Dubai: For an octogenarian, Indian great grandmother Jayshree Gandhi’s memory is delightfully retentive. Especially when she starts talking about herself as a teenage bride.
One of the first Indian expat women to have gotten married in Dubai way back in 1958, Jayshree told Gulf News in an exclusive interview from Mumbai: “On March 28 this month, it will be 63 years since I wedded. These days, everyone comes to Dubai to have a destination wedding. But I did it over six decades ago.”
Then living in Bahrain, Jayshree’s match with the late Khushaldas P. Gandhi, son of a Dubai-based foodstuffs trader, had been arranged by their conservative Thattai Bhatia families.
“The match-making had begun much earlier with our parents exchanging our photographs. Our first meeting took place on a ship. My would-be husband came to see me when the ship I was sailing from Bahrain to Bombay stopped over in Dubai. The wedding was fixed a fortnight later,” recalls Jayshree, who went by the name Jamuna before her wedding.
Although Indian traders generally got married in India those days, this was an exception. “Having migrated to the Gulf, our families didn’t have a proper base in Bombay. So it was decided that the marriage ceremony would be held in Dubai.”
No frills, no fancy
As the big day approached and Jayshree arrived in Dubai in March 1958, she remembers her parents paying Rs15 for her visa.
“The wedding was organised on the roof top of the current Hindu temple in Bur Dubai. A chef-turned-priest performed the simple ceremony. Another Indian expat couple also got married in the same place at the same time. As a young bride in a new environment, I remember constantly looking into the eyes of the other bride. I had always wanted to study, but here I was getting married as a teenager.”
Jayshree says there were around 50 people who attended the wedding. It was a no-frills-no-fancy affair.
Back then, there were no beauty parlours like today in Dubai, and no elaborate hairdo or make-up for the bride. There were no fresh flowers here either, so we had brought some artificial flowers from Bombay. I wore a simple, orange georgette saree that had also been purchased in India.
“We hardly had any money. There were no beauty parlours like today in Dubai, and no elaborate hairdo or make-up for the bride. There were no fresh flowers here either, so we had brought some artificial flowers from Bombay. I wore a simple, orange georgette saree that had also been purchased in India. I was given two tolas of gold – one tola cost Rs60 at the time.”
After the wedding, Jayshree says she moved into her husband’s modest one-room house in Bur Dubai.
“We had a lot of responsibility. We had to make do with just the bare essentials. I remember we would sleep on flattened cartons on the floor in the initial days. Life was tough but it taught us valuable lessons. My husband worked very hard and as is the case always, it was only a matter of time when things looked up,” she says.
Coming of age
With great pride, she talks of how they raised a family of five children. “There were no proper hospitals in Dubai at the time.
"My eldest son Chandrasen and daughter Anita were born in Bombay."
"But by the time the other son Vijay and two daughters Jyoti and Anju arrived, health care was also coming of age here."
She says her late husband earned himself a good reputation and was well-connected in the local community. “There were occasions when members of the Royal family and high-ranking officials would visit our house. We would serve them halwa. But as a lady, I would always stay in the background.”
She says it makes her very happy to see how far Dubai has come today. “It’s almost as if we have journeyed along with the city from those days when there was no drinking water and we would have to get supplies on donkey-backs. It warms my heart when people talk of everything being available in Dubai now – better than anywhere else in the world.”
Children feel privileged
Jayshree’s children say they feel very honoured that their parents were the first Indian expats to get married in Dubai. Her son Vijay says: “In times when settling outside India was the least considered option, my parents chose to come to Dubai and were also the first couple to get married in the temple.
"If I could be just half as accomplished as my parents, then all milestones would be considered achieved."
"Such a proud moment for us kids to recall. It fills my heart with immense gratitude to be their child. They have struggled a lot just to give us the best life possible."
Anita, Jayshree’s eldest daughter, echoes his words: “It is a matter of great honour and pride for our family to know that my parents were the first couple to get married in the Dubai temple in 1958. Dubai has truly been a home for us in every sense as our parents built the foundation for our family.
"Till date, we love listening to mom’s stories of good old Dubai days, on how people were close and supportive to each other in good and difficult times. She still misses those simple days, but is very happy to see how Dubai has transformed into a beautiful city.”
Anju, the youngest of the five siblings, says, “Knowing that my parents were the first couple to get married in the Dubai temple is an honour for our entire family. It’s a proud feeling.
"My mom still cherishes and shares these moments with her grandchildren."
"She always reminisces the good old days in Dubai, where people stayed close to each other and were always connected. Even though times were difficult initially, she still misses those days.”