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‘We had the first jewellery shop in Bur Dubai’

Indian expat who came to UAE in 1961 recalls his early days

  • Suresh L. Shaholia shows old passports at the family’s shop in Dubai Gold Souq. Image Credit: Atiq ur Rehman/Gulf News
  • Suresh Shaholia's memories captured in photos.Image Credit: Courtesy: Suresh L. Shaholia
Gulf News

Dubai: Long-term Indian expat Suresh L. Shaholia’s memories about his early days in the UAE are literally golden.

His father was one of the earliest expatriate gold traders in Dubai and during his young days, Shaholia had supplied gold to the members of the royal family.

Born in 1952, Shaholia first arrived in the erstwhile Trucial States when he was just nine. He sailed for a week with his parents in an old ship to reach here from the erstwhile Bombay.

“At that time, I didn’t have a separate passport and my name was entered in my mother’s passport,” Shaholia told Gulf News.

His father, Laxmichand Mohanlal Shaholia, who had come from the western Indian state of Gujarat in a dhow, had set up a jewellery shop on the Creek side in Dubai in 1948.

“We had the first jewellery shop in the abra market of Bur Dubai. They used to call it chapra market because of the thatched roof,” recollected Shaholia.

The shop, which later on received a single digit trade licence number and Post Box No. 197, was a few kilometres away from his house in Al Fahidi neighbourhood where some of the royal family members also lived.

He was sent to the first school run by the Indian teacher couple K.S. Varkey and Mariamma Varkey in Bastakia.

“I was one of the first students of their school. Madam Varkey taught me,” said Shaholia.

Even as a student, Shaholia had to play another role. Second among six brothers, he had to support his father in the gold business in his own way.

Hence, there were days when he had to carry gold ornaments from or to the shop on his way to the tutorial of the Varkeys — the forerunner of the current Our Own English High School.

After he discontinued his studies, Shaholia got fully engaged in the gold business. “My father was very popular in the market. Wearing a dhoti, he was referred to as Gandhi those days. People also called him Lakku.”

The royal connection

Many people would buy gold and silver ornaments from their jewellery shop. Women customers from the royal families would shortlist the designs they liked and Shaholia would carry those jewellery items to Zabeel Palace, he said.

“At the palace, they would finalise their selection and I would take the rest of the gold back to the shop. We also used to gift fruits and vegetables which we would bring in from India to the royal family members.”

“When we send these boxes of fruits and vegetables, they used to send us back the fragrant manjack fruits which we used for making pickles.”

The place where his father’s shop once existed is now Souq Al Kabeer.

“That was the only souq that existed those days. My father used to interact with all prominent Indian and Emirati businessmen of those times. All of them had a role in the early days of development in Dubai,” he said.

“The creek was only about 7km and there were only two rowing abras to cross it. It was only after the dredging that motorised boats came to Dubai Creek.”

The Shaholia family grew in numbers over the years and now has a strength of over 75 in different emirates. Most of them, except for those in the third generation, are in the jewellery field.

“Because of their experience and contacts, my father and uncles were consulted when the gold souqs in Dubai and Sharjah were initially designed,” said Shaholia whose shop eventually branched out to Sharjah and Fujairah.

He was first sent to Sharjah to learn how to make gold ornaments from his uncle’s shop there.

“That was in 1971. My father had a Mercedes car. But I had to go to Sharjah on a motorcycle,” said Shaholia who still treasures his motorcycle’s licence and his second passport with the stamp of the Trucial States.

As the country celebrates 46 years of its formation, Shaholia said he has never travelled to any country other than his home country from here.

His visits to India also have been very rare. “Because of the business, we brothers used to take turns for our vacation. So, we would go to India only once in five or six years.”

Shaholia is amazed at the way the gold trade and other sectors in Dubai and the UAE have galloped in the past few decades.

He said everyone here has grown with this country. However, after age caught up with him, he has not been able to keep pace with the gold trade in the City of Gold.

“I am old now. So, I mostly stay in my Fujairah house and look after the business there and visit Sharjah and Dubai occasionally,” he said.