Monday, September 29, 2014

Devastated Jaya supporter goes without food

Sharjah: From malls to restaurants to buses and offices, one point of discussion among Tamils in the UAE since Saturday seems to be “Amma in jail.”
“Amma” (Mother) is an affectionate name given by her supporters to former Tamil Nadu chief minister and AIADMK supremo J. Jayalalithaa, who has now become the first incumbent chief minister in India to be disqualified from holding office due to conviction in a disproportionate assets case.
The reactions have been one of shock, especially about the timing of the arrest, “despite her flamboyant approach.” An employee at a popular mall in Sharjah told this correspondent on Saturday evening in a downcast tone: “I have not eaten since I heard the news in the morning.”
His colleague added, even while attending to a table at the food court  “I am not worried. She is a smart politician who will wriggle out of the problem easily.”
The fasting by the employee is not surprising considering that Tamil Nadu has a history of followers portraying their allegiance in emotional ways.
From building temples for film stars to tonsuring, self-injuring or self-immolating themselves for their leaders or film stars, Tamil Nadu fans have done it all.
In fact, when Jayalalithaa’s mentor and former chief minister of the state, MG Ramachandran died, around 30 followers committed suicide. And, already, there is news of a 45-year-old AIADMK member committing suicide following the sentencing of Jayalalithaa.
P. Subramanian, an insurance expert based in Sharjah, says that the outburst of public support indicates that public opinion is still on the side of Jayalalithaa, although evidence or legal points are against her.
“The reason for the support is her stellar performance, especially during the present tenure, where she has announced a number of welfare programmes,” explains Subramanian.
Among the popular schemes launched by her recently were Amma Cement Scheme, Amma Canteen that sells idlis (rice dumplings),  Amma Salt, Amma Bottled Water and Amma Pharmacy – where items were sold at subsidised rates to common people. 
“These kind of programmes touched the chords of common people and she was becoming popular,” Subramanian explains.
Vijayalakshmi Nadar, an independent journalist based in the US, smells a ploy by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“Though on the surface it seems like the justice system has finally caught up with the charismatic Jayalalithaa, the timing of the judgment and the points of justice delivered against her, aimed to destroy her long standing political career, seems to be the handiwork of Amit Shah, the trusted mastermind of India’s new prime minister Narendra Modi,” she mentions.
According to her, the idea is to clear the decks for an insecure BJP to seize the states in the upcoming state elections. “These are sure signs of insidious planning and a complete mockery of democracy.”
Aboobaker Siddiq, who works as a driver for a multi-national company based in Dubai, sees the punishment as “too harsh.” 
But he was quick to add, “Anyway, this should serve as a warning to other politicians."

Friday, September 26, 2014

Recent Editorials

Here are some of my recent Editorials in The Gulf Today (Posted for my records)
Increasing suicides
pose deadly challenge
Startling statistics unveiled by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that more than 800,000 people commit suicide every year – around one person every 40 seconds – presents a grave challenge to humanity as a whole.
The launch of WHO’s first report on suicide comes just a week before World Suicide Prevention Day, observed on Sept.10 every year. The day provides an opportunity for joint action to raise awareness about suicide and suicide prevention around the world.
What is distressing is suicide kills more than conflicts, wars and natural catastrophes. There are 1.5 million violent deaths every year in the world, of which 800,000 are suicides. Men are almost twice as likely as women to take their own lives.
The most common methods of suicide globally are pesticide poisoning, hanging and firearms. Evidence from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the United States and a number of European countries reveals that limiting access to these means can help prevent people dying by suicide.
In addition to limiting access to means of suicide, experts suggest that other effective measures to reduce deaths include responsible reporting of suicide in the media, such as avoiding language that sensationalises suicide and avoiding explicit description of methods used.
Another key to reducing deaths by suicide is a commitment by national governments to the establishment and implementation of a coordinated plan of action. Currently, only 28 countries are known to have national suicide prevention strategies.
Suicide and attempted suicide are considered a crime in 25 countries, mostly in Africa, in South America and in Asia.
India especially needs to take more proactive action as it accounted for the highest estimated number of suicides in the world in 2012. In the South-East Asia Region, the estimated suicide rate is the highest as compared to other WHO regions. Suicide rates show a peak among the young and the elderly.
The most suicide-prone countries were Guyana (44.2 per 100,000), followed by North and South Korea (38.5 and 28.9 respectively). Next came Sri Lanka (28.8), Lithuania (28.2), Suriname (27.8), Mozambique (27.4), Nepal and Tanzania (24.9 each), Burundi (23.1), India (21.1) and South Sudan (19.8).
WHO officials are absolutely right when they say that the report is a wake-up call for action to address a large public health problem that has been shrouded in taboo for far too long.
Early identification and management of mental and substance use disorders in communities and by health workers in particular will go a long way in tackling the serious problem.

