Updated: Jan 16
"What is it that you miss most about Dubai," I get asked sometimes. Having taken a permanent sabbatical from corporate life and unplugged from city living, the first time someone asked me this question, I was myself surprised by my answer.
"Nothing," I said. And I truly do miss nothing, because there is nothing to miss.
My husband and I met in Dubai at the start of the new millennium, I recently returned with a MBA from UK, with the regular dose of optimism and hopes of landing a "good job".
Having studied Law and practiced for a few years in Bangalore, India, I discovered that the demands of the judicial system were against my grain and conscience. So I decided to use my law and business degrees to enter the strategy and business planning world. Dubai just happened more out of coincidence as my parents lived there for a while and on my return from the UK I stopped by to visit...and the rest as they say, is history.
A decade of navigating through various challenges of a growing economy was indeed very exciting, but only for a while - I outgrew it in less than a decade. The routine and monotone of a corporate job began to get to me.
Signs I picked up on were:
1. The routine every morning was up early and out the door to begin a 7:30 am day ( which had its own set of advantages as the day wrapped up early, by 4:30, mostly)
2. The start of the day at office with the emails and paperwork on your desk were usually mundane and in some cases, politically challenging (not work input wise, but being sensitive and smart in dealing with management egos)
3. The meetings! Be it a review or discussion or cross corporate client, it was invariably unproductive and involved a lot of frivolous talk
4. The unreal deadlines and expectations on delivery that are condescendingly demanded.
5. Watching racial and hierarchical egos clash and at times, standing with the underdogs
But the money was good and Dubai was an upcoming new age city with a lot of panache.
Having had a hectic social academic career, in law and business school and taking breaks of solitude, I was beginning to take note of small, simple things that filled me with contentment - not adrenaline kind instant gratification but a calm sense of satisfaction and a longing to relive those experiences.
A home away from the madness of the city, greenery and nature, while still accessible from the city became important. Our place in Dubai was one such conscious decision, to live away in the suburbs and feel the serenity at the end of a crazy working day. Although a small linear city, Dubai did have its mad zones of glitz and glamour, but we chose unlit beach walks at night or a sandwich at a small outlet so we could gaze at the city lights and still create a quiet evening.
Our travels (which were regular and unconventional) were the highlight of our stay in Dubai. Perfectly located and connected, the region had some amazing destinations not many ventured to as it did not match the “I have made it, and thus holidaying in the Swiss Alps” status update. I loved traveling different and eccentric. We travelled usually off season, backpacking to one country at a time and spent a full week and more in some. Places of distinct character, be it Jordan or Lebanon, Syria or Morocco, our discovery into non-regular travel destinations made each holiday memorable at many levels.
So the underlying question arises here – is just one conventional definition of “success” enough for all of us? The house, cars, jewellery and holiday destinations or the “comfortable” house, car and other material measures with a bright silver lining of experiences that enriches our very being? I had a VW Golf and it served me with utmost performance and reliability for a decade, in comparison to a fancy Porsche which did not make coffee or fly, still only drove (beautifully indeed) one around.
Being able to define the scope of my desires and cap it to the sufficient, and not extravagant, was something I practiced and still do. Physical comforts matter, but mindless expenses have no end and especially in Dubai, it’s an abyss.
When we decided the land (Earth Kitchen, as it got named) was going to be our forever home, we stepped into the utter unknown. The demands of doing what I had never done before was in itself exciting, yet daunting. The land was a pitiable landscape of thorny shrubs, poor soil and rocky in areas. The year was 2008, and we began on master planning. A single tree was all that was left standing when we began our tree planting.
In phases and with reasonable planning we demarcated areas and decided on kind of trees. A mix of timber and flora trees form our canopy today. It was physically back breaking, unlike a lifestyle of cushy corporate offices, but the soul stirring bliss we felt was incomparable. No traffic, no commute, no deadlines, no nagging...it was all worth leaving behind. We moved into our home in 2010, celebrating our tenth anniversary with our first puppy and a bottle of warm rum. The silence was mesmerising and the tiny silhouettes of what was to come was exhilarating.
We were in control of deciding what gave us optimum joy, and maximising it. We made our mistakes along the way and corrected our approach and path as we went along. In comparison, our financial investment into transforming the land to a green scape was not very significant. With real estate going through the roof in the urban zones, we had built all infrastructure we needed, and more, for a fraction of what we would have spent had we opted for a city home.
In today’s world gone out of control for more stuff, the simplest things are still the most important. We are being slow-poisoned by the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. What value should I then attach to the million dollars I will make if I agree to be subjected to this poisoning?
On many fronts, today I lead a richer and more prosperous life. Let me spell it out for you.
1. We don’t see or hear traffic
2. Our air is fresh and crisp
3. We grow some of our food and procure almost everything else locally
4. We are a known face in our village with local interactions being vendors and service providers - cops, greengrocers, butchers, cab drivers, cow herders, electricians, mechanics are our friends and neighbours.
5. We live in the 'safest locality in the world,' what with our family of six Tibetan Mastiffs.
6. The sunrises are uninterrupted and stream into our bedroom. Full moons are like looking divinity in the face, The sky is the deepest dark blue and stars are at play every night.
7. The seasons are distinct and dramatic. The monsoon is a sound and light show man can never choreograph, with some awe-inspiring storms. The winters are mild yet the air is crisp and perfect to enjoy an outdoor fire. The summers are warm but our trees generously lend their cool shades to tame the harshness of the sun, creating pools of shadow.
With all these experiences, I have firmly come to believe, that after a point, less is more. If one can fulfil basic requirements and define their scope of luxury, rather than strive to be a society pleaser, less will be sufficient, and more. I have been frequently asked if I miss the buzz of the city or the power game of corporates, and my response is, what would I miss? The answers are usually a vague blur of external stimulants - the mall or the cinema or the pub - to which I smile and say, I enjoy off peak rates and happy hours when you are at work.
I can’t think of a single thing that I miss or yearn for since I moved to the country. The endless socialising was superficial and exhausting, and having a few chosen friends is more enriching and meaningful. Pretence is a human weakness which if we can overcome with confidence and contentment, the results are always magnificent.
My few parameters of “success” within my sphere of experience are:
1. I am healthy
2. I sleep well
3. I am away from societal pressures
4. I eat fresh and home cooked (mostly)
5. I socialise on my terms
6. I have a deep sense of gratitude
7. I feel contentment
8. I am at peace
9. I thrive in solitude
10. I am complete
Earth Kitchen, has only grown from strength to strength. A blank canvas, to a home, to a garden, to a bistro, and now to a homestay. We have dabbled with unknown areas and learnt that passion sustains if you are true to yourself and care enough to make each experience and interaction meaningful and fulfilling for both our external world of guests, and our internal cocoon of friends.
The hard work is done. We now look forward to a decade of unwinding and watching nature do her cosmic dance and drama while sipping on a cup of fresh herbal tea.