It is a nippy sunday morning and the better half and self is chatting up on the breakfast table on the twitter flutter of the day – ground breaking for a Hindu temple in UAE, with Government leaders at the apex in attendance. As perhaps the title of this article allures, neither is a temple or for that matter Hinduism a daffodil nor is the UAE a desert in the way we understand deserts. But the news did create a buzz in our ‘Event’ – which the better half-jokingly calls our breakfast routine on a Sunday.
For a second-generation Malayali settled in Mumbai, a fond childhood memory is of - maternal or paternal uncles and older cousins from both sides staying for a day to few days at our home during their transit to Gulf and back. While the transit ‘to’ Gulf was a sad and an empty affair – the ‘back’ or a brief stopover (due to lack of direct flights to Kerala) at Mumbai was ‘gift laden’ for us kids. These were also times for stories – most of them of valour in strange lands, wealth and comfort, Arabs or Europeans as benefactors. There were also stories of harassment by the Arabi Sheikhs (those days it was arabs and not muslims), incidents of indignity to fellow Indians, helplessness and staying on for the sake of ‘old parents’ and ‘sisters to be married off’. Our every annual visit to kerala bought friends and relatives together – and there were more stories. But now the ‘arabs’ had turned muslims and were mostly the perpetrators, Gulf money had replaced humble homes to mansions, touts abounded exploiting the Gulf dreams of simple villagers – and so on and so forth. What was once a ‘Men only’ work country - left behind several grass widows. Couples slowly started embarking to the UAE together – family status being a covetable tag for Malayali men seeking a spouse.
While all these changes happened, one aspect of life which was so intrinsic to an Indian was never mentioned in any conversation about life in the Middle east – temples! Religion with myriad hues -celebration of festivals, rituals and practices so central to an Indian was almost shunned. Almost as if this part of life is to be suppressed if one was to earn a living. It is in this context that the events that unfolded today on television hold so much significance.
‘Dharayate iti dharma’ which means ‘that which holds is dharma’ – dharma or the philosophy of way of life is ingrained in vedic scriptures and that is at the heart of several time tested religious practices. For over thousands of years, the temple forms the locus and the anchor for values, beliefs and often life itself. While India took bold strides into a world economy, our software engineers brought home global jobs, our market strength gave us newfound respect in the world order – all governments without exception remained silent on this sensitive yet profound subject. The right to practice my religion anywhere in the world and protection from persecution – not by law but by benign power and diplomacy – mediated by Government. It is a distinct accomplishment of this government that they have permitted religion into global political discourse. The tolerant and inclusive sanatana dharma is no longer seen as silent and hence weak.
As our prime minister, Narendra Modi witnessed the customary Ground-breaking ceremony for the first Hindu temple at Abu Dhabi through video conferencing at Dubai Opera – it was a moment of recknoning. Most Indians (especially the ones familiar with the Middle east context) would have felt a sense of pride on seeing the tri-color fly high and equal to the UAE flag. Saffron clad, temple committee members presenting the temple literature to the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and our PM addressing a visibly wealthy diaspora at Dubai Opera sent clear affirmative signals to the world. ‘Why?’ and ‘Why nows’ abound – and reasons could be many – world economic landscape, social aspirations, political dynamics and much more…. However trivial it might seem, these images give solace and much needed pride to the migrant Indian worker sweating it out in the scorching Middle East. A sense that in the larger scheme of their immediate world, India matters and hence they matter. While it is naïve to comment that quality of work and life will only look up from here for the migrant worker, the events of today do augur a new way of being.
Daffodils are indeed delicate, they need nurturing…..to make desert their home!
Author: Priya Vasudevan, the author works in the areas of gender issues, organization development and social transformation.
Views presented here are of the Author.