India on Mars
cloud nine
Wednesday turned out to be a proud day for Indians and for right reasons. Scientists from the Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO) managed to succeed where the US, Europe and Russia failed, by becoming the first country in the world to enter Mars' orbit in its debut attempt.
And, amazingly, it has been achieved with a meagre budget. At just $74 million, the mission cost is less than the estimated $100 million budget of the sci-fi blockbuster "Gravity."
It also represents just a fraction of the cost of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s $671 million Maven spacecraft, which successfully began orbiting the fourth planet from the sun on Sunday.
Of all the planets in the solar system, Mars has sparked the greatest human interest. The conditions in Mars are believed to be hospitable since the planet is similar to Earth in many ways.
For ages, humans have been speculating about life on Mars. However, the question that is to be still answered is whether Mars has a biosphere or ever had an environment in which life could have evolved and sustained.
The spacecraft — also called Mangalyaan, meaning "Mars craft" in Hindi — is chiefly meant to showcase the country's ability to design, plan, manage and operate a deep-space mission.
India has already conducted dozens of successful satellite launches, including sending up the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter, which discovered key evidence of water on the Moon in 2008.
The social media was abuzz with news of the triumph, with many declaring "Mission accomplished" on Facebook and Twitter.
The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) traversed over 650 million kilometres through deep space for over nine months to successfully reach the planet's orbit.
Radars at the earth stations of NASA at Goldstone in the US, Madrid in Spain, Canberra in Australia and India's own deep space network at Baylalu near Bangalore received the radio signals from the Orbiter, confirming its insertion into the Mars orbit.
Five solar-powered instruments will gather data that will help determine how Martian weather systems work and what happened to the water that is believed to have once existed on Mars in large quantities.
It also will search Mars for methane, a key chemical in life processes on earth that could also come from geological processes.
The success of the Indian scientists proves that sky is the limit for achievers who have visionary zeal and committed goal. The achievement will surely go down as a landmark in space history.

Suspense ends,
unity prevails
It was a historic day that could have changed geography. Good sense prevailed and unity scored over division. Scottish voters have rejected independence in an extraordinary referendum.
In the process, they have prevented a rupture of a 307-year union with England.
Despite a surge in nationalist support in the final fortnight of the campaign, the "No" secured 55.30 per cent of the vote against 44.70 per cent for the pro-independence "Yes" camp.
The campaign remained intense and stoked political passions across the country prompting the highest ever turnout for an election in Britain at 84.6 per cent.
It became obvious that a majority of voters did not embrace Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond's impassioned plea to launch a new state, choosing instead the security offered by remaining in the United Kingdom.
A "delighted" British Prime Minister David Cameron has stated that a “Yes” vote would have broken his heart to see United Kingdom come to an end. A defeat in the referendum could well have cost him his job.
While the UK survived, it will soon look very different.
The British government must now deliver on promises made in the heat of the campaign to give more powers over tax, spending and welfare to the devolved government in Edinburgh.
Cameron has promised that he would offer all parts of the UK greater local control - heading off growing demands from right-wing Conservatives and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) for England to be given more powers.
Salmond has reminded Cameron of his promises: "Scotland will expect these to be honoured in rapid course."
In that context, Cameron clearly has some more sleepless days ahead.
It is not that the Scots have been voiceless in London. Cameron's predecessor was a Scot: Gordon Brown of the Labour Party, who served at No. 10 Downing Street for nearly three years and, before that, was the powerful finance minister for 10 years under Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Several other Scots held senior positions in Blair's governments, prompting one TV presenter to quip in 2005 that Britain was living under a "Scottish Raj."
Whatever the outcome of the exercise, Britain can be proud that it has set a perfect example of how to roll a peaceful democratic process.
Also, what will be highly consoling for Britain is that it can avoid a prolonged period of financial insecurity that had been predicted by many if Scotland broke away.

