You can take them out of Bahrain. But you can’t take Bahrain out of the Bahrain Buddies in Dubai (BBD), an informal gathering of former Bahrain residents now living in the UAE
By Rajeev Nair
Intense feelings elicit intense reactions. Which is why Roshni Raimalwala, on her vacation to Bahrain from Dubai, stepped out of the flight and nearly kissed the soil and surely shouted loud: “I am in Bahrain, I am in Bahrain…”
Bahrain is home for Roshni. Well, almost. She had lived close to two decades here, and had shifted to Dubai only two years back. Her sons grew up here, she met and made her friends here, and she had been a formidable presence in the societal interaction fostered and nurtured under the aegis of the Indian Ladies Association.
It is hard to take Bahrain out of her.
As it is with the 125 members of the Bahrain Buddies in Dubai, an informal association formed in October 2005 by Roshni, Kalpana Sharma, Vinod Somal and Anita Gupta, all formal residents, and all “household names in Bahrain.”
That quote is by Ramesh Mahalingam, and for many Bahraini residents, the name should ring a bell. He was senior vice president of Taib Bank, active in the social circuit, and has now moved to Dubai as CFO of Ajman Sewerage Private Limited.
Roshni had followed her husband Viraf Raimalwala, who was general manger of Mothercare Group (now, Al Rashid Group) and is now GM of Homes R Us in Dubai. The Raimalwalas were visiting the Mahalingams (Ramesh and his wife Jaya, and their children Seshadri and Ramya) at their residence on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, and the two families might as well have been in Bahrain.
Reliving the many years of camaraderie they fostered in Bahrain, the Raimalwalas and Mahalingams stand for what Bahrain Buddies in Dubai strives to do: Sustain the bonding that had its genesis in Bahrain through the days of the cold, impersonal rush that characterises living in Dubai.
They have relocated well to Dubai, as most expatriates do, but they miss the warmth of Bahrain. And they are not being diplomatic or extra-nice, for the sake of it.
Otherwise would they have bothered to come up with BBD? Wouldn’t they have easily assimilated into the club culture of Dubai and relived happy memories of Bahrain in the comforts of their own homes?
“After living in Bahrain for 18 years, we felt lonely and depressed in Dubai,” recalls Roshni. “Bahrain was so close-knit and we had many friends there. Unless you know somebody in the clubs in Dubai, you would feel lost. So instead of joining one of the existing associations, we thought, why not have one only for former Bahraini families?”
“If you can’t join them, create them,” adds Mahalingam, with a smile.
Currently, there are some 125 members in the BBD mailing list, and they meet, as of now, once a month. The first was a get-together at the Umm Sequim Park and the second was a dhow trip down Dubai Creek. There is no membership fee and the members meet, share the expenses and recall the happy moments of living in Bahrain. “Maybe, we would look into charity soon,” adds Roshni.
Most members are Indians and they include people who had left Bahrain some 20 years back to the nascent Dubai-ites who are in the city for just two months. “Any one who has been in Bahrain for even one month can join us,” says Roshni.
That one month would be more than sufficient to enjoy the warmth and hospitality offered by Bahrain, she says. “You have a sense of belonging in Bahrain; every body knows every body else,” and that is what she misses most about the country.
BBD members miss Bahrain for different reasons but yes, the single important take-away factor of Bahrain for all of them is the “warmth of the place,” and the fact that “Bahrainis are a friendly people, highly educated, full of manners, cultured…”
“Bahrain is a small, cosy place,” adds Mahalingam. “There is not much traffic; distances are short. I used to drive some four kilometres to work; now it is 40. And the most important thing is that expatriate Indians and Bahrainis share a strong bonding; you integrate well into the country.”
That has rubbed off well in Mahalingam. “After my Bahraini stint, after meeting and interacting with the Bahrainis, I feel the distance in my mind between the Arabs and Indians has grown shorter.” Happily, for him, he sees the same happening in Dubai. “I think English language has broken down much of such barriers.”
“When you go for a walk, generally, you are stopped every few yards by friends,” says Mahalingam. That warmth hasn’t decreased over the years, adds Roshni.
Seshadri, a school student, too feels the vibes. “It is more relaxed and calm in Bahrain; people tend to set aside time for you.”
Kaizad and Arzan, sons of Viraf and Roshni, regard Bahrain as their “home town,” while Viraf misses his “Toastmaster friends.”
“Bahrain Born Desis,” is how Arzan refers to BBD.
In Bahrain, get-togethers are not confined to weekends, says Mahalingam. “There is time for people rather than products.”
And it is three times less expensive (living in Bahrain), observes Roshni. “In Dubai, it is more posh. Out in Bahrain, you could walk around in slippers and nobody bothers. It is like home over there.”
Then there are the sweet extras. “The Lahore biryani, Juma Sweets, Century Restaurant, Vrindavan, Nafoora… you know, the waiters know each one of our preferences.”
With such longing and nostalgia for Bahrain, why did they move out on the first hand? “Careers, opportunities…” chorus Mahalingam and Raimalwala. “Dubai offers a better prospective for the business and professional community.”
An ideal world would therefore be one that “has the opportunity of Dubai and the mindset of Bahrain; the coziness of Bahrain with the wealth of Dubai,” says Mahalingam. For now, therefore, Raimalwala would like to work in Dubai and vacation in Bahrain.
There are other concerns too: “Unemployment, security issues…you have to lock the cars while you drive,” says Roshni.
“But then, things could have improved by now,” cuts in Viraf. “It is like living in an Indian city which has these extreme cross-sections of rich and poor people,” concludes Mahalingam.
The creases of worry in their face quickly fade out. For them, Bahrain has been one happy place to live in. And they miss it.
Jaya Mahalingam, however, sounds more objective about the switch. “I try not to miss any place. Yes, Bahrain is laid-back and Dubai is fast-paced. But depending on what you want from life at any particular point in life, you try to adapt (to the world around you).”
But she has one parting note to make: “The personal touch of Bahrain is what Dubai could learn.”
(BBD members can be contacted in Dubai at: Roshni: 00-971-050-8585903; Anita Gupta – 050-6858163; Kalpana Sharma – 050-2575865 or Vinod – 050-7989940)