T20 World Cup: Expats from India and Pakistan bond over big game, Diwali

A little more than a week ago, the Indians and Pakistanis in Dubai came together for a cricket party at businessman Anis Sajan's Emirates Hill villa.

At the ‘corner of a foreign field’, Indians and Pakistanis will celebrate Diwali together, just days after they bonded for a cricket party.

Anis Sajan’s life has drama aplenty. It, in fact, takes us to Ranjit Katyal in the movie Airlift. Anis was part of a real airlift, when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. He was 19-year-old then, selling oil on the streets.

Back to Mumbai where he came from, Anis eventually managed to land a salesman’s job at Eureka Forbes. He now owns the construction behemoth Danube Group, a company founded and chaired by his elder brother Rizwan.

Last year, Covid played spoilsport. Anis wants to make up for that at his Diwali party this time, a get together for the Indian and Pakistani expats in Dubai. Here, Pakistani ladies perform Garba with their Indian friends.

Heta Khan, a Dubai resident for eight years and on the guest list of Anis’ parties, calls the occasion, “a party for unity”.

“There’s absolutely no division between the Indians and Pakistanis in his parties. No separate seating arrangements. All are friends and all his parties are very guest-centric,” Heta says.

Anis’ Diwali party will have Rangolis and Mehendi also, apart from dance and DJs. Celebrities are kept at arm’s length. Why?

“My guest list will be a mix of Indians and Pakistanis mainly. Some Arabs are also there of course. There won’t be any celebrities for a very simple reason, if I call them, all the attention goes to them and my real friends don’t get the time I need to give them. With due respect to celebrities, I believe it’s the friends and families that make any event successful,” Anis says, speaking to The Indian Express.

The food menu will be replete with Indian delicacies – chaat, panipuri and bhelpuri to start with followed by the main course. Firecrackers will add to the merry noise. About 150 guests will turn up.

A little more than a week ago, the Indians and Pakistanis here came together for a cricket party at Anis’ Emirates Hill villa. He set the stage, threw a party and installed a giant screen to amplify the frenzy of the India-Pakistan game.

“This was very special, because this was a cricket World Cup happening in this country for the first time. A lot of people didn’t have tickets and my friends said we should have a gathering,” Anis recalls.

About 100 people turned up. India and Pakistan team shirts were distributed. Face painters got into action. While the parents wore blue and green shirts based on their allegiance to respective cricket teams, their children played games and danced to live music. Dinner followed. Friendly banters came thick and fast. In the end, when the jokes were laughed out, Indian and Pakistani friends returned home together.

“The finest thing was how the Indians and Pakistanis swapped their shirts after the game. It was an event where people enjoyed the game. We are staying in a secular country where you support your country and after the game we are friends again,” Anis says.

Dubai sheds its aridity in autumn and embraces colour and light. Houses are already decked up and mithai shops are crowded – people here are gearing up for Diwali. A stroll through Bur Dubai would take you to Sri Krishna Sweets, Chhappan Bhog and Bikanervala. In Deira Dubai, one bumps into Annapoorna Restaurant.

“It’s a week-long party in Dubai for Diwali. We invite all our friends, including Pakistani friends and they come and celebrate with us. In Dubai, there’s no difference. When they have Eid, we go to them,” Shyam Bhatia, a founder member of the India Club in Dubai and its former secretary, tells this paper.

Dubai’s date with Diwali celebrations started way back in 1964, at the India Club. The United Arab Emirates was formed seven years later and Circa 2021 is the golden jubilee of the formation.

Diwali is the time for musical jalsas, with dollops of Bollywood thrown into the mix. And this year the UAE government has allowed the use of firecrackers.

“I have a friend who is Pakistani and his wife is Indian. They have a big party at Diwali in their home,” Bhatia informs.

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