Dubai’s driverless
wonder on a roll
The driverless wonder on wheels, Dubai Metro, has captured the hearts millions of Dubai travellers. No surprise, when it celebrated its fifth anniversary on Tuesday, accolades poured in from varied sections of society.
It was on 9-9-9 that His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, opened the Red Line of the Dubai Metro, which stretches 52 km and covers 29 stations comprising 4 underground stations, 24 elevated stations, and one station at the grade.
Two years after the start of the operation of the Dubai Metro Red Line, namely on 9/9/2011, Sheikh Mohammed opened the Dubai Metro Green Line; which spans 23 km linking 18 stations including 6 underground stations, and 12 elevated stations.
Sheikh Mohammed, whose brainchild Dubai Metro is, envisaged the sophisticated facility to shape as the backbone of the transport system that connects various vital areas in the emirate and provide easy and safe mobility for passengers.
According to official statistics, the number of Dubai Metro Red Line users since the start of operation on 9/9/2009 until last August, soared to 333,661,032 riders. The number of riders has grown steadily, jumping from 38,887,718 riders in 2010 to 60,024,794 riders in 2011.
In 2013, it continued its upward trajectory to touch 88,886,539 riders, and in the first eight months of this year, the number of Red Line users climbed to 67,054,535 riders.
The total number of Green Line users, which was opened on 9/9/2011, until the end of last August, went up to the tune of 134,251,247 riders. The number of Green Line users in 2012 was about 37,577,000 riders, and shot even higher in 2013 to as many as 48,872,719 riders, whereas in the first eight months of this year the number has already touched 38,819,433 riders.
As Chairman of the Board and Executive Director of the Roads and Transport Authority, Mattar Al Tayer, rightly put it, Dubai Metro has added a beautiful new dimension to the landmarks and towering achievements of Dubai, especially as it uses the latest technology in the rail industry and is considered to be the longest driverless Metro line worldwide.
What is highly commendable is that over the past five years of operation, no single incident was reported about breaching the code or vandalising the facilities of the project. Besides, Dubai Metro has scored high marks on sticking to timetables and offering high-level safety standards.
Positive signals on Dubai
Expo 2020 preparations
The Dubai Expo 2020 Higher Committee meeting on Monday to discuss preparations for the first-of-its-kind mega event to be held in the Middle East North Africa and South Asia (MENASA) region has made it abundantly clear that arrangements are impeccably on track.
Just a week ago, heads of three major business establishments that propel Dubai’s economy, along with others, had vouched in an exclusive chat with this newspaper that preparations for Expo 2020 were well on track and that Dubai was heading to become “a centre of the world.”
“When you talk of Dubai, it is going to become a much bigger and happening place,” the top officials of Emirates Group, Dubai Duty Free and the Jumeirah Group had remarked.
On Nov.22 last year, Dubai was declared host of the World Expo 2020 in an announcement that was made in Paris.
Running October 2020 through April 2021 under the theme "Connecting Minds, Creating the Future,” the Expo will launch the country’s Golden Jubilee celebration and serve as a springboard from which to inaugurate a progressive and sustainable vision for the coming decades.
A cursory look at the figures involved leaves one amazed at the size of the event. The total investment in the infrastructures related to Expo is estimated at AED25 billion. It will generate around 277,000 new job opportunities in Dubai over the next seven years. Each new job opportunity will sustain other 50 jobs in the region. The event is expected to attract over 25 million visitors, 70% of those are coming from abroad.
That is not all. The Expo will inject more than AED140 billion in Dubai's GDP. It will enhance Dubai's trade and support its tourism development strategy targeting 20 million tourists. Interestingly, some of the facilities are multipurpose and will be re-used.
There are other positive indications too. Online recruitment activity in the hospitality and tourism sector rose 34 per cent year on year in the UAE, as a spate of new hotel construction ahead of the Expo creates demand for new workers, according to data from recruitment website, Monster.
As UAE Vice-President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum himself remarked after winning the Expo bid, Dubai will astonish the world in 2020. There is absolutely no doubt that the Expo will breathe new life into the ancient role of the Middle East as a melting pot for cultures and creativity.

