Indian community members gather to pay tributes to Maghanmal Jethanand Pancholia, the oldest Indian business leader in Dubai who passed away on Monday night Video Credit: Video by Sajila Saseendran and Clint Egbert


Maghanmal Jethanand Pancholia

Dubai: The Indian community in Dubai on Tuesday bid a final farewell to one of the UAE’s oldest business leaders Maghanmal Jethanand Pancholia, who has been credited with bringing electricity to Dubai and founding the first community school for Indians here.

Around 300 community members, mostly comprising of prominent and elderly Indian businessmen, and a few Emirati friends, joined Pancholia’s family members to pay last respects to him at his funeral in the New Sonapur Crematorium in Jebel Ali.

Fondly known as Maghaba, Pancholia, 95, the chairman of Arabian Trading Agency, died after developing chest pain while he was about to leave his office on Monday afternoon.

Several people remembered him as the guiding light that brought electricity to Dubai and the community leader who founded The Indian High School, the largest and oldest Indian community school.

Girdhari Whabi, CEO of Prime Group Associates, said Pancholia was connected with his relative Bhagvan Whabi, who was also part of the company that brought electricity to Dubai.

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The Indian community, friends and family at Maghanmal Pancholia’s funeral in Jebel Ali. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

“He started it with a generator as there was no power station. He was a pioneer account holder in the [former] National Bank of Dubai also. He was a very humble person though he was always interested in expanding the business,” said Whabi.

Ashok Kumar, CEO of The Indian High School, said: “Maghaba set the roots and foundation for the Indian community in the UAE and paved the way for all of us to grow. His legacy lives on through his family and his contributions to the UAE will always be remembered. He was the founder chairman of The Indian High School and many generations have graduated from its portal.”

Cultural ambassador

According to Pancholia’s friends, he was a cultural ambassador of Indians among Emiratis.

Khalil Ibrahim Al Sayegh, chairman of Khalil Al Sayegh Jewellers and Group of Companies, said he had known Pancholia’s family for generations.

“I was very small when I met him for the first time after he came here in 1942. My father was very friendly with his family and we had a very good relationship for generations. His father gifted the first radio in my family to my father.”

He said his family also helped them in doing business without local sponsors in those days. “When they first opened business, my father was his elder brother’s partner. He [Pancholia] has done a lot for the Indian community. He knew how we [Emriatis] helped him through our rulers and Shaikhs and he used to help us also.”

Speaking to Gulf News over phone from London, Mirza Al Sayegh, director of the office of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance, conveyed the condolences of Shaikh Hamdan and himself on the demise of Pancholia.

“I got the message about his death and I am so sad. Shaikh Hamdan has also heard about it and asked me to convey the condolence message from him.”

Al Zayegh said he shared a special bond with Pancholia and had worked with him in Emirates Bank’s consultative council for investment for many years.

“I found him a man of good calibre and business-minded. He used to love Dubai and he worked very hard for his community.”

Al Zayegh had also written the foreword to Pancholia’s autobiography.

“I also drew a map of my old house, the location of the temple, his shop and where he used to live. [Publishing that] was something that really made me happy. I am very pleased to have worked with him. He was a great man. I will miss him very badly and I’m sure the Indian community will also miss him.”

At the funeral, Narain Sawlani, chairman of Radiant Traders and Royal Gardens, who was also a close friend of Pancholia, said Pancholia’s family was known for being close to the ruling family for generations. “He was always actively involved in social work.”

Surender Singh Kandhari, chairman of the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurudwara and Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Awardee, said: “He was a warm and affectionate family man. He lived with a lot of principles. As a senior leader, he kept the community strong.”

Bharat Chachara, general manager of The India Club said Pancholia was also a trustee of the 55-year-old club. “The best part of him is the way he lived his life right till the end. I think we need to get inspired by him.”

Family’s greatest loss

Sonia Shah/Gulf News

For the more than 250-strong extended family members of the Pancholias, Maghaba was “Dada” and his death is the greatest personal loss.

Pancholia’s eldest son Dr. Lalchand M. Pancholia, said his father himself was an institution whose contributions will always be remembered in the UAE.

“He loved the UAE very much. Dubai was his home as he has spent 79 years here. He loved his homeland also. He was born in the united India before partition.”

Recollecting how India was also very close to his father’s heart, he said, apart from other philanthropic works, he had helped develop an entire village named Menar in Rajasthan.

“It was actually a gift to our cook, who hailed from that village. When he retired after serving us for several years, my father asked him what he wanted. When he sought help for his village, he built a hospital and residential homes for the doctors, a community hall and helped with construction of educational institutions there.”

He said his father was personally appointed on the board of Dubai Chamber of Commerce by the then Ruler late Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum. “He was very close to him and had high regards for him. My father could anytime walk into the majlis of Shaikh Rashid.”

He said the relations have grown through generations. “During the last Eid Al Adha as well he had personally visited and greeted the rulers and the Shaikhs. He was well respected by both Indians and Emiratis. Yet, he was always a man of simple living and a follower of Gandhian principles.”

Hiral Bhatia, wife of Pancholia’s grandson Manish Bhatia, said: “Dada always thought of things that can benefit the community. He was always self-sufficient and punctual. Every morning he would pluck flowers from his garden or any of ours [family members] to offer in the temple. Deep down, he was a spiritual man and always promoted peace.”

The family said Pancholia’s book “Footprints: Memoirs of an Indian Patriarch” would remain a testimony to his vast experience and contributions.