Maghanmal Pancholia seen with Anurag Bhushan, Consul General of India in UAE, during the celebrations to mark his 90th birthday. Image Credit: Atiq-Ur-Rehman/Gulf News

Dubai: Maghanmal Pancholia from India has not only seen a lot of changes in Dubai since he first stepped foot here 72 years ago but he has also played a big part in its transformation.

It was 1942 when he first stepped onto the shores of the UAE as an 18-year-old to join his father in business. Now he is probably one of the oldest living expatriates in Dubai who carries endless achievements behind him and follows the simplest of lifestyle.

On Friday, Pancholia turned 90 and his birthday was celebrated at a local hotel where a large number of his relatives, friends, including the Indian consul-general and prominent businessmen he has met throughout his journey came to congratulate him and wish him a long, healthy life.

Wise, humble, and disciplined are the words used by his family to describe Pancholia, who had an infinite love to education and wanted every Indian in Dubai to have access to it.

“My father had a dream to open an Indian school in Dubai, he was very close to the late Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum and one day he asked him for a plot. Shaikh Rashid was so generous to gift him the plot and my father then opened the Indian High School which currently has around 16,000 students,” said Pancholia’s son Lalchand Pancholia, a doctor.

Pancholia was said to have opened an Indo-Arab electricity company which was then bought out by a Dubai electricity company, and he then became its director.

“Gathered here today, we are all so happy to fall under his umbrella. We are happy that he is with us at this age and still so active and able to guide all of us,” Lalchand said.

As people walked into the hall many were seen bending down trying to touch his feet to get his blessings. “It is a Hindu tradition which is done in respect to someone older,” his grandson Harsh Pancholia explained.

“My grandpa has achieved a lot in his life until now, but he is still the most humble and disciplined person I’ve ever met. He doesn’t show an ego or an attitude. He doesn’t show off his achievements, the money he has made, or how successful he has been,” said Harsh.

Harsh said his grandfather still wakes up at 4am to go for a walk for two hours. He also goes to the office every day to keep his mind active.

“People usually read books about people who have made a difference to be inspired, but for me I just have to look at my granddad who is my greatest inspiration in life. He has done so much for people, even back in India he has opened schools and health centres,” said Harsh.

When the ceremony began, Pancholia shared his feelings and thanked everyone for making the day memorable.

He said: “Ninety years is indeed a very long journey. I don’t like celebrating my birthday, but this year it was the desire of my sons, grandsons and even great-grandsons who wished I would celebrate this day. I appreciate all those who spoke highly about me, although I’m small. I’m very thankful to the royal family who has been very kind, helpful, and cooperative with me…”

Pancholia continued to speak about the different stages of his journey in Dubai and how the late Shaikh Rashid supported his ideas and invited him for meetings to discuss them and put them forward. He also thanked his family and friends for everything they had done for him.

Indian Consul General Anurag Bhushan addressed Pancholia on stage during the function and said he was extremely happy to know Indians like Pancholia, who have contributed to this country.

“I remember when I first saw Pancholia, I was struck with his politeness. Each wrinkle of his face told a story of a person who has dedicated his life for building institutions and entire communities… I salute you, Sir, and the people of your generation,” he said.

As a pioneer of change and a leader of an industry, Pancholia is now the chairman of Arabian Trading Agency, which is one of the oldest companies founded in Dubai in 1900. He first moved to Sharjah in 1942 and then to Dubai in 1943 where he lived in Bur Dubai. Seven decades of residing in Dubai, he has seen Dubai prosper and grow in every way.