Dubai: If you’ve just had biryani, followed by gulab jamun or lassi — would you say you’ve just enjoyed an Indian lunch or a Pakistani lunch?
Or if you passed by two ladies in shalwar kameez speaking Punjabi, could you tell if they were Indian or Pakistani?
In many ways, India and Pakistan share a common history, culture, cuisine and language — which makes them indistinguishable at times, particularly for people who are not from the two countries.
As always, expats in the UAE from the two neighbouring nations will be celebrating their respective independence days this weekend — Pakistanis on August 14 and Indians on August 15. But some will be celebrating both days, at home or even at work, in a spirit of friendship.
Indian and Pakistani expats, who make up the two biggest communities in the UAE, see the Emirates as a common ground to experience friendships and cultures of their two countries.
Dubai-based Indian expat Dr Krishnabhaskar Mangalasserri, 45, who is also a writer and film director, said “people to people” ties between the two sides is “quite strong” in the UAE.
“This is because there is a common ground here, but also because there is a lot of commonality between us — the food, the language, the cross-border talent in film and music, etc. I probably go to [a Pakistani restaurant] more than I go to an Indian restaurant. I have Pakistani friends here, we speak Hindi or Urdu together,” added Dr Mangalasserri.
Harmony in melody
“I don’t think there is a day when a music fan in Pakistan is not listening to [Indian artist] A.R. Rahman, or a fan in India is not listening to [late Pakistani singer] Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
“When I’m back home in Kochi [a city in southern India], enjoying the monsoon rains, I listen to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. This is just one of many examples where we Indians and Pakistanis find peace in each other.”
He said Indians and Pakistanis also have similar joint-family systems and affectionate names for relatives.
“India, Pakistan — the similarities are striking. In spite of so-called ‘hostilities’ at the level of governments, all that is gone when we meet each other on the ground, especially in a place like Dubai,” Dr Mangalasserri said.
Good food, good force
Saira Ahmed, a Pakistani expat in Dubai who is the managing director of a Pakistani restaurant, Little Lahore, said the “commonality of cuisine” from the subcontinent is well-known — and savoured — among all expats in the UAE.
“I believe good food is a universal force to bring together all nations. The commonality of cuisine, especially in the subcontinent, is well-recognised among the expats who are based in the UAE. The curries, barbecues and desserts typical of specific regions in Pakistan and India offered by various restaurants here are equally enjoyable to guests from either country,” she added.
Some of the more famous common dishes are biryani (spiced meat with rice), kebab (grilled minced meat), nihari (slow-cooked meat stew).
‘Loved by both’
Ahmed said shades of both similarities and differences is what makes Indians and Pakistanis simultaneously familiar yet pronounced from each other.
“With respect to food, some variations may exist based on spices and preparation techniques. There is certainly a lot of variety as far as language is concerned, given the dialects used in different regions, for example in the way Punjabi, Urdu or Hindi is spoken. In terms of dressing up, a lot of similarities are there — such as shalwar kameez (light trousers and long shirt) and saris are loved and worn by both.”
Her restaurant, Little Lahore in JLT, Dubai, is celebrating the Pakistani independence day with a special buffet for lunch and dinner.