Excerpt: ‘Daba’, by Rhea Bhagat


Image by Mohamed Somji. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Hammer and Sickle

Uncle Rahul has a cancerous orange Hummer. Burnished with bronze, it glows like a Midwestern debutante. Swarovski shimmer on the rims.

Rahul drives us to his villa on the Palm. His fiancée, Candy, is in the front seat, sipping a caramel frappuccino. Candy is a ‘yogi’ and ‘world wanderer’.

We cross the invisible border into New Dubai. Ghettos give way to golf courses. Lush rolling expanses of grass and glittering lagoons. Jagged skyscrapers splinter through the sky. Malls are shaped like ancient pyramids. Pharaohs luxuriate in their marbled sarcophagi. A Sphinx straddles a Starbucks.

The Burj Khalifa is the epicentre of the city. The Burj is the tallest building in the world – a phallic talisman of steel and concrete. A Roarkian fantasy.

“You can pray in a mosque on the 158th floor.”

“The foie gras at At.mosphere is to die for.”

“This is the Vegas of the Middle East yaar.”

It emerges from a crystal blue lake. Choreographed fountains ejaculate jets of water five hundred feet into the air. We drive past a soaring display set to ‘I Will Always Love You’. The fountains form a flaming arc as Whitney Houston reaches a breathy climax.

Rahul’s Hummer belches exhaust fumes and aggression. The police drive past in low slung Lamborghinis. The officers are hulking and steroidal, smoking and cursing. Yalla Habibi. They wear green uniforms and aviator sunglasses – their keffiyehs blowing in the wind.

The city crackles in the heat. I squelch as I shift on the leather seat.

The skyscrapers fall away as we approach the island. ‘The Palm’ is an archipelago constructed by dredging sand from the Persian Gulf. Luxury villas are dotted on the fronds.

We stop at the traffic lights, drawing alongside a bus.

The bus is filled with labourers: Pathans, Nepalese, Sri Lankan. Blue jumpsuits and hi-vis vests. I make eye contact with a man in a turban. He has red-rimmed eyes, his craggy skin beaded with sweat.


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Code Switch

“Marhaba Dubai! I am so excited to be here to promote my Booty Shake!”

Kim Kardashian wears a latex playsuit. She twirls, winking at the cameras.

“Wallah, she’s not even that hot.”

Waitresses rove through the crowd serving free samples.

I order the Perez Hilton: Coconut, Cap’n Crunch, Oreos and whipped cream.

I’m here with white people so I speak with my ‘international school accent’. A displaced Californian drawl, rolling Rs and harsh Ts. I pretend to mispronounce my own name.

“I’m Rhea Baguette.”

It is reflexive: an instinct to survive.

My phone vibrates, a call from my mother. A familiar guilt clenches my throat. I let it go to voicemail.

If I answer, I’ll “do my Indian accent.”

This piece appears in full in The Lifted Brow #32. Get your copy here.

Rhea Bhagat is a writer and spoken word poet from Melbourne. She blogs at Bechdel Babes and tweets at @rheaviewmirror