Reviewed by Tasnima Yasmin
Based on a sandy- beige building in Oud Metha locality of Dubai which was her abode during her stay as an Indian expatriate in the United Arab Emirates, Chakraborty sketches the background for her debut short story collection Dubai Heights. The eponymous building is depicted as a plush apartment complex in downtown Dubai where expatriates from several countries across the world reside. However, the transitory setting of a bourgeoning emirate is not the only attraction of this book. The four short stories revolve around women protagonists who are drawn from real life expatriate women that Chakraborty encountered during her stay in Dubai. These female protagonists are strong characters who live life on their own terms though in a state of transit in the opulent, cosmopolitan and international Gulf city of Dubai.
Opportunism, a love for adventure and a desire for independence abounds these characters who are willing to take risks to experience the luxuries of the ‘Dubai dream.’ Finding a living in such a fast- paced mega city is no less than a dream. The four short stories are titled In Transit, Awakening, Incomplete Traces and Adrift. They revolve around the lives of Simona, Lavanya, Elaina and Priyanka respectively. Surrounded by the glitz and glamour of Dubai are women who go through the crests and troughs of life and bloom wherever they are planted. The preface written in the second person narrative style addresses the reader directly by providing a quick tour of the building along with giving an idea of the entire property, the suites, apartments and penthouses with the play area and swimming pool. It also states that different nationalities reside in this building hinting at the taste of different cultures that one is bound to get by residing in this building. The preface is a welcoming invitation to look beneath the façade of glamour and riches to get a sneak peak into lives of women who have relocated to an unconventional destination solely for work and will undoubtedly have to return to their countries of origin once their work contracts are over. This conditional employment in Dubai sets their clocks ticking since the moment they have set foot in the budding desert city.
Parallel to this is the ticking of their biological clocks that brings paranoid and insensitive comments from some people around them. Hence, solitary existence in this much sought- after address in Dubai is marred by personal sorrows, struggles and grievances that unfold slowly and steadily throughout the narratives. While their lives may be depicted as fast paced, the pace of the narrative is moderate and easy to follow. It is important to follow the sequence of the stories in the book to get a better understanding of existing as a diaspora in Dubai. Even within individual stories, the narrative is full of flashbacks and flash forwards. The language of the book is crisp without compromising with the emotional quotient of the stories. Yet, there is no exaggeration or illogical twists, unpredictable turns or inflated takes. This adds a realistic angle to the seamlessly woven stories. The characterisation is key to decipher these tales as they revolve around the four female protagonists but also the minor characters who serve as foil characters to the lead characters. At 228 pages, the book is moderately lengthy, thoroughly interesting and deeply emotional.
Emotions run riot as characters feel empty or broken or lost. Loneliness of surviving as a diaspora is eased through the strong ties that these women have with members of their own diaspora but also with diasporic people of other nationalities. Dilemma is central to all the four characters in this book. They are depicted as modern women who are passionate about balancing their personal and professional lives. They do it well, get things right for most of the time but when things don’t go as per plan then it rattles them only to make them come out stronger. Amidst all these is a set of unconventional relationships, more like friendships that are filled with mutual respect and care. It showcases the anxiety and loneliness of diasporic existence in the Gulf where people of different nationalities live side by side and away from family or their homeland. In trying to create a niche that supports their daily though temporary existence, they develop bonds, help one another and live life to the brim. A sense of seizing the moment runs through all of these stories and the book will seem relatable to those leading a fast- paced life in a mega city anywhere in the world. On the whole, the stories are highly engaging though the book cover comes with a blue cut out of the architectural and structural engineering wonders of the Dubai skyline or what looks like a part of the iconic Sheikh Zayed Road. In terms of the format, everything about the book is rather simple though the colourful stories tell a very opposite tale.