The city's largest expat community is in a festive mood. Onam, the biggest festival of the Malayalee community from the South Indian state of Kerala, is just round the corner.

Dubai, and indeed the UAE, shares a special bond with the people of this community who comprise, according to an unofficial estimate, 60 per cent of the 1.2 million Indians who have made this country their home.

Joseph John, 33, an accountant with a Dubai-based ad agency, is sad that he is away from home this Onam. "I wanted to go home to my family in India to celebrate Onam, but my leave application was rejected. I am sad. It is a festival of religious harmony, I wanted to celebrate it with my family and friends."

But people like John can take heart in the fact that the festival is celebrated on as grand a scale in Dubai as it is in the country of its origin, says K. V. Shankar, Secretary Co-ordination, Indian Association Dubai (IAD), organisers of an Onam event in Dubai.

Al Nasr Leisureland will play host to at least 3,000 Keralites tomorrow when they cometo celebrate Onam, a festival that marks the harvest time.

"In Kerala it is done in a small way. But here the social circle is much bigger. There are friends, family, relatives and even strangers. It is also kept very affordable for those who want to join the celebrations," said Shankar. "For those in Dubai who can't go to India, it is a good opportunity to be part of a family atmosphere."

The UAE has by far the largest population of Malayalees outside Kerala.

"Kerala is a small state with limited job opportunities. This prompts Keralites to move out. They prefer moving to Gulf countries because this is where the first settlers came when migration started many decades ago.

"Those days only the less educated people came here. The Kerala connection goes back to the British rule, much before the formation of the UAE."

Most of those who come to Dubai work in blue collar jobs.

"The bulk of the population is working in the construction industry. Quite of few are in trade such as restaurants and food stuff."

But that doesn't mean the community doesn't have its share of rich and successful people who enjoy positions of power and influence.

To name a few – Yousuf Ali M.A., Managing Director, Emke Group, Sunny Varkey, Dubai-based entrepreneur with business interests in education and healthcare industries, and Joy Alukkas who runs a chain of retail jewellery outlets in the UAE and abroad.

Even the current Consul General at the Consulate General of India in Dubai, Venu Rajamony, is a native of Kerala.

While they manged to meet every challenge on their way to the top, there are still many in the community who are struggling with issues like non-payment of salaries and expired visas that are detrimental to their survival in the UAE.

The ongoing amnesty however, has also come as a ray of hope to many of these people. Hope of deliverance from a bleak future behind bars. Hope of being back with their loved ones. Hope of a new beginning.

This year's Onam symbolises all of the above to both those returning home and those who have chosen to stay back in their adopted home. Either way, Malayalees in the UAE are in the mood to celebrate. Onam ashamsakal!

  • 10 The number of days the celebration lasts
  • 800 AD the year when Onam celebrations first started
  • 22 The number of dishes that will be served to each guest

Onam celebrations at Al Nasr Leisureland

The Indian Association of Dubai has organised day-long Onam celebrations. The occasion, also supported by the Malayalee Arts & Cultural Centre and Kalabhavan, will include a floral decoration competition at 8am for which about 200kg of fresh flowers have been flown in from Kerala.

A 24ft X 12ft pookkalam (flower carpet) will be laid out inside the ice rink.Onasadya (Onam lunch) will be served between 11am and 3.30pm and will include 22 items served on plantain leaves.

Festivities will begin at 5.30pm and will include a cultural procession with umbrellas followed by traditional folk dances and semi-classical and cinematic dances by children.

A musical show will also be presented by noted singers such as Biju Narayanan, Radhika Tilak, Shweta Mohan, Arun Raj and Parvathy.

Date: Friday, August 17

Tickets: Dh30

Tel: 04-351 1082/351 1083

Venue: Al Nasr Leisureland