Greetings from Dubai, capital of Kerala. A place so wealthy I’m not even sure the term “first world” applies. No, Dubai is where the first world comes to feel like the third world. And I’m already from the third world, so I don’t even know where that leaves me. It’s like a game of Monopoly but in real life.
Except instead of hotels and houses, everyone here builds malls and towers. And halfway through the game, the expats decide they don’t want to play anymore, and they leave their cars at the airport and go away.
Dubai sits on the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, with water at its feet and the desert on its back. So naturally, there’s a giant snow-slope you can ski on, built of artificial ice, snow, and a healthy sense of gaudiness. Everything about Dubai screams money. It’s loud, it’s flashy, and is about as subtle as a Punjabi wedding. The place is like a rich bored housewife, with too much money and too little work. Trophy wives blow this money on “careers” like “sustainable one-piece furniture made of puppies”. Dubai blows it on islands shaped like a palm tree.
When asked why they wanted to build an island that looked like a palm tree, a Dubai civic planner was quoted as saying “Because setting money on fire got boring after a bit”. Dubai also has the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. I saw it, and while it’s nice and all, it is also a bit of a cheat. The top of it is essentially a giant stick, like it was put on there for the sole purpose of beating the record. It’s a modern Empire State Building for the Middle-East. The difference being, King Kong climbed the Empire State Building.
The only person they could find to climb the Khalifa was Tom Cruise, and he’s only three feet tall, so he doesn’t even add to it in any way. There are two ways to pass your time in Dubai; you can either spend money, or you can spend money. The place is obsessed with shopping. To be fair, so is everyone else in the world, but at least we have the decency to disguise it. We build elaborate ruses like Diwali and Christmas to allow us to shop. Us Indians even went so far as to invent “Akshay Tritiya”, so we could buy gold with dignity. Dubai dispenses with such subtleties. They just call it The Dubai Shopping Festival.
Dubai is undoubtedly a great city, but I have to confess, it makes me a bit uneasy. There is no visible poverty here, and while one can’t romanticize poverty, it’s a bit odd to see a place so devoid of it. It’s not that there are no poor people, it’s that the place seems to have been rather consciously sterilized of them. Coming from Mumbai, the lack of poverty here is a bit unnerving.
I was at a traffic light for four minutes and I was bored out of my wits. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was meeting an Indian friend for lunch, and when I got to his house, the withdrawal symptoms were so bad, I insisted he ask me for ten rupees. He looked at me like the heat had gotten to me, but as a good host, he humoured my request, and asked me for the money. So I swore at him, refused, and told him to bugger off. Whew. I feel so much better now.
Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo. You can also contact him on www.facebook.com/therohanjoshi