Dubai: While Dubai continues to spread out, studded with skyscrapers and gated communities, many residents have made Deira, the heart of the city, their home for generations.
A number of these long-time residents of the district spoke to Gulf News about what has kept them nestled there for decades.
Canadian-Iranian expat Farangis Bakhtiar has lived in Deira since 1998. “My children were born in the area and learnt to walk in the streets of Al Rigga,” said Bakhtiar.
For the past 18 years she and her family have been living in Al Majid Property in Al Muteena area, close to Al Ghurair Mall. “Deira is the heart and soul of Dubai. It has great historical significance and the place attracted me to it.”
Bakhtiar loves to walk and pedestrians are a hallmark of the area. “Deira is just perfect for someone who does not drive and enjoys walking. I have roamed the streets of Dubai with my three children in tow. My kids grew up in the Deira streets. They took their first pram ride, first scootie ride, and their first bike ride in Deira,” she said.
“I am a big walker. Also, some of the best hidden culinary gems are in Deira. In the winter you can sit outside and meet so many people.”
Bakhtiar said the close proximity to key amenities makes Deira ever more endearing to her and the family. “The clinic is just opposite to my building. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants with varied cuisine on offer here. Besides, Al Ghurair Mall takes care of all our shopping needs,” she said.
Bakhtiar said in the years she has lived there, she knows most people in the area. “I love meeting new people. I am an extrovert and am very social. In Deira there is no dearth of people. The shopkeepers know us very well. They have seen my children in baby slings to pram to taking a bus to their school or hailing a taxi to their university.
“People stick in this area. I remember one time I had forgotten my wallet and I discovered this in the grocery shop. The man at the counter said I could come back the next day and pay. He recognised me from the years I had shopped here. So Deira is your typical old-fashioned mom and pop neighbourhood with a good community of people living here.”
Another loyal resident of Deira is Shivon Thadhani, 41, who was born in Maktoum Hospital - one of the oldest hospitals of Dubai that was located in Deira.
“My father came in the 1970s on a visit visa and found a permanent job here in Dubai. Deira just became our home for 43 long years,” said Thadani, who works as an IT support for a private company in Dubai.
His father Suresh retired and has now turned a children’s author.
So, why Deira?
“Everything is available here. When my father came here, Deira was one of the more popular areas to live in. In the years, we just found our friends, and amenities are a plenty too.
“I attended Dubai University College which is in the Dubai Chamber of Commerce building in Deira. Our shopping is around this area. The plan is to save up to buy our own property eventually. But the life and energy of Deira lures us back.”
She added: “The metro has been a big boon in this area. My current job is also in this part of the town. I love to go to the Deira Creek for a run. I love this part of Dubai and don’t want to move.”
Generations of tenants
For Pakistani expat Ron Williams, he and his siblings are second generation living in Deira - and that too in the same building. “My parents came here decades ago. My father worked at Dubai International Airport. So Deira was the first choice. My mother worked as a nurse assistant for a hospital nearby,” he said.
“We are a family of seven. We are five siblings. Now it is only my elder sister and me living in that very same apartment. Unfortunately the building is coming down as it is very old. There are so many memories attached in this house of ours. I was born here. We grew up in this house. In fact our house was a stop-over for many of our friends visiting Dubai. We have gathered so many pictures of old times.”
Williams, who stays in Al Shaab colony in Hor Al Anz, is paying Dh35,000 per year for a two-bedroom flat. “My father was paying Dh6,000 per annum for the same house in 1980.”
Farida Ahmed has stayed in the Gift Gallery building for four decades. Her parents, sister, uncles and aunts also live there. “My parents moved to this building in 1989. We have just stayed on here. Besides all the convenience, the food options just make me fall in love with Deira all over again,” she said.
In fact, Farida and her sister Arva founded the Frying Pan Adventures – food tours – around old Dubai. “Growing up in the 1980s, we were privy to community feel of a city that has witnessed incredible change through our lifetime. Our team of longtime locals loves exploring, researching and storytelling as much as we do eating—and we’re always hungry for new ways to rediscover the city we call home.”