Dubai: “What a day it was,” said Pakistani expat and bank employee Danish Sheikh, 30,recalling the celebration of his first Pakistan Independence Day in Dubai five years ago.
The patriotic fervour was strong among Pakistani expats like him, but what was equally heartening was seeing Pakistanis and Indians together honouring each other’s national day that made the celebration more special.
Sheikh told Gulf News, “The holidays fell on a weekend – August 14 (Pakistan Independence Day) was a Friday and August 15 (Independence Day of India) was Saturday. My bosses were Indians and I thought there would be no celebration for August 14. But I was totally surprised and delighted that the management arranged a big round cake on August 13. It was decorated with both the Pakistan and Indian flags.”
He said, “We cut the cake, gave each other a slice and sang both the Pakistani and Indian national anthems. We hugged each other like brothers.”
For Sheikh, the joint celebration not only broke the stereotypical animosity between the two countries but also paved the way for him to make new friends from the “other side”. “The scene was actually surreal. I realised first-hand that in Dubai, people live and work together irrespective of their nationality or political and religious persuasion,” Sheikh pointed out.
He said: “After that celebration, I began to appreciate that we (Pakistanis and Indians) really have a lot of things in common – we love the same food, we share the same clothing styles and, of course, we have a common history.”
Mohammad Riyaz, 32, a colleague of Sheikh’s who hails from Uttar Pradesh, India, also said, “Pakistanis and Indians are brothers.”
“At the office, we work together like a team or a family that supports each other,” said Mohammad, adding: “May be because we are expats, we tend to value building our relationship with each other, as we are away from our family and country. Because we have a common goal of working for the success of our company and also for improving our lot, we look beyond one’s creed, colour or nationality,” he said.
“In fact, it was a Pakistani manager who interviewed and hired me. I arrived in Dubai in November 2007 and it was the same Pakistani manager who helped me grow in this city,” he added.
Like Sheikh, Mohammad also developed and nurtured friends from the neighbouring country.
“I had Pakistani roommates and I remained friends even after I moved away and started my own family,” said Mohammad, adding: “We play cricket together – Pakistanis and Indians – during inter-bank tournaments.”
Mohammad said the bond between Indians and Pakistanis were also made stronger during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“I have friends – Indians and Pakistanis – who lost their jobs because of the pandemic, but we set up a group that extended help to those in need,” he said.
“We shared food, consoled each other and we also helped those who lost jobs to find employment,” he said.
“We have a common enemy and it’s called COVID. As we celebrate our upcoming national days, I hope we defeat the virus and create a safer world.”