"We are all like flowers in a garden," says Mohan Jashanmal. Image Credit: Abdel Krim Kallouche/ANM

On an average day, if you walk down the aisles of the Jashanmal store in Abu Dhabi Mall, you will find a man in a dish-dash, armed with a huge smile, handing out sweets to kids at the door. The man is Mohan Jashanmal Jhangiani, 73, the atypical businessman and patriarch of the Indian community in the UAE whose idea of a good time is playing Santa to children every Christmas at his store.

Jashanmal is the archetype salesman who believes in the old world values of treating a customer as a welcome visitor he needs to relentlessly serve. Among a coveted few expatriates to be granted permanent residency in the UAE, he remains an Indian at heart while wearing his UAE identity with grace. Straddling both cultures with poise, he's been a bridge between Emiratis and Indian expatriates for more than half a century. In these years, - since his family opened their first shop in Dubai in 1956 - he has worn many hats: spokesperson for the Indian diaspora, founder of India Club in Abu Dhabi and chairperson of the Indian Business Group.

The Indian community in the UAE and the Indian Government always turn to him to recommend names for the country's prestigious award - the Pravasi Bhartiya Samman - that is presented to Non Resident Indians (NRIs) all over the world. This year he was pleasantly surprised when he himself received the award.

Traditions and reputations are not built in a day and meeting Jashanmal is proof of that. He takes Friday down memory lane and talks about the rich legacy his family has created, a legacy he has now come to preserve and propagate. 


I look back on these decades and see the impact the Gulf countries have had on my life. We have a long history here. My father, the late Rao Saheb Jashanmal, first came to Basra, Iraq, from Karachi (in the then undivided India) in 1919. He later opened a store in Kuwait in 1934 and in Bahrain in 1935. I moved to Bahrain in 1942 at the age of six and grew up there.

I am truly fortunate to have had such a strong and large family. I am the youngest of seven brothers and one sister. The year I was born, my eldest brother Atma got married. I lost my mother when I was three and was raised by Atma and his wife, Chandra.

By the time I was born, we were quite affluent. It would have been easy for everyone to spoil me because I was a motherless child but my father and brothers were determined to keep my upbringing free of pampering. I recall an incident when I was in high school and was back home from boarding school for the holidays. One evening, as I came out of the bathroom, I asked one of our house helpers to clean it up. My brother happened to overhear the conversation and stopped me right there.

He then called all the house help staff into the courtyard and in front of them reprimanded me for delegating what was essentially my duty to someone else. He ordered me to get a bucket, fill it with water and clean the bathroom. I did not understand why he was doing this at the time but as the years passed, I realised that he was trying to teach me how to lead by example. It also taught me that no work was too small or unimportant.

I learnt worldly goodness from my father. In Bahrain our shop had front and back exits. There was this aged former pearl diver, Soheib, who had lost his mind a bit and would often enter the shop from the front, ask for alms, exit from the back only to enter again from the front and ask for alms again. In a day, he would do this several times and we children would often complain about him to our father. And always, my father's reply was: "Soheib hasn't come here on his own. God has sent him because the Almighty tests you in different ways. If you behave well with his creations, you are respecting him." I have incorporated this learning in my corporate philosophy too. I know the importance of a customer and what service really means. I learnt early on in life how important it is for us to respect another human being.

I think life is all about finding the universal thread that binds us all as human beings. My life in the Gulf, I believe, has taught me this. In my years growing up and living in Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE, I have interacted with people from different nationalities, seen individuals from diverse religious backgrounds coexist peacefully, and in the process understood that in the end we are all like flowers in a garden, each with a fragrance of its own. In my own extended family today we have 13 nationalities and five religious paths - Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists. But we never forget we are all human beings first. 

I have come to conclude that life is all about how you create happiness in whatever form you can. It's important to spread happiness and I value smiles a lot. Every year, for the past three decades during Christmas, I have been dressing up as Santa for my store and I enjoy it as it makes kids happy.

I always keep assorted sweets in my pocket and hand them out to anyone I meet and it brings out a smile on their face. That's priceless for me. When I get into elevators, I always greet the person, offer him a sweet and in moments I am able to connect with that human being. Sometimes people decline the sweet but that's not a problem for me. I smile at them anyway and wish them a nice day. It is important to indulge in simple acts of generosity and kindness every day.

