My Life in Dubai (Part 1)

“Have I really landed into a desert city?” I wondered seeing the rain pouring outside my office window. It was two weeks since moving from Delhi and boats plying on the roads in the inner streets of Karama came as a bit of a shock. It has not happened again since that time in February but was a surprising part of my initiation to Dubai.

When the family learnt that we had taken the decision to move to Dubai, they just could not fathom it. “Why would anyone go ‘there’?” they asked. “You are set here in a big Company, some would call it a dream job! Are you sure this is what you want to do?” Maps had been retrieved to locate where exactly this place was and like all prospective expats our feeble defence was – ‘two-three years, we will save up some money and return.’ Little did we know, that 30 years later, we would still be ‘there’.

The city was small and yet one could feel its ambitions to grow, it’s pretensions to punch much higher than its weight. Roads had been well laid out – at least the main ones – with British style roundabouts and street signals. They were well lit at night. The airport was small but decent. There was a bridge and even more excitingly a tunnel under the sea linking the two sides of the Creek. Electricity and water were abundant and supermarkets and stores carried a host of goods from across the globe. For the new arrival, there was unmistakably a feeling of being in a modern town.

Starting off in Karama was like a rite of passage and we got our mandatory two-bedroom apartment for the sum of AED 11,000. Interestingly, from the second floor of my first apartment in a building which is now located just opposite Bur Juman Centre, I could clearly see the Dubai Port and the ships berthed there. A few tallish buildings were interspersed in between – the Strand Cinema, the Ramada Hotel which just this year was brought down, Citibank, Jumbo, Choithram, some Golden Sands buildings and a few more. The rest of the area was wild undulating desert. But in a few years, this rough expanse disappeared into what is now a concrete maze with more than a hundred buildings popping up. The same was happening in Deira in the area called Rigga Road. The pace was frenetic and it grabbed you wherever you turned. A city was taking shape and still is.

The Gold Souk is still a must-visit place on any trip to Dubai.

Many new residents may not realise that for many years this was Dubai, nestling gently along both sides of the Creek. Not only were the views of both sides of the Creek the authentic representation of the city, to get practically anything of any worth – electronics, watches, textiles, shoes, luggage et al, it was all to be found on the streets of Deira or Bur Dubai. Most of those venerable stores have disappeared now as the city moved its locus to malls and to “new Dubai”, but many had been household names for a long time. I often ask friends who have come in the last 7-8 years if they had been to these parts of Dubai, or knew of them, not surprisingly, for many going beyond the Zabeel Park and across the Maktoum Bridge is just not part of their experience – unless of course they make the obligatory visits to the Spice and Gold Souks.

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