Dubai: How often do you come across service professionals living in the UAE for generations? Usually, post-retirement, and after having lived and worked in the UAE for long, most expatriates — who were service holders — head home. But here is an exception. Meet the Vasu family in Dubai. The UAE has been home to them for four generations now and it seems it will continue to be so.
The head of the family, Mahendra Kumar Vasu, 77, is a retired banking professional. His wife Nirmala Vasu, 74, as Mahendra says, has been the 'Home Minister' of the household since 1969! Their youngest of three children is Punit M.K. Vasu, 42, who is the chief executive officer of the Indian High Group of Schools (IHS).
A ship journey to Dubai
“My parents and I lived in Bahrain at that time. I was 19 years old. My residence visa — a dependent visa on my father — was not renewed in Bahrain. So my father advised me to come to Dubai and look for a job. In March 1963, I came to Dubai on a ship from Bahrain.”
Mahendra's father Tulsidas Vasu had moved to Bahrain in 1935 where he worked with Bahrain Petroleum (Bapco) and later with Abdul Rahman Ahujan & Sons. Tulsidas moved to Bahrain from Karachi where he had worked for a short while. He arrived in Bahrain aboard a ship. At Abdul Rahman Ahujan & Sons, Mahendra was the brand ambassador for British American Tobacco and Nestle. Mahendra said his father used to shuttle between Bahrain and Dubai. He finally moved to the UAE in 1964.
“My father was an avid traveller, a sportsman and an athlete. I remember he would do acrobatics at the edge of high-rise buildings. He was such a strong man. He was quite famous for once having a car driven over a plank on his chest.”
Mahendra added that his father was also a renowned socialite.
“My father was lovingly called ‘Daddy’ in the community. Ironically, my grand-father called him ‘Daddy’ as well! He was very popular in the Indian community in Dubai and his photo was splashed on all carry bags of a newly-branded local store in Dubai way back in the early 1960s. My father served at the Bahrain Sports Club and was the president of Indian Association Dubai.”
All this set the tone for Mahendra to feel comfortable with life in the UAE. In May 1963, Mahendra started working with National Bank of Dubai and in July 1969, he was selected as one of the founding employees of Commercial Bank of Dubai. After serving there for more than 42 years, Mahendra retired in December 2011 from the bank’s senior management cadre.
Mahendra’s family belongs to Pushkar in the Indian state of Rajasthan. “My family belongs to the Brahmin community. My wife, Nirmala, on the other hand, is from Jaisalmer. She is a Thattai Bhatia.”
Traditional Thattai Bhatias
Explaining her roots, Nirmala said: “The Thattai Bhatia community is a big group in Dubai. We belong to the Chandarvanshi Rajput clan, like most of the Bhatias settled in India. This clan has it origins from the time of Maharaja Jaiswal in Jaisalmer. It is said that during the time of British rule in India, the community had migrated to Sindh and then during the time of India’s Independence, they migrated to India from the Thatta district in Sindh. Pre-independence, in the 1880s, the Bhatias were among the top Indian communities to undertake trading relations with the Middle Eastern countries.”
So the socio-cultural foundation was set for Punit and his older siblings Rachna Karani, 49, a homemaker and yoga enthusiast, and for Prerna Raigaga, 46, who works as customer success manager for an international brand.
Punit, who started his career in the United States, said: “My roots are here with my parents and family. Dubai is home and it was inevitable that I would return to the UAE one day.”
Punit graduated in June 2000-2001 from University of Connecticut, US, majoring in finance and has since then carved a stellar career for himself. “I started as an investment banker for Lehman Brothers. Later I moved to a tertiary institution from Vermont, US, to work as a finance director for the company.”
In 2002, he joined The London School of Economics as its finance director. Four years later, he did is MBA from The University of Bradford, majoring in Strategy and Finance. In November 2006, he returned to Dubai. “I wanted to come home to my parents and I was looking for opportunities here.”
Punit joined the Dubai Education Council and transitioned as a founding member of the senior team at Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) where he worked for 13 years.
Focus on education
“I majored in finance, but education was always my “thing’. It is part of my upbringing. My father always taught goodness. Teaching is a noble profession and I knew I wanted to be in this industry.”
Punit said after a great tenure serving the KHDA, he joined GEMS Education as senior director of the Ex-MENASA team in January 2019. That same year, in October, he was offered the role of CEO at IHS. “There has been no looking back since,” he said. IHS is also his alma mater.
Punit’s wife Jhaanavi, 41, mother of two boys Keshavdas (9) and Rishabh (5), is an MIS graduate from the University of Connecticut. She is currently working with KHDA as a senior project manager, Business Universal Service. She has been with KHDA for more than 15 years.
“I feel so grateful to be working at such a big government entity. My parents also came here decades ago. I grew up in Dubai. I have so many childhood friends here. We all would play at the India Social Club in Oud Metha. Dubai is home to us. I don’t see myself living anywhere else in the world.”
Punit said the Vasu family feels grateful to the UAE as it has given them a lot. “This land is magical and has all the positive vibes. We feel grateful and the urge to give back as much as we can to the society and to this nation is very strong. We will continue to serve the UAE as the leadership here is like no other. My father earned a lot of respect from the citizens of UAE and from the expatriate communities here. It is the same with my grandfather, my siblings and their spouses, my wife and myself. Hard work is appreciated and honesty goes a long way here. This is why we will always like to be a part of the UAE’s growth story.”