‘Things have changed dramatically,” said a friend urging me to visit my home town again after many years. “The roads are wider and we have a lot more flyovers.”
I am not very enamoured by urban development as I get that a lot in Dubai where I have been living for the past decade or so and still keep getting lost, and would have preferred that the old world charm of my home town had remained the same since I left it long ago.
I had lived in a suburb where everyone went to bed at eight and the streets would turn so quiet that you could hear the crickets chirping. Everyone knew each other, even those who lived at the end of the road, and knew what everyone was up to, which was quite annoying. I had desperately wished to escape just as I had turned into a belligerent and an irritable teen.
“The traffic is very bad now and every summer we have power and water shortages,” said my friend as an afterthought, trying hard to cajole me to come back home.
I was reminded of this conversation after reading a report that an Indian expatriate is finally returning home after working for 48 years in the UAE.
“Old age problems will not permit me to work any longer. So, it is time to settle down back home,” he says.
Old age happens a lot to expatriates who have been working abroad for many years. Nobody, however, marks the passage of time with the disappearing of hair on the head. Nobody says for instance, ‘When I first came to the UAE, my hair was lustrous and jet black, just like Sri Devi’s, and I would massage my head every week with pure coconut hair oil’.”
Instead, people only recount stuff like there were no roads when they came here decades ago. People mark their timeline with how difficult it was in those early years, “Once my friend went out of our camp to buy a packet of cigarettes and he never returned. They found him many hours later lost and wandering in the desert, singing a Bollywood movie song about true love and thirst.”
I for one, have selective memory and barely remember what happened last week and fear this happening when I return home: “Oh, come on, don’t pretend you do not recognise me. You are not a spring chicken yourself, you know. What happened to your teeth?”
My wife is even worse at remembering things. “Really, did we dine at this restaurant at our last anniversary? Did you get me flowers?” Which is a blessing as I can never remember the date of our anniversary.
But my wife remembers the names of all our past housemaids and their idiocyncracies. “Radha wants to work for us again. I will never take her back. She purposely broke our steam mop in 1978, do you remember?”
For an expatriate there is no really going back after working in another country for years, especially for an Indian expatriate. Your friends have moved on and lead their own busy lives. And you cannot expect them to fawn over you when you come back home with cheap gifts from ‘everything for 10 dirham’ shops.
I can imagine rocking myself on the rocking chair on the balcony of my flat and telling the cook, “I had gone abroad saying that I will return after five years, but how time flies.”
Which is a lie about the five years, because no expatriate makes such a plan.
“So, how is the family?” you ask an old-timer eating ‘chappatis’ at the cafeteria. “They are fine. Had to send them back home. I plan to be here for only 10 more years.”
Mahmood Saberi is a freelance journalist based in Dubai. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ mahmood_saberi.