Nasser Akram and friends
(R to L) Abdulrazzak Abdulla Anwahi, Mohamed Al Ansari, Tamjid Abdullah, Nasser Al Qattan, Thani Jum’a Berragad, and Nasser Akram Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: When six extremely busy men from six different walks of life decide to meet in the early hours of a hard-to-come-by weekend, there’s got to be a compelling reason.

Emiratis all, they reach their destination well before 8am. Nothing about the place even remotely resembles what once stood there – the erstwhile Dubai Secondary School. Even a centuries-old tree misses the eye.

Yet, the distinguished men make it a point to line up and strike a pose for a group photograph.

A keepsake, the picture speaks louder than words. The joy and pride on the faces in the frame are amply evident, celebrating almost a friendship of more than 45 years.

Priceless, timeless reunion

The meet-up makes for a great story ahead of International Friendship Day on July 30, but for the Class of 1977 ‘boys’, it’s a priceless, timeless reunion.

It doesn’t matter that their school building on the premises no longer exists, there’s enough and more to reminisce and cherish as they walk down memory lane.

“Friendships from school days are the purest. As humans, we love to go back to our roots,” says one of them, Mohamed Al Ansari, Chairman and Managing Director of Al Ansari Exchange, who has specially returned from his overseas travels to make it to the reunion.

The rest of the ‘boys’ cannot agree more.

Tamjid Abdullah, now Deputy CEO of Jawhara Jewellery and Damas Real Estate, says, “We spent a big chunk of our young lives together. When we get together and chit-chat like this, it brings back precious memories.”

Abdulrazzak Abdulla Anwahi, a fish aquaculture and mangroves expert with 36 years of public service, says, “The foundation of our friendship is very strong. And it is always such a pleasure to meet up.”

“I am so happy to meet my classmates, it feels like we are children all over again. I wish others too could have joined us,” adds Thani Jum’a Berragad, Chairman of the Dubai Club for People of Determination.

The good old days

The credit for bringing the group together, the friends let on, goes to Nasser Akram, an engineer with 33 years experience in the oil and gas industry.

But ask Nasser Akram about it and he modestly shrugs it off.

Thankful that the group could come together despite other commitments, he talks of the good old days. “In Arabic, we call it zaman al taybeen. The era of good times. People were simple, straightforward and transparent. Whether it was the students or the teachers, there was a lot of respect for each other.”

His words find resonance with others too as they recollect how vastly different their life in the ’60s and ’70s was.

“We were lucky we could spend so much time with each other in person in those days as we did not have computer games or mobile phones,” says Tamjid Abdullah.

The ‘boys’ have fond memories of playing football and volleyball together after school hours and during the weekends.

Nasser Akram particularly remembers a time when some of them were playing football near the house of Juma Al Majid, well-known Emirati businessman and philanthropist.

“We were furiously chasing the ball, some of us in slippers, some in shoes, a few barefoot too. Some wore shorts, others had trousers on. Suddenly, we found ourselves face to face with the man himself as stopped his car and talked to us. And then, as we watched in awe, he handed some money to one of the older boys and asked him to buy sports gear for all of us. It was the biggest day in our lives.”

Reflecting on the changes

Abdulrazzak Abdulla Anwahi distinctly remembers the time he spent with friends playing or even walking together to and from his school. “Life was very simple for us. Children now have more options, more freedom and are more informed.”

“Like they say, raise your son for a time not your time,” adds Thani Jum’a Berragad.

As Mohamed Al Ansari sees it, revisiting the past can be very helpful. “Unless we go back to such times, we can’t reflect on the changes that have taken place over the decades. The London I visit now is not much different from what it used to be in the mid-70s. But Dubai is different. It has changed, grown so much since then.”

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Recollections of the charming yesteryears bring to light some mischievous moments too.

As Nasser Akram says, “I was considered to be more fluent in English than many others and was nicknamed the Shakespeare of the class. My friends would depend on me for their English essays. During one class, the topic we were given to write was: ‘My close friend’. But for the life of me, I could not decipher how any friend could be “closed”. I just could not arrive at the Arabic translation. It was hilarious as everyone was looking to me for an answer and I did not have one. The papers in front of us were all blank. Later, we were told that close friends meant good friends.”

After all these years, it would perhaps be no exaggeration to say that some of them are not just good, but forever friends.