Rajan Koickal says Shaikh Zayed’s vision has changed the fortune of the UAE and expatriates who have been provided with a conducive environment to earn their livelihood. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Rajan Koickal has been residing in Abu Dhabi for over four decades and has had the chance to watch closely the era of the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan who transformed Abu Dhabi from a barren desert into a “paradise”.

In an interview with Gulf News, Koickal spoke about the country which has showered bounties on him.

“I am still working here after 42 years of service and my three daughters have got married and are now settled in the United States, two in Dallas and one in San Francisco,” the 67-year-old manager at Al Rumaithi Travel Agency in Abu Dhabi, said.

“On October 7, 1976, I landed in Abu Dhabi which had a few small groceries and two- to three-storey apartments, narrow, uneven and poorly lit roads. Even the Abu Dhabi-Dubai road was not in a good shape and one leader stood up to transform the emirate — Shaikh Zayed,” said Koickal, who is from the South Indian state of Kerala.

“We can’t imagine that how far-sighted Shaikh Zayed was and he dreamt to transform the UAE into a world class country; he turned the desert into a paradise,” he said.

Nations get visionary leaders once in centuries, and Shaikh Zayed was one such great personality, Koickal said.

The vision of Shaikh Zayed has changed the fortune of this country and expatriate communities who have been provided with a friendly environment to earn their livelihood and support their families, Koickal, who started as an accountant 42 years back, said.

“Freedom of community living, safety and security for women and children in the UAE are at par (with developed countries). People today enjoy full religious freedom and mingling with a wide range of communities residing in the UAE and exchanging their cultures and traditions. These are all the result of Shaikh Zayed’s endeavours which have keenly been pursued by all leaders of the country,” he said.

“In our own country [India], women feel scared to go out alone after sunset, but in the UAE you can roam around the city and enjoy life without any fear. That’s a great achievement of the emirates”.

He started his career at Al Rumaithi Travels in the capital as an accountant for a monthly salary of Dh1,300 and never switched his job.

“It might appear to you as a very attractive salary but during that time, the UAE currency was not that strong as it’s today and currency conversion rates were poor. We used to get only 2,600 Indian rupees for that amount,” the commerce postgraduate said.

“I came to first Elektra Street which was almost deserted with only a few of huts and dilapidated villas strewn around. But see now, it looks like a world class city that offers all the luxuries of life,” Koickal said.

Because of the small community four decades back, National Day festivities and events were not like today. Mostly, there used to be a parade in the morning and flag-hoisting ceremonies, he said.

“Two persons including me shared a two bedroom villa with a huge hall and paid Dh1,800 [Dh900 each]. But this was paid by my company. Now I live in a two-bedroom apartment in downtown Abu Dhabi for Dh60,000 and drive a company car. For the past over four decades, my company has cared for me and kept paying rents and I have been devotedly working for the company,” he said.