Meet Aathma Dious, Dubai-based Storyteller Uplifting Gulf Kids Stories

In our Dubai Expat Feature we share more a story about a Dubai-based storyteller. At first glance, you can tell that everything about Aathma Dious screams passion. If you ever stumble upon her writings on Substack or her TikTok account, you can tell that she pours her heart and soul into every content she creates. 

This Abu Dhabi-born and raised, second-generation gulf kid is here to share her story about the expat life, her family, and finding like-minded people who love books and artists like herself. It only makes sense for her to be dedicated to her craft since her name in Malayali means soul; read on to find out more about her story!

1. To start this interview, can you tell us who Aathma Dious is behind the scenes?

Aathma Dious is a bibliophile; she loves books, and her father is the one who got her into reading at a young age when he gave her the book, “Temporary people” by Deepak Unnikrishnan, who have sparked Aathma’s curiosity and interest in the expat life and everything in between. 

She graduated from NYU Abu Dhabi, majoring in English literature and creative writing with a minor in film and new media. When she’s not busy writing poems, nonfiction essays, or creating video content, she’s listening to Taylor Swift, traveling, or just hanging out with her loved ones.

2. Why did you come to Abu Dhabi (Since you studied mainly in the UAE)? 

Being an artist is embedded in the DNA of Aathma since her father  migrated to the UAE in the ’90s to work as an architect, part of the teams which created the iconic Abu Dhabi landmarks such as Gate Towers on Al Reem Island and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Aathma is on a mission to make her mark in the UAE. She’s currently in Dubai to work on several projects, freelancing, and figuring out where her craft can take her. “I’m going to be honest, I was very lucky with the kind of environment I was in where I was starting to get serious about writing. On one hand I have started on spoken word in Rooftop Rhythms Abu Dhabi, opened my platform and I started performing with them in my first year of university and with that kind of community of artists encouraged me and helped me boost my writing”.

Her platform grew as being constantly surrounded by artists, being part of creative communities, and audiences who can resonate with her works as an artist.

3. What were your previous jobs? 

She was supposedly taking a gap year after graduating university, but then life had other plans for her since she got a job; Aathma has worked as a Marketing Executive for Alserkal Avenue in Dubai and a former Poetry Editor for Postscript Magazine. 

4. Are you able to save in Abu Dhabi? Or do you have any investments you wish to share?

“It’s hard, to be honest; even if you are doing freelance copywriting or writing articles, Unless you’re a staff journalist, that’s a different conversation since you will have a stable salary. It will require working in journalism which is a very demanding job. The work culture here is very intense regardless of the type of job. For writers and artists it can be hard to do so. Finances not really, since I currently don’t have a job but I’ve been doing side projects to get paid for. I guess for long-term investment, I want to see writings that came from here.”

5. Is it challenging to live in the UAE? What are your struggles? 

“It’s hard to find a job outside of your network. One of the major differences between Abu Dhabi and Dubai is the means of transportation, of course, in terms of work and living. It’s busier as a city, and it’s geared toward tourism and the image it has; there’s also a different conversation here. In Abu Dhabi, I have this sense of nostalgia, and people haven’t seen my schoolgirl phase. I’m here building my career as a writer, and there’s a sense of freedom, and there are many art communities here in Dubai. I’m still struggling to find my platform and connections. “

6. What do you like about the UAE?

“I recently talked to a collective which is a new publishing house here, and they’re kind of changing the publishing landscape, promoting UAE-based writers and expats coming in who want to get published here. There’s change starting up here that has potential that will need more efforts to be sustainable.”

7. What do you dislike about the UAE? 

“There’s not yet a concrete platform yet that encourages emerging writers; there’s barely a foundation like a platform or things at school or at the University level. We need more. We don’t have spaces for fiction or poetry unless you write in Arabic and work in the local publishing here.”

Another thing that Aathma shared about her experiences in the UAE is there’s not many stories or experiences being shared online about being a gulf kid. 

According to her, “There’s also a short-term mentality here mostly from our parents that hasn’t really figured out how to go way past that conversation. We need to build that narrative up in the future for future generations. We need to have private conversations with friends and family and start putting it out there.”

8. What made you want to start your platform on Tiktok and Substack?

Aathma started her TikTok account to share her story as someone who came from the UAE and is thriving in Dubai. She wanted to spark a conversation about belonging and what it’s really like growing up in Abu Dhabi, and how it shaped her as an artist. “I want to get the literary scene of the UAE more than what we have to the point writers like myself and from our generation and beyond but also have that known in every household. I want to see an art scene where an Indian kid from school can name at least an artist who looks like them and writes topics from here. I think that’s what’s missing here.” One of Aathma’s driving forces as an artist or a writer is to uplift the stories of expats, share the community and culture the UAE has and innovate the same way the gulf country is known for.

Her Substack newsletter account (An Unsung Third Stanza) was launched in 2022 as a love letter or a safe space for fellow Gulf kids. You’ll be reading personal pieces, musings, and everything in between about life in the UAE and know why she’s one of the highly relatable voices in the Middle East. Aathma is a rising star in the world of writing in the UAE that everyone should know about; by going deeper and using her personal experiences, she is uplifting thousands of Gulf Kids’ voices, including hers, in harmonious melody.

Follow Aathma’s social media accounts to read her writings, and stay tuned to her Gulf-related stories online!