Monday, September 15, 2014

UAE, Singapore share many similarities: Ambassador

DUBAI: The UAE and Singapore are collaborating in multifarious fields including trade, arts/culture and tourism. The UAE is now Singapore’s 10th largest trading partner and its largest in the Middle East.  Discussions on further strengthening the partnership are going on at the highest levels, according to Singapore’s first resident Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Umej Bhatia.
In an exclusive interview with The Gulf Today, on the sidelines of the Singapore National Day celebrations event held in Atlantis, Dubai on Friday, the ambassador said that tourism figures point to very strong people-to-people links between both countries.
Bhatia graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Double First Class Honours) in English Literature from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom in 1995. In 2005, he obtained a Master of Arts in Regional Studies (Middle East) from Harvard University, US. He joined the Foreign Service in 1996 and has served in various capacities on issues covering Southeast Asia, Middle East and the United Nations in the Ministry’s headquarters.
Excerpts from the interview:
Which are the major sectors in which Singapore and the UAE can learn from each other and collaborate strongly? 
Singapore and the UAE share many similarities and there are so many learning points we can share with each other. We are both relatively small countries, but both are very outward-oriented and very well-plugged into the global network, not just trade-wise but politically as well.  Both countries have excellent infrastructure and offer safe, stable and secure environments for businesses to operate. 
Both are also superbly connected by air and sea to the rest of the world.  It is no surprise therefore that we both act as natural hubs for our respective regions, and there is so much to collaborate on to boost our hub-to-hub links.  Ultimately, this can only benefit our regions and the world.
Is there any joint panel or team that consistently works for mutual cooperation between the two countries, like the UAE and UK have? What are its present activities? 
Indeed there are.  The two most prominent ones are firstly the Singapore-UAE Joint Committee. Led by the Foreign Ministers of both countries, Singapore will in fact be hosting the inaugural meeting of this Joint Committee on 30-31 October, 2014.  The agreement on this was signed by the two Ministers when the Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law, K Shanmugam, visited the UAE in May 2013.
This Joint Committee meeting will mark a new milestone in the already very robust bilateral relations, and we are confident that this platform will take our relations to an even higher plane.
Secondly, on the economic front, there is the Abu Dhabi-Singapore Joint Forum. Established in 2007, this Joint Forum has been hosted alternately by Abu Dhabi and Singapore.  It is co-chaired by Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi and Lee Yi Shyan, Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development.
The last meeting was hosted in Singapore in November 2013.  This is a unique forum for bringing together both senior government officials as well as senior business leaders.  The discussions focus on strengthening the economic links and identifying areas of collaboration and partnership.  This has benefitted the business communities of both sides.
About bilateral trade. Is the volume increasing? Any hiccups that need to be rectified? 
In 2013, bilateral trade increased by 9% to a value of about Dhs80 billion. The UAE is now Singapore’s 10th largest trading partner and its largest in the Middle East. As countries that act as trading hubs for their regions, both countries have invested a lot of resources into trade facilitation. Coupled with the stable and supportive business environment, both countries have enjoyed very smooth trading relations and with both regions growing, we foresee much more trade linkages in the years to come.  
Are the people-to-people links growing strongly? How much is the Singaporean population in the UAE? 
