DUBAI: Kannaiyan Shankar landed in Dubai from Chennai, India, on his mother's passport in 1971. He was only two years old and the UAE's formation was still a few months away. Forty years on, his story is one of rags to riches - a self-made man whose success story is set alongside Dubai's rise to global prominence.
Shankar's father, a lawyer in India, came to Dubai in 1971 in search of a better future. Without a licence to practise here, he ended up working for an Iranian businessman and later joined Mitsubishi as business manager.
Shankar has seen Dubai's rapid transformation, as they moved homes from their Arabic-style villa in Deira to Shaikh Rashid Colony in Satwa. He saw the World Trade Centre (WTC) building standing alone and saw prominent people holding marriage celebrations on the empty ground, which is now Zabeel Park.
"Everyone got invited to these parties. It was a really cool time - the dances, camels and tents, open-air festivities. Dates and food were offered to the public. I still miss those moments," he said. He also remembers jumping over huge rocks to get to the shore when crossing between Bur Dubai and Deira in a water taxi called ‘abra'. Today, as he rides the Metro, Shankar marvels at Dubai's unbelievable growth story.
After completing his secondary education at The Indian High School Dubai in 1988, Shankar began his career at the age of 18. He also attended evening classes to complete his diploma in Computer Science at the UK-affiliated Datamation Systems Institute for three years. In between, he fell in love with Berne, his Sri Lankan secretary at the trading company Nia, whom he married in 1995 after six years of convincing their parents, who were reluctant to bless the union due to differences in language, culture, country and creed.
Shankar ventured into socks manufacturing in India and formed an overseas office in Dubai in 1995. Within 18 months of opening this company, he went broke.
It was an expensive lesson, but one learnt well.
In 1997, he diversified into the apparel and accessories business, forming Silver Pearls Packaging Services LLC. Success came as he roped in Disney, Barbie, and Levis brands in certain countries.
Today, he also caters to leading hypermarkets all over the Middle East from his office-cum-warehouse in Al Ghusais. He has also formed Earth Care Systems, a green homes company based in Bengaluru, India, in partnership with C.N. Srikrishna, his yoga guru.
In Dubai, he is at home in Karama and still hangs out there with this buddies. "Karama is a complete community."
In 2010, Shankar gave wings to his childhood dream of having his own restaurant, by opening Radhe o Radhe, a vegetarian outlet in Karama, with a business partner. The restaurant has two branches in Dubai, with a couple more in the pipeline. It's all about balance, says Shankar on his key to success. "My wife and two wonderful children have given me complete support in all my ventures.
"Dubai is a dream city for me. I'm lucky I've found what I love doing here and thank Dubai for being a part of my journey. Failures were just my stepping stones."
There were just 13 cars in Dubai in 1968. Now there is one car for every two residents.