Dubai: As Dubai plays host to the biggest and brightest Diwali celebrations today with an official fireworks display, some veteran Indian expats in the emirate have shared the simplicity and warmth of the celebrations they had in the 50s and 60s.
The biggest highlight of the Diwali celebrations of the hardly 200-strong Indian community of those days was the then Dubai Ruler late Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum himself visiting the homes of some prominent Indian merchants, said Maghanmal Pancholia, the oldest Indian living in Dubai.
This custom by Shaikh Rashid was mentioned in the foreword of Pancholia’s book “Footprints: Memoirs of an Indian Patriarch” by Mirza Hussain Al Sayegh, director of the office of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and UAE Minister of Finance.
“After exchanging greetings and relishing the ladoos (Indian dessert) that would be served to him, he [Shaikh Rashid] would take his leave. His departure would signal our turn to rush in and grab our share of the generous spread. The entire area would be decorated with lights and reverberate with ‘live’ music. We enjoyed the celebrations as much as our Indian friends did,” Al Sayegh wrote.
Pancholia, now 94, said Emiratis also used to visit Indians during Diwali and Indians would reciprocate during Eid.
“At a time when there was no electricity, we were using kerosene lamps. But during Diwali, we would use ghee to light the diyas (clay oil lamps) outside our homes,” said Pancholia, who was one of the first responsible to bring electricity to Dubai.
He said Indians brought diyas and decorative materials for Diwali from their hometowns. “Later, when electricity came, we started bringing our ladies here and families started taking part in Diwali celebrations.”
Ram Buxani, who came to Dubai in 1959 said Diwali used to be an official holiday for the only bank, the shipping company, the customs department and other firms in Dubai, as most of the employees were Indians who celebrated the festival.
“The entire town was on holiday. There used to be a compound opposite the museum where the whole community used to meet during Diwali. Non-Hindus, including bankers and European expats would also come and greet the community.”
As the years passed, Buxani said, some young Indian women formed a group called ‘Sakhi Sammelan’.
“They would hold community parties normally on the Thursday night before Diwali. There would be some cultural programmes with dinner.”
Jawahar Mehta, who was born in Dubai in 1968, remembers attending Diwali get-togethers and dinner atop the terrace of the Krishna temple when he was around 10 years.
“As children, we would burst some crackers and used to go to the temple,” he recollected.
Some families also used to play card games as part of the festivities.
Bharat Bhai Shah, 87, said the Diwali celebrations were literally far from the madding crowd and what shone through more than the gold purchased for Diwali was the bonding that people shared.
“Everyone was connected to each other. People used to go to each other’s houses throughout the night. It was an intimate family affair in those days. The celebration was not commercialised like nowadays.”
The veterans have witnessed how Diwali celebrations have grown bigger and brighter over the decades, manifesting the tolerant nature of the Emirati community and showcasing the growing ties between India and the UAE.
“The Indian community is really obliged to the local government because it is a great show of tolerance which is demonstrated year after year. With the biggest celebrations happening this year, this great cultural tolerance is bringing India and the UAE closer,” said Buxani.