Dubai: Ashok Sawlani landed in Dubai at the age of 17, on March 21, 1969 on board Sirdhana, a cargo-cum-passenger ship operated by British India Navigation Co.
It was a five-day journey from Bombay to Dubai on the ship that plied the Bombay-Basra trade route.
His father was not very happy with Sawlani's decision to join his trading business in Dubai. "He wanted me to finish college. My argument was: it would take four years to complete my education in a commerce college, but I could learn the practical side of business on the job in a year's time." And he did.
Sawlani was the youngest in a brood of five,but he was different - raring for real-life action. "If I were a spoilt brat, I would have chosen to sit in Bombay, having a good time at that age," he said.
He comes from a family of textile traders. His father founded Regal Traders in 1954 together with his father-in-law.
"I clearly remember taking a flight from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in November 1969 in order to meet and take orders from a customer there, as there were no proper roads between the two emirates.
"In Abu Dhabi, they had Bahraini dinars and in Dubai we had Qatar Dubai Riyals (QDR). Soon after unification, I saw the first UAE dirham coins and bills," he said.
His father's small trading company used to import fabrics from Japan and India - selling to local markets and re-exporting them to Iran. From Japan, the fabrics they bought were re-exported to India.
"We lived in two-storey apartment on Al Fahidi Street where the Arabian Courtyard Hotel now stands along the narrow two-lane road not far from the Ruler's Court," recalls Sawlani.
For him, the Dubai Creek is the most memorable place in Dubai. "The Creek was where we used to receive our shipments."
Cargo ships dropped anchor some 4km offshore, and the goods were moved on to barges which were pulled by tugs into the Creek for offloading near Bastakiya (old Dubai).
From the two-storey apartment, the Sawlanis moved to a six-storey building where V.V. and Sons shop stands today on the same narrow road. The building was arguably the most prestigious address on the Bur Dubai side in 1971.
"There were no newspapers during those years. News about the unification came through the BBC English and Hindi services on shortwave. My friends and I drove into the area near the fully lit Union House on December 2, 1971 to get a glimpse of what's going on. Next to it were the guesthouses of the Ruling Family which were awash with lights, too. It was quite festive."
At that time, Maktoum Bridge was a two-lane bridge, he recalls. "If you were to cross the bridge, you had to pay a 25 fils toll fee to come from Deira to Dubai. From December 2, 1971, the toll fee collection was stopped."
Sawlani, a father of three, says he has "absolutely no regrets" about coming to Dubai.