I have always believed that ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans’, until that is, I came to the UAE six years back! Even now it still amazes me sometimes how, when in the UAE, we are able to do as the Indians!
We decorate our doors with leaves and the Aum. We draw kolams or rangolis outside the doors. We manage to convert some space into a pooja room and fill it with our Gods. We cook our own food complete with spices and coconut. We get every vegetable that we ever need. We celebrate Diwali, Navratri, Onam, Vishu, Pongal. We send our children to CBSE or ICSE schools. We send them to learn Bharatnatyam and Karnatic music classes. On weekends we go for bhajans or yoga sessions and send our children to balsatsang to learn culture. We wear the salwar kameez and the saree. We watch cricket and celebrate on the streets when India wins the world cup. We hang out clothes on the balcony to dry. We order food and groceries in our own language. We conduct business in our own language. We can live an entire life here without learning the local language. We have Indian friends and Indian colleagues. We have brothers, sisters and cousins living within driving distance. We watch the latest Indian movies in the cinema. And though I don’t drive, I understand from some comments on the Gulf News that we probably also drive like we do in India!
Who can say that we are not living in India!!!
In fact, if you ask me, Indians can be more ‘Indian’ here in the UAE. In India, you are a Punjabi, a Gujarati, a Tamilian or a Malayali. In the UAE, you can celebrate Diwali, Pongal and Onam with the same zest. You can eat in Bombay Chowpatty and Saravana Bhavan. You can learn Bharatnatyam and Kathak, Karnatic and Hindustani. Tamilians here speak Hindi! You can go to the temple and see all your Gods in one place. Two steps away you have the Shirdi baba and climb a few steps more and you are in the Gurudwara.
I think it is only natural that people with the same culture and language flock together – Indian or non Indian. I don’t believe that the way we live here relates to anything deep like lack of integration or adaptability that is specific to Indians. I think it has to do with sheer numbers. It is like when you have lot of relatives, you probably do not make so many new friends. I never celebrated Vishu in neighbouring Tamil Nadu but I am able to do it here because I easily get whatever I need to set up a Vishukkani or cook a Vishu sadya. It is easy to be Indian here. It is that simple.
I also think NRIs are more eager to cling on to culture and tradition than people who live in India. This is especially true of the first generation NRIs. This could be because we are subconsciously missing home. Or because we want our children to know and love India, its art and its culture, be patriotic. Since they are not able to experience it by being in the country, we make them learn it in classes.
Whilst elsewhere, the second generation are more likely to ‘belong’ to the nation they live in and adapt to that culture, this does not generally happen in Gulf countries. Due to their proximity to India, paid annual leave and air tickets, no citizenship policy and difficulty to buy/own property, we do not grow roots here. So when in the UAE, we do as the Indians!