Monday, May 09, 2005

Altoo in Abu Dhabi

Why Abu Dhabi? Because there was a triangular cricket tournament there featuring India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, ostensibly to add to the tsunami relief package, but more importantly to showcase the new stadium the Abu Dhabi Cricket Control Board has come up with. My office didn’t send me. It’s not a major enough tournament to spend money on. But the organisers, who I’d met a year or so ago in Delhi and did a couple of stories on, had sent me an invite. Nothing exclusive, some other channels had also been called, but there it was. And being a free trip to “foreign”, I certainly wasn’t going to miss it. Even if it’s Abu Dhabi.

Anyway, what do I write about?

Abu Dhabi itself: Is clean, spanking clean. A few bungalows aside, no construction is below fifteen stories. The traffic – entirely of Japanese and European cars – is extremely disciplined. Mainly because 90% of the drivers are Indian immigrants and will be deported if they break a law. Everywhere you look, you see opulence. Opulence like I have never seen before, anywhere in the world. We went down to Dubai as well. I needed to meet a gentleman from the Emirates Cricket Board, and all of us wanted to shop.

What else do you see? You see practically no schools or colleges or any other educational institutions. The Sheikhs must be sending all their kids to Europe or Amreeka, if at all. You see – well after midnight – girls walking alone on the streets without a worry. Why? Well, my theory is that youngsters – boys or girls – don’t really have a clue as to relationships. Yes, in general. Sex is something that is bought. Never any other way. Which is why East European women rule the nights.

What else do people do? They make money, primarily. And they shop. Either in Abu Dhabi or in Dubai, or, when on vacation, in France. The men spend their evenings at nightclubs drinking and having sex with washed out middle-aged Uzbek women. The women probably watch Indian serials at home. The youngsters dance and drink and have sex at discotheques. Yep, that about sums it up.

That, of course, is the upper class.

The middle-class doesn’t exist.

The lower-class – or the working class – is made up almost entirely by Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Nepalese and Filipino migrants, who earn their living doing all the menial work. Well, that’s how they start out. They reach Dubai and Abu Dhabi to work as sweepers in hotels and restaurants and offices, graduate to being waiters or whatever, and thus follows a string of promotions till they reach the level of ‘driver’ or ‘chauffeur’. That’s when they start sending money back home, and houses are bought, farmlands are developed, and families become rich. The women work as nurses and servants at Sheikhs’ homes. Ten years is the usual lifespan of a migrant worker in the Gulf, following which is a lifetime of bliss in the backwaters of Kerala.

The work itself was fun. The stadium is stunning. Probably the most beautiful in the world, with its combo of modern stands and SCG-like hills for spectators. The players have saunas and gymnasiums in their dressing rooms, and when they want to get to the ground, they come out through European football-like tunnels. Groundside, they sit inside air-conditioned glass boxes, which allow them full view of the goings-on, and allow spectators to watch them as well. Quite stunning on the whole, especially when you climb to the top of the press enclosure and realise that the patch – the stadium – is actually the only bit of anything in the middle of a huge, wide expanse of nothing but sand. Quite literally, an oasis. Yes, it’s primarily money that allows people to build things like these in places like Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, but it also takes a great deal of vision and drive.

FLASH: Ate a lot of really good food in the absence of any real inclination to hit the nightclubs. Dumba, beef (lots of it), and salmon to start with, plus a lot of really interesting chicken and mutton.

That’s about it. The flight back is worth writing about also, of course, but I’ll work on that after publishing this.