Al Maktoum Bridge, Dubai: Then and now. Image Credit: Gulf News

The residential neighbourhood where I lived for more than two decades was an oasis of calm back in the day. It was a serene haven, far from the madding crowds, but perhaps its remoteness made it unattractive to those used to living in the heart of town.

I was often asked why I lived so far away from the bright lights and my only answer was that these friends had no idea how peaceful it was to live in a place where the houses were large and private with a lot of space for a garden and sit-out.

In those days one had to travel to town for shopping as this area had only the most basic amenities. Fast forward to the present day and the changes are dramatic. In the past 10 years, this haven of solitude has grown beyond measure.

The traffic on the main road is chaotic and there is every kind of shop available here. With the growth in population, land prices have rocketed and the number of colonies or residential areas has multiplied. The roads are no longer deserted in the night.

This transformation reminds me of the Sharjah-Dubai highway in the 1990s, when all one could see was stretches of sand on either side until one reached Al Mamzar. In less than a decade, houses sprang up all along the highway and rents rocketed as everyone wanted to move closer to work.

The same is true of Shaikh Zayed Road which seemed to run endlessly until one reached the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. On either side lay there with a few dwellings. Now everything has changed dramatically with residential communities on either side. Some of these are highly coveted by the upwardly mobile and you can judge the net worth of individuals by the places they choose to move into.

This is similar to my own backwater where land prices have spiralled steeply and many home owners are opting to sell out to builders who are willing to pay exorbitant amounts to acquire land here. The result is an accompanying proliferation of upmarket stores and eating places serving a variety of cuisines.

This is a far cry indeed from the days I grew up here when our idea of evening entertainment was visiting each other’s homes and debating the financial wisdom of a long trip into town to eat at a fancy restaurant, although our idea of fine dining has undergone a sea change. Reality cooking shows have helped us develop an appreciation for the exotic as well as using words we’d never heard before to describe the simplest of dishes.

I remember walking down the main road in our residential community in the evening with my sister-in-law and nieces, stopping at the bakery to buy a loaf of bread and wishing it were stocked with more than the bare essentials.

Now that same street is home to a diverse variety of restaurants, fast food outlets and clothes stores. If these had been there in the good old days, we would have probably made many stops to savour the sights and smells even if we could not afford most of it.

That’s another change I view with disbelief — the buying power of young people. When we were in college and university, the only time we ate out was on someone’s birthday. The place chosen for the celebration was a modest establishment where the bill would not cause cardiac arrest. The choices were limited but the company more than made up for the lack of frills.

However, what pleases me most is when my friends from town want to come to my neck of the woods as they have heard that some of the restaurants here are worth a visit as well as the distance travelled.

Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India