differently. And in keeping with the rich tradition of orally imparted knowledge and MMS scandals, we rarely like to write things down, and that is why when we go to “foreign”, we spare no chances in pontificating, elucidating and prognosticating on the Great Indian Difference. In India, we have history. In India, we have ancient culture. In India, we have the world’s most unhealthy kind of vegetarian food. Etc. Of course, elderly Indian gentlemen with NRI children play it both ways, hitting forehands down the line glorifying Western infrastructure and orderliness while slicing backhand drop shots edifying the sanctity of Indian chaos when the audience is melanin-challenged.

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

The first swallow of summer

India never had a recession. Sure, we all called it that and all of corporate India used it as an opportunity to cut costs, but we were actually very, very lucky. It’s only now, in Dubai, that I’ve understood what recession really means.

Over that first weekend I heard stories of companies going bankrupt by the hundreds, promising entrepreneurs left stranded. Of jobs lost overnight and lives abandoned wholesale as people scrambled to get out ahead of the foreclosures. Stories we’ve heard from a distance, but now made real by the fact that these were people I knew. But there were also other stories of those who made it through, which of course never make it to the media. My friends didn’t say much about their own struggles, merely summing it up as “survival mode”.

Several chance meetings in the following weeks produced startlingly effusive greetings from people who used to be mere acquaintances. I got the uncomfortable feeling that they were seeing my return as a vindication of their decision – or compulsion – to stay.

I left two years ago at the crescendo of Dubai’s boom. The city I’ve returned to is only just starting a tentative new tune after the old one faded to silence. My very first thought was that it felt more like Muscat than Dubai, the brash confidence that was the stock-in-trade quite conspicuous by its absence. The cafes are quieter, people are kinder, the traffic is more manageable. In the place of the old giddiness, there’s a certain grimness of purpose, a cautious optimism that one wouldn’t have thought was in Dubai’s DNA. The most interesting impression I’ve got in the first three weeks of my second innings here is that Dubai is not diminished by adversity but the better for it – I think the recession will turn out to be the best thing that happened to this city.

But I have to say that walking down the Beach Road one day, noting the empty tables on a Saturday evening, I smiled with relief at a car parked outside a nondescript gate. It was a Lamborghini with vanity plates, key in the ignition, engine running extravagantly, left unchaperoned in the arrogant certainty that nobody would dare touch it. Now that’s more like it!

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