There are some 3,000 Singaporean citizens officially registered with the Singapore Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Consulate-General in Dubai.  With many more travelling to the UAE for work and leisure, we estimate that there are probably 5,000 of us here at any moment. Some 55,000 visitors from the UAE visited Singapore last year. 
These figures point to the very strong people-to-people links between both countries.  This should not come as a surprise, given the excellent connections between the two countries and the similarities that we share as global and cosmopolitan countries.  Singaporeans feel very much at home here in the UAE, and vice versa.
Sharjah-based Barjeel Art Foundation and Singapore Art Museum had earlier teamed up for exhibitions. How strong are the cultural links?
This is indeed one growing area with much potential for increased collaboration.  As you mentioned, the Barjeel Art Foundation and the Singapore Art Museum had jointly worked on an exhibition in Singapore.  Entitled  “Terms and Conditions”, this event was held in Singapore from 28 June to 8 September 2013, and was very well-received. 
There were in fact many pieces that were exhibited outside of the UAE for the first time. This positive experience has paved the way for future collaboration between the cultural communities of both sides.  I cannot reveal details yet, but do watch out for another exciting exhibition being planned for next year, this time in the UAE. 
This will be another example of the burgeoning arts and cultural ties between both sides.  I would also note that in addition to all this, the Singaporean art community has always been a strong supporter of the annual Art Dubai. 
How about medical tourism from the UAE to Singapore? Any big names that recently made such a visit? 
Singapore is well-known for its very strong medical sector. We host many world-renowned medical practitioners and institutions, both home-grown and from abroad.  As you would appreciate, we do need to guard medical confidentialities, but we always welcome and try our best to facilitate the comfort and support needed for those who have need of medical treatment in Singapore.
Do you think Dubai and Singapore have similar architectural look?  
As global cities with very cosmopolitan populations, it is no surprise that the skyline of both cities are simply stunning.  Dubai of course has the world-renowned Burj Khalifa.  Singapore’s skyscrapers, while more modest in height, are also a big reason why Singapore is considered one of the best cities to work and live in. 
Indeed, just next week, the annual Formula 1 race will take place in Singapore. As the F1’s first night race, it is held against the dramatic backdrop of a cityscape that is lit up and shimmering.
Dubai of course has the luxury of having far more land to build on, but both cities share the similar challenge of ensuring that urban planning is carried out in a beautiful yet sustainable manner. This common challenge brings me back to my first point: Dubai and Singapore, and the UAE and Singapore in general, share so many similarities, and we can learn so much from each other.
Singapore is known as a highly disciplined and peaceful country. Do you see the Tamil riots last year as an aberration?
It was an incident that also showed us the necessity of being vigilant. We had a commission of inquiry to look into the incidents and lessons learnt. The key thing is to make sure that we move on and put in place whatever mechanism to address such issues.
We are forward looking. In the sense of how the issue was handled, our law enforcement agencies were very careful, not trigger-happy and highly disciplined. I give full credit to our law enforcement. There were lots of emotions and there was lot of restraint.
What were the post-riot measures?
After the incident, we implemented immediate measures, including not serving alcohol in that area. As part of long-term initiatives, law enforcement agencies are in closer touch with the community to pre-empt such incidents. This is a one-off incident unfortunately triggered by a very sad traffic accident.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Dubai on track to become ‘centre of the world’