I personally believe there is no substitute for hard work. As a young man I wanted to join the Indian Army. My brother Atma, who did not have the heart to stop me, sent me for the approval round but I failed on health grounds. I strongly suspect he had a hand in it because here I was, a robust weightlifter, a serious lawn tennis player, a cricketer and swimmer and I couldn't clear a health test!

Around the same time (1958-1959) my brother announced that I had to go to London for a Hoover training. That was our brand and they had just introduced the vacuum cleaner and washing machine. I thought it would be a breeze. I arrived at our London office and knocked at the manager's door. He made me wait so long that I eventually just walked into his office. He did not like that and told me curtly, ‘You only come in when you are asked to'.

There were no concessions whatsoever though I was part of the Jashanmal family. I'd a small bedroom in a basement and an allowance of £4 per week. I was thrown into the deep end. Four years as a salesman taught me the value of hard work, humility and thanks to those years, today, if I walk into my store and see something lying on the floor, I bend down and pick it up.

After London, I was packed off to Abu Dhabi in 1964, where we opened our first department store. Those days, there was no running water or electricity. I would go to Dubai to have my shower! But by then I had learnt not to complain. I learnt the value of staying optimistic from my father who had worked in the most trying times in Basra, Kuwait and Bahrain.

I cannot do without laughter and smiles. I always try to infuse humour into a situation that is getting grim and serious.

When I was young and brash, I never believed in the institution of marriage. I just couldn't understand how anyone could willingly want to live with one person for the rest of their life. And then I got married to Vanita in 1964. I've come to believe that it is indeed possible to create such a bond with one person for your entire life. 


Me and my attitude of never-say-die: I believe that in the worst-case scenario, one must not give up his ability to laugh. It will conquer all difficulties. There is nothing like having a good laugh when things go wrong. That gives you the inner strength to go on.

Me and my family: To me the world is my family as is also my own very large, extended family - my brothers, their wives, kids, my sister and her family. In my inner circle of love, there is Vanita, my wife, Suhail my son and my daughters Pushpa, Shefali and their respective spouses. I have four grandchildren. 


Brands evolve through time. A brand is created through a reputation. And a reputation is built through honesty. Today the world is searching for honesty. If you want people to believe in you and your company, you have to display that honesty by going the extra mile to let them know you are genuine in your intent. The customer has worked hard to earn his money. Why would he part with it to buy something that is below the value it is marked? We have been in the Gulf for almost a 100 years and through so many generations. It has taken us long to earn this trust in our customers and get them to believe in our brand.

Our own enterprise has evolved a lot. From being family-owned to a corporate enterprise, it has come a long way. When my father set up the first store in 1919 in Basra, he called it Jashanmal Brothers. When the two brothers spilt he asked his sons to assist him run the business. He renamed the company Jashanmal and Sons. When others joined him in the venture, the company was renamed Jashanmal and Partners. Later in 1984, we renamed it to Jashanmal National Company. Now we call it the Jashanmal Group of Companies - surely it has come a long way.

I have often been invited to lecture the younger generation of expatriates and Emiratis on corporate values in changing times. But I believe that a company's core corporate values remain the same. My advice to aspiring corporate executives:

  • Be service-oriented. Silence your ego when you serve and be humble. I always greet people in my shop and sometimes accompany them to the exit.
  • Provide personalised service. Remember the first names of loyal customers, ask after their children, remember their birthdays and send them a card.
  • Be helpful at all times. If your customer's hands are full, reach out and help them. Offer candy to a child, offer customers a hot beverage. If there is an elderly person at your store, offer a chair. In other words, help your customers feel at home.
  • Always be ready for an emergency. In case of a mishap, be ready with first aid.
  • Never embarrass your customer.

By the way …

Mohan Jashanmal did his early education at Barnes High School, a boarding in Deolali, India

A flamboyant youngster, he drove a Midget sportscar in the late Fifties in Kuwait

He was the reigning champion of lawn tennis in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the mid-Sixties

He is the chairman of the Indian Business and Professional Group of Abu Dhabil He was a keen dancer in the party circuit of the UAE in the Sixties

He is a proud holder of a permanent residency visa of the UAE that expires in 2999