I am a Diaspora-ic boy next door who grew up in the beautiful country of the Sultanate of Oman in its picturesque capital of Muscat. Muscat is indeed adopted home for me and Yallah Oman- as its Paradise compared to the hustle and bustle of a third world metropolis. As a normal teacher expat family we came to the gulf as economic migrants, with my parents dream to give me a good education by saving up which they were eventually successfully by giving me a good engineering education in Oman and Singapore. This is just a drop in the ocean in terms of personal stories of migrants to the Gulf who have made careers and livelihoods building up other adopted countries in lieu of a living. My parents have contributed towards educating the first generation of home grown tertiary educated Omani citizens. I did my undergrad degree in Engineering from an Indo-Omani Collaborative School too and can vouch for the multi-faceted character that economic migrants play in creating bridges between societies beyond remittances which have created post office economies in many districts of Kerala and Southern Tamil Nadu. The cultural immersion which I had as result of studying alongside Omani colleagues was an invaluable experience towards understanding Islamic values.
In this post, I am narrating a thin vertical slice of multi layered cultural lasagna of a Gulf Story, which is often tarnished in the media with instances of over exploitation of menial workers. Whenever there is impoverishment and a power differential there is common to have such sad incidents. It is ultimately the person’s call to work in such a context or not. But the Gulf Story is textured and layered as any other story. Gulf workers unlike peer in other regions do not have citizenship or permanent residency rights and are ‘Indian Citizens’. My parents would have got citizenship in any other non Gulf country, if they would have spent that such time in may be say Singapore. It is a different matter altogether that they are very rooted and visit India every three months.
The Gulf NRI Community in the eyes of the political elite in India is portrayed as either very poor or being recent first generation rich. They influence politics in Kerala atleast in a few constituencies and have control over the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs as usually a politico from ‘Mallu-land’ helms over the portfolio. This minimal recognition was long overdue for a constituency often treated as a piggy bank unlike other applauded NRI cousins from the West. Deira is not as cool as Downtown, I guess.
The Indian Connection with the Gulf is ancient, as Gujaratis from Saurashtra and the Coast have traded with Oman, Yemen and the Gulf over the centuries. The Khimji family in Oman has leaded a diversified business conglomerate over 100 years and many such businesses are found all over the Gulf. Areas such as Muttrah in Old ‘Masqat’ or Meena Bazar in Bur Dubai are the old commercial hubs of the respective cities controlled by Sindhis and Gujaratis. The unique feature of these two geographies is they have Hindu Temples, a rarity in the Gulf. Commerce has the power to bend Conservatism.
His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman studied in India, and relations between most of the GCC and India are positive because of people and not because of the lazy consular officers who treat gulf postings as a punishment. It is time that the Indian State takes pro active measures in leveraging our good will and transform into becoming a ‘Hard Power’ in the Middle East. The Jet-Etihad deal is a good sign for the future.