She has been a journalist in Dubai for 33 years, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that Asha Bhatia should choose to write her first book on the changed status of women in the desert nation, even as she goes on to describe her life and work there. Titled, Life in the Twinkle of an Eye – Dubai: A Hundred Years in Ten, the book is an incisive and unbiased commentary of the development in the Middle Eastern state, and breaks century-old stereotypes that continue to plague the image of Dubai.
“Freedom and freedom of expression of women in Dubai developed slowly in the initial years, but eventually spread quite rapidly. Initially, they were veiled and did not mix with the expat population but slowly it started to change. The freedom came from driving, from writing in the newspapers and being able to express their views. Ultimately it was the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq that brought CNN into our drawing rooms and the whole atmosphere changed for everyone,” says Bhatia who has interviewed legends like Mohammad Ali to Indira Gandhi, Bjorn Borg and Tina Turner, among several others.
Asha Bhatia’s book is a neutral commentary on how life has changed over the years for women in Dubai
Trying to raise the cloud over the misconceptions that surround a typical Middle Eastern society, Bhatia, says, “An average local woman in Dubai isn’t illiterate. She is educated and has business acumen and in most instances runs and manages her own business unconnected to her husband or family.”
Interestingly, she points out that the local women there are now more free, than outsiders can imagine.“Another misconception is that women have to wear the burkha and cannot go out unless accompanied by a male family member. The reality is that today local women have total freedom. They go to restaurants, cinema and shopping malls with other women or on their own. This took a long time coming but over the period of 35 years, while I was in Dubai, it happened slowly but surely”.
Being a member of the Indian community, which is the largest expat community there, Bhatia also touches upon the behaviour meted out to Indians, in her narrative. “The UAE has had ties with India going back several centuries. Indian nationals fit into every strata of society in Dubai. 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.”
As someone who dressed in a sari through all the three decades, she says, she was always received with courteousness where ever she went. “Dubai is tolerant as long as you follow the law and live with its confines. There are temples, churches, gurudwaras. There is no restriction on people following their faith. The essence of Dubai is progress, modernisation and a knack of taking every opportunity and as far as possible, making it work,” Bhatia signs off.