(My article in The Gulf Today)
SHARJAH: Heads of three major business establishments that propel Dubai’s economy, along with others, have vouched that preparations for Expo 2020 are perfectly on track and Dubai is heading to become “a centre of the world.”
In an exclusive chat with The Gulf Today on the sidelines of “Supporting Irish Millennials” seminar organised by the Irish Business Network at the Atlantis Hotel on Saturday, Brendan Noonan, senior vice-president, learning and development, Emirates Group, Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice-Chairman of Dubai Duty Free and Gerald Lawless, president and chief executive officer of Jumeirah Group, also explained that Dubai has a strong Irish connection that gets strengthened by the day. Incidentally, all the three hail from Ireland.
“When you talk of Dubai, it is going to become a much bigger and happening place,” said Noonan.
“The Dubai World Central is already talked about internationally. The Al Maktoum International Airport, with its multiple runways, will be fantastic for operations.”
Asked about the ongoing preparations by the airline, he said, “We have a 10-year plan in terms of how we are going to fly, destinations and aircraft. We are in a very good position for 2020 and are very much involved in the whole process.”
He said that the Dubai government was doing a wonderful job, making sure everyone was aware of the progress. “A massive campaign has got everybody involved. Everyone who lives in Dubai is proud of it. At the end of the day, everybody is gearing up for the great event. In terms of infrastructure, hotels and airline, they are rapidly building up to meet those demands.”
In a specific mention about China, Noonan said there is lots of expansion in China. “It has a population of over a billion people and many have not travelled. With a strong economy, China also has a much bigger middle class and people want to see the world. What better place than Dubai?”
Colm McLoughlin concurs. What lies ahead for Dubai, in one word, is progress, he says. “Traffic to airport is increasing. There will be 95 million people by 2020. This year, 72 million passengers are projected to pass through the airport.”
“When I first came here over 30 years ago, there were only 300 or 400 Irish. But since that time, it has increased to 650,000 visas issued to Irish nationals. The Irish have a reputation of being honest and good workers. Now, there is an embassy opened in Abu Dhabi since 4 years and a UAE embassy functions in  Dublin. There are 700 UAE students in 3rd level education in Dublin. Several high-tech companies are exporting systems to the ME— it has grown rapidly in the last decade. That sort of sums up the Irish connection with Dubai,” he smiles.
Recounting history, McLoughlin says around 1845 a major famine led to shortage of food. Crops failed and one million people left Ireland and emigrated to America, Australia, South America etc. The Irish have traditionally been all over the world. Many US presidents have Irish descent. Even the present President Barack Obama visited his grandparents’ home in Ireland last summer. We are a travelling people. So the special connection with the UAE is not a surprise.”
“All announcements in Dubai are positive as the emirate is growing all the time. The city has fantastic infrastructure, good road system, Metro, 160,000 hotel rooms are coming up and there is lots of finance around. What more can one ask for?”
Lawless noted: “The Irish link in very easily. The Irish generally through history never colonised. The family values are a big thing in Ireland and that is a major connecting link with Emiratis, who hold family values as a treasure.”
Asked about preparations for Expo 2020, he said Dubai will achieve its potential. “It is not just 2020. Every organisation should reach its potential. We want to create a brand internationally out of Dubai and we are proud of the Dubai-based Arab brand internationally.”
“There are a line of projects on the way and we are happy with the progress. We will announce more details in future months.”

