190123 tv sugathan
T. V. Sugathan shows the date of his arrival in the UAE (November 8, 1976) during an interview with Gulf News while his wife Rajeshwari looks on. The couple wil be leaving the UAE shortly. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Today’s generation that searches websites and social media to look for job openings may not know how their predecessors found their jobs decades ago in the UAE when there was no internet.

T.V. Sugathan, an Indian expat who is leaving the UAE after 42 years, has a lot of memories about how it used to be.

Hailing from the south Indian state of Kerala, Sugathan had flown into Dubai on India’s first jumbo jet — Air India’s Boeing 747 named Emperor Ashoka — in 1976 November.

Then a 19-year-old with a certificate in engineering after a two-year government-run course, he was offered a job at a construction company in Sharjah by his brother-in-law’s friend.

“People used to come on group visas those days. We (his group members) worked there for six-seven months. There was no salary. Only food [was given]. We couldn’t continue. We escaped from there and I went to Abu Dhabi.”

Then he was jobless for a year. “At that time, there was no internet. There were very few publications. It was mainly through word of mouth that we could know if there was a job vacancy.”

Cyclostyle publication

Another option was to buy the “Reporter”, one of the early publications in the UAE priced at 25 fils, said Sugathan.

“It was a six-page publication in foolscap papers printed in cyclostyle printer. It carried some snippets of important happenings around town and some job openings.”

The only way for Sugathan to know news back home was through the radio. “Those days we used to depend on Ceylon Radio and Radio Moscow. The Russian news presenters used to present programmes in my mother tongue Malayalam also,” he recollected.

But his next job offer came through an advertisement published in the Emirates News, a government owned English newspaper in Abu Dhabi.

“That ad was given by a recruiting agency for a British consulting firm specialised in building designs. I started working there as an inspector,” said Sugathan.

After a brief stint over there, he worked in a couple of consulting companies in Abu Dhabi as a construction material inspector from 1980 to 1989. He got to know those openings mainly through personal contacts.

In 1990, he joined a private lab in Dubai but kept searching for better jobs.

His ambition was to join Dubai Municipality, the civic body that tests, inspects and approves each and every material used in the construction field, making the emirate’s skyscrapers and other buildings not only look grand and glamorous, but also safe and sustainable.

Gulf News

190123 diplomatic
Image Credit: Gulf News archives

“At my accommodation in Jumeirah Village, we used to get Gulf News those days. Like most of the jobseekers of that time, every day I used to go through the classifieds section to check job ads. Finally, I saw the advertisement from Dubai Municipality, the one I was waiting for.”

Sugathan said he immediately snail-mailed his job application to the municipality with reference to the ad. “I still remember I used a 15 fils stamp on the envelope.”

When he got the interview call, Sugathan had to go from his work site, wearing safety shoes and T-shirt.

“I looked awkward. All other candidates were well-dressed in formal clothes. But I answered all the questions well. After the interview, I asked him (the interviewer) if I can expect the job. He asked if I had a driving licence. I said yes.”

After 10 days, he got a call again saying he had to attend the interview by the director of the department in the main office of the municipality.

“There were around eight-nine people. They asked me many questions and finally asked, Do you read Arabic?’”

When Sugathan replied in affirmative, he was given a document to read.

“Actually, it was my appointment letter. They were very happy with me and I was also so happy and surprised to read it.”

Sugathan joined the municipality’s Dubai Central Lab on March 4, 1991. He retired from the same department as principal products quality inspector on December 31, 2018.

“I am very happy as a Gulf News subscriber as the paper helped me fulfil my career ambition. And I am happy that you are here to take my interview when I am leaving this country,” said Sugathan who is leaving the UAE for good in a few days.

Handshake with Zayed

It was during his brief stint with the British consultancy company in Abu Dhabi that something unforgettable happened in Sugathan’s life — he met the Father of the Nation Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

“Our company was doing some work at Diwan Al Amiri, the presidential palace. Once he [Shaikh Zayed] visited there to inspect the progress of the work. He greeted us and gave me a handshake. That was my life’s very big moment. I will never forget that,” he said.