Meenakshi Shedde: Falcon time in Dubai

Updated: Dec 18, 2016, 06:23 IST | Meenakshi Shedde

I always say that cinema has given me much of my life. It has given me not only the richness of movies from all over the world, but many years of opportunities to travel, meet people, enduring friendships, and a chance to see how others live

I always say that cinema has given me much of my life. It has given me not only the richness of movies from all over the world, but many years of opportunities to travel, meet people, enduring friendships, and a chance to see how others live. I was in Dubai for the 13th Dubai International Film Festival, held from December 7-14. As much as I enjoyed the films, I also enjoyed the sidelights of the festival, and of sauntering in Dubai.

At the Hotel al Qasr in Dubai, a man holds a falcon to keep away crows, so people can enjoy their breakfast undisturbed on the verandah. Pic/Meenakshi Shedde
At the Hotel al Qasr in Dubai, a man holds a falcon to keep away crows, so people can enjoy their breakfast undisturbed on the verandah. Pic/Meenakshi Shedde

One of the most astonishing scenes I saw was that of a man with a falcon. I had mentioned in my last column how, at the Jumeirah Mina a'Salam Resort where I was staying, I had to take an abra, or traditional boat, to go from reception to the breakfast restaurant, gliding along the serene canals within the sprawling resort. On one such glide, I saw a man standing on the steps of the al-Qasr hotel, on whose gloved hand perched a falcon, its head covered with a hood. My abra 'captain' told me that since people like to breakfast in the open verandah, crows may bother them, so the falcon swoops and preys on the crows, so people can champ away undisturbed! It was an ingenious way of using an elegant hunting bird to man's ends.

It also reminded me of the time I was on the FIPRESCI jury (of international film critics) at the Venice film festival, and on each table in the restaurant, were little pots with the Venus flytrap carnivorous plant — to trap flies — so people could enjoy their meals.

From my balcony, I had a great view of the sea and the Burj al Arab Jumeirah, a luxurious seven-star hotel built in the shape of a billowing sail. All day, you could see people commuting to it by helicopter, landing on a white, saucer-shaped helipad attached to an upper floor, you know, like they were just popping across to buy bhindi. At our hotel porch, there was always a gaggle of jaw-dropping flaming red Ferraris and sunflower-yellow Lamborghinis, as well as gorgeous BMWs for our festival guests. My friend Bhaskar tells me an Indian businessman Balwinder Sahani recently bought a 'D5' number plate for his Rolls Royce for the dirham equivalent of nearly R60 crore, and I wondered how much the man had paid when I saw a number plate '786,' the numerical talisman that exalts Allah.

I love to listen to cab drivers' stories. One of them brought me up to speed on cabbie gossip about how Salman Khan threw a tantrum, refusing a fancy BMW and insisting on a Rolls Royce, and how Shilpa Shetty and Raj Kundra owned a flat in the fancy Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building (but later gave it up as it was “too small”).

Not everything is fun and games, of course. Another cabbie from Punjab in Pakistan, struggled to support the education of his three children, including a son studying medicine in China. He told me how his schoolteacher wife in Punjab, who had earlier been considering voluntary retirement, died recently in a scooter accident, soon after
telling him that she had found out that insurance money was much higher if you die when you are still in service. For all the glamour of Dubai, the city is built — like any other —on the blood, sweat, dreams and nightmares of those who toil underneath.

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at eenakshishedde@gmail.com

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