Mishmash of everything: People of various shapes, sizes and concerns converge on Electra street in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Ravindranath/Gulf News

It required quite a bit of legwork to find out why the busy and bustling Shaikh Zayed the Second Street is commonly known as Electra Street.

The Bangladeshi sales clerks at the many electrical shops here said it could be because of their shops. But no one could not say how "electrical" became "Electra".

In pictures: Electra Street

Noor Mohammad, a Bangladeshi handyman repairing a TV remote control in the 30-year-old dilapidated Al Mulla Building, said this street bears the name of a shop which was once located at Hamdan Centre.

People living in Abu Dhabi are not frazzled by the fact that many streets in the emirate have two names.

There is an official name and there is also a common name.

For instance, Al Falah Street is known to everyone as Old Passport Road. East Road is known as Muroor Road, and so on.


Out for lunch

By the time we reached Hamdan Centre it was already siesta time and the shopping mall's door was shut. Suddenly, the street turned quiet, the traffic thinned down to a few cars and just a handful of people were seen walking about.

Coming from Dubai this seemed unusual so I asked our photographer and he said: "It's lunchtime."

He also said the lunch break extends till 4pm. "Everyone shuts off their mobile phones during this break and it's impossible to reach your contacts," he said

While most shops wereclosed, one store caught our eye and we walked in to find Mohammad Syed Butt, a Pakistani from Wazirabad, nearly dozing off on a chair.

"People come from far away for our sweets," he said about the Butt Sweet House, which he and his brother opened on this street in 1974. "We don't want to disappoint them," he said.

Both he and his elder brother Mohammad Azam were at one time wrestlers who were well known across the emirate.

"Pathans [or Paktoons from Afghanistan] still come and ask to see the pictures," he said, pulling out faded photographs of his brother grappling with another huge man.

Asked how a "halwai" or a sweets maker, became a wrestler, Syed only said they took up the sport soon after schooling. More than three decades have passed, the two wrestlers do not clasp and grip any more, but their sweets house still draws customers daily and during Ramadan and Diwali, the Indian festival of lights.

Marie Ryel, a Filipina from Bicol, works as a waitress in the Ponderosa Steakhouse on the street.

She said she has her hands full on weekends as Filipino expatriates enjoy the Mexican food served here. On a sidewall there are pictures of groups of people celebrating various occasions over the years in this restaurant.

The street gets very crowded during the night, she said. "There are traffic jams and it is difficult for the customers to get parking."

But she feels it is safe to walk this street alone even at midnight. If she had a choice she would move to Muroor Road, she said, though the rents are a bit higher there.

Shahidul Islam, a Bangladeshi taxi driver, was standing with a group drinking kadak chai (strong tea). They started complaining about thier long working hours and lack of toilet facilities, "It's not possible to make the daily target of Dh320, they said.

Pirzada owns a make-shift shop and sells everything from miswak (the traditional toothbrush from the bark of a tree), to booster cables, prayer beads and evil-looking knives. He just spreads a sheet across the front of his shop when he closes.

"I have never been robbed since the past four years," he said.

Rosemary Lahoylahoy also from Bicol, Philippines, was walking to her home and pointed out that many accidents take place near the Electra Junction. Nearby two policemen were flagging down motorists who had zipped over the pedestrian crossing.

Lahoylahoy lives on Electra Street as it is very near her work place.

Some time ago the traffic lights here created havoc as they turned green for both motorists and pedestrians. Now a countdown has been set up and pedestrians can see they have 90 seconds before the lights change.

The Filipina and her husband pay Dh3,300 per month for a room. That works out to a yearly rent of Dh 39,600 for a single room. As elsewhere across the emirates, high rents push people to share accommodation here and

"For Rent" notices can be seen posted on lampposts and walls offering a bed or a room.

This sharing of space has led to some dramatic fires on this street over the years. In one instance firemen had to use a helicopter to pluck people from a nine-storey building when an illegal shelter built on the roof caught fire.

Abu Dhabi authorities have now made building illegal structures an offence, but trying to enforce the rule in this teeming street full of workers seems a huge task.

Every Friday after prayers, a small stretch of green on this street is packed with Bangladeshi workers who come from across Abu Dhabi and even Al Ain just to sit and chat and catch up on news with their friends.

Although banned, one can purchase paan (betel leaves) here. Serving paan with areca nut and slaked lime was a tradition in the sub-continent and continues to this day, with variations as adding tobacco. But the blood-red juice has to be spit out and you can see splashes of red across the pavements.

In the Friday crowd you can also see some enterprising workers selling talk time on their mobiles to those who don't own cellular phones.

We finally tracked Abdul Kader in Hamdan Centre who has been running the Sunlight Electronics Shop for many years. He said Electra Street also used to be famous for its video and electronic games and everyone, even Emirati kids, would come here. Now video game shops have proliferated across Abu Dhabi, he said. Kader remembers the shop called Electra, but it closed down many years ago, he said.

As the sun sets, a different type of crowd starts pouring into this street for the nightlife. At the nearby Sands Hotel a Russian trio were singing popular American rock and pop songs.

Occasionally one of the singers who looked like a famous Russian tennis player, started belting out a song in Arabic and everyone started twirling in their seats and moving their shoulders up and down to the beat. It was early in the morning when I walked out. Buses were still plying their routes.

Electra Street apparently does not sleep.

Street Smart

Restaurants: Al Ibrahimi, known for its mouth-watering Pakistani and Indian foods and freshly baked naan, is frequented by various nationalities despite its chilli-hot dishes.

Hospitals: The Lifeline Hospital is located right at the Electra traffic lights where a number of accidents were reported earlier. Motorists tend to ignore the zebra crossing and nearly run over harried pedestrians.

Malls: The Hamdan Centre, popular with children for the video games and accessories shops. Here you can also purchase colourful ‘ghutras’ or ‘keffiyahs’ and even hair extensions imported from China. The hair extensions are a bestseller during wedding seasons.

Hotel: The Sands Hotel is a hot spot on this street for those looking for an interesting nightlife. A trio of Russian singers entertain the crowds with their repertoire of American rock and pop songs.

Parks: Electra Park, at the end of this bustling street offers a quiet, green breathing space for those who work and live here. Abu Dhabi has about 20 such well-maintained parks dotting the emirate.

Grocery stores: A branch of the popular Abu Dhabi Cooperative Society is located near Burj Al Sa’adiyat and it is not uncommon to see people shopping even in the early hours of the morning.