Asha Bhatia : An Indian in Dubai
The Middle East is in news once again and for all the good reasons. History was made last week when a decades-old driving ban was lifted in Saudi Arabia and women were officially allowed to drive. It was the only country left in the world where women could not drive. However, it was Dubai that brought about the changing mind set in the Middle East, says Indian journalist Asha Bhatia who has spent over four decades in the desert country.
Bhatia who has been a journalist with Gulf News and other Middle Eastern publications for over 30 years has written a fantastic book called 'Life in the Twinkle of an Eye – Dubai: A Hundred Years in Ten' which just hit the stands.
Bhatia who has interviewed legends like Mohammad Ali to Indira Gandhi, Bjorn Borg to Tina Turner says the Middle East is far more modern and progressive than commonly thought.
"What's better, they love Indians," says Bhatia. According to her, it's a common misconception that Dubai is unsafe and women hesitate to drive late at night. Bhatia said in an interview, "When I first came to live in the UAE we never locked the door of our house or the doors of our cars. It was the closest I have seen of a crime free society. Today as the population has grown and there are so many different nationalities, there is crime but lower in scale to other cities".
"I have never had qualms of driving at night in Dubai – even if it is after midnight. Should you get stuck due to any reason there is always help at hand and the police are very vigilant and will see that you reach home safely. Often if you pull up on the side of the road with a flat tyre morning, noon or night a local Dubai gentleman will stop and have no hesitation in changing the tyres for you".
"Women of all nationalities are permitted to drive in Dubai. Nationals from the USA, UK and European countries are given a UAE driving license instantly on presenting their country's license. All other nationalities have to pass the UAE driving test which is quite stringent".
"The local Dubai lady is educated, has business acumen and in most instances runs and manages her own business unconnected to her husband or family. We also think that women have to wear the burkha and cannot go out unless accompanied by a male family member. Today local women have total freedom. They go to restaurants, cinema, shopping malls, events with other women or on their own. This took a longtime coming but over the period of 35 years, while I was in Dubai, it happened slowly but surely," Bhatia says.
So why did Bhatia write this book that is now available on Amazon?
"I wrote this book because I had been asked by many local and expatriate residents of Dubai to write about how the megacity of Dubai has changed and developed over the last 35 years that I lived there. The city developed at a phenomenal pace and advanced in 10 years what other cities would have taken a 100-years to accomplish. It took me a little over two years to write 'Life in the Twinkle of an Eye' and my reference was my articles written in the Gulf News and other publications over a period of 30 years," she added.
"Indians are the largest expat group in Dubai and the UAE has had ties with India going back several centuries. Indian nationals fit into every strata of society in Dubai from labourers, skilled labour, maids, domestic help, doctors, nursing staff, teachers, accountants, lawyers, merchants, business owners, bankers and teachers – in short, the whole gamut of the working population.
The lower echelons of society were not treated fairly initially but today a lot has changed – there are proper work contracts and the Indian Consulate is part of the whole permission exercise. A deposit is also given to cover the airfare back to India in case the individual has to be repatriated," she added.