Driving by the fish market in Deira, a neighborhood in central Dubai, I observed a throng of traditionally dressed Pakistani men walking in a single direction. It was Friday, a day that most people have off in Dubai. Curious to see how these immigrants chose to spend their rare leisure time, I parked my car and followed the stream.
A growing crowd of men assembled in a circle around a vacant sand lot, wearing different shades of pastel-colored Salwar Kameez (Pakistani garments). The scene was beautiful in the dusk light, and the heat of day still lingered in the air, mixing with the fresh excitement. To my right, I could see a man wrapping a cotton sash around his abdomen. Something was about to happen. I asked what to expect and was told that we were waiting for kushti to start.
Kushti is a traditional Indo-Pakistani form of wrestling, similar to judo. As soon as one of the wrestlers’ backs touches the ground, the opponent wins. Fights can last for minutes, or sometimes mere seconds. A jury consisting of several men observes the fight closely and signals a win with a long stick. The winners then walk around the circle, collecting both acclaim and money from the crowd.
Opportunities to celebrate traditions are important for those living abroad, away from their families and their own culture. Through kushti matches, these Pakistani men had a reason to gather together, cheering on their favorite wrestlers, and, perhaps, thinking of home.