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A time for family bonding

SHARJAH: The UAE being the home away from home for several thousands of Indians from Kerala, the festival of Onam holds deep significance for them in staying rooted to age-old traditions and culture.
The awesome message of unity in diversity was manifest when The Gulf Today spoke to several residents about how they celebrate or look at the festival.
“Onam is traditionally a time for families, and this year will be no different. Thousands of people of all religions from Kerala sit down in groups for Onam to enjoy a feast marking the start of the harvest festival. I have been attending the Onam celebrations since my childhood,” reveals Abdul Gafoor, CEO, Moonway Group, Dubai.
Alisha Moopen, Director, Aster DM Healthcare, says Onam celebration brings back fond memories. “We visit our family friends, who would have adorned their doorsteps with ‘Pookalam’- the intricately designed flower mats. We enjoy ‘Onasadhya’, the elaborate vegetarian meal on banana leaf, which is always fun for kids too as it’s a unique experience.”
She says that the practice of making the flower mat with friends and family is one of her favourite traditions of Onam.
Asked about her favourite Onam dish, she replied it would undoubtedly be the “Payasam,” (the traditional South Indian dessert), especially the “Pal Payasam” and “Ada Pradhaman.”
Edward D’Mello, who runs his own communications company in Dubai, says that Onam has remained one of the enduring memories from his native Mumbai, where his Malayalee friends and colleagues would celebrate it in the traditional style and involve others in the festivities.
“Families and friends make it a point to be together for this important festival. In Kerala, I have seen it uniting people across all communities, religions and economic statuses — making it a very secular festival. When I came to the UAE, it was heartening to see  Onam being celebrated in a more elaborate way and that non-Malayalees also participated wholeheartedly in the celebrations,” he points out.
“I am here in Dubai since seven years. We celebrate the festival in its traditional splendour. We decorate our house with Pookalam, listen to Onappattu, we wear our Onakoddi and we prepare Onam Sadhya,” reveals Prakash Kumar, a businessman.
“Yesterday, I went to the nearby store, wading through the thronging crowd and bought a traditional “Mundu”  and a packet of sweets sourced from home country, made of plantain and jaggery for celebrating the Onam,” informs P. Subramanian, who works in the insurance sector.
“I also bought grated coconut, grey gourd (‘elavavan’) and other ingredients required to make a traditional Kerala dish “Olan” to test my culinary skills and the tolerance level of my guests who would visit me on the day of Onam. When I realised that this year’s Onam festival falls on Sept.7, my feeling of deja vu knew no bounds as it is my birthday too!” he adds gleefully.
Krsna Dhas says he is unable to break the nostalgia. “Back home, I used to receive the Onakkodi from my father, After a temple visit, the sadhya was great fun.”
R Vijayan, from Palghat, based in Dubai, says the earliest memories of Onam are that of his paternal grandmother decorating the Thrikkakkarappan and Mathevars kept in various order in the central courtyard of our ancestral Tharavad.
“As children we all used to run around the neighbourhood to collect différent flowers for the floral décorations. The morning breakfast always had to be bananas (in boiled form as well as chips) pappadams, ada (sweet préparation with rice flour, jaggery and coconut.) etc. All family members made it a point to be présent for lunch.”
 “In  Al Ain, we celebrate Onam with our family and friends in a traditional way,” discloses Sajeev Menon, from Thrissur in Kerala. “Here we conduct Pookalamatsaram, drama festival , Chendamelem , Vadamvali and other cultural activities in Indian Social Centre. The celebration  ends up with traditional Onam Sadhya with more than 30 types of South Indian dishes served on a tender banana leaf.”
“Being a Malayalee, Onam is always very special for me. Born and brought up outside Kerala during a major part of my life, it was the harvest festival of Onam that gave me and my family to visit our ancestral home at Thrissur every two or three years,” reveals Rajashree Menon, based in Abu Dhabi.
“I still remember the days when I was the only girl child among a big group of cousins. All of us gather at our ancestral home and our grandfather and eminent educationist late PA Narayana Menon used to guide us on various rituals and celebrations associated with it. There used to be floral decorations, swings and other games we children play joyously. It was followed by a sumptuous lunch and then on the 4th day, we all go together with our elders to watch the famous Pulikali,” she elaborates.
“Being a resident of the UAE, I find the festivities of Onam carried out with more fun and fanfare here than any other cities I have lived. At Abu Dhabi, we celebrate it in a big way at the India Social and Cultural Centre. It brings out a harmonious union of all communities and nationalities,” adds Rajashree.
Rajani Ramkumar, based in Abu Dhabi, says she considers Onam as an eternal efflorescence. “We  cherish the nostalgia of ONAM: O-Ona Pookalam, N- Nakila Sadhya A- Arppu Vili and the M- Memories of great King Mahabali.”
For TV Ramesh, based in Sharjah, Onam is much more than a feast and new clothes. “The great feeling of togetherness and celebration in the society without any religious or economic barriers is the key.”