Navin Patney
Navin Patney with his family in front of the Sharjah Souq in 1982 Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: 1971 was a historic year for the UAE, when the founding fathers came together to form the federation. Over the years, the country has grown, and along with it the people have too.

For a few expatriates who were born in the UAE in 1971, the country is home. It is the place where they have taken their first breath, where they have run around as kids, placed their feet on solid ground and then enjoyed a life that is second to none.

As the UAE turns 49, so have these residents — living in a country that has given them love, hope and plenty to look back on.

We tracked down four expatriates — a doctor, a homemaker and two businessmen — who were born in the UAE in 1971, went to school here and continue to live in the country. For them, and for many others, the UAE is their first and only home.

Dr Mohamed Shafeeq

Dr Mohammed Shafeeq, who works in Medeor Hospital as the head of the department in Internal Medicine, stayed in the Rafaa area of Dubai while growing up. He looks back at the old days when people spent quality time with each other. 

Dr Mohammed Shafeeq

“There were three or four families staying together in a villa. Our neighbours from those days are still in Dubai today, and continue to be my friends.”

“Fridays were special. We went to the fish market with Dad. In fact, all the families staying with us went together to buy cartons of fruit and vegetables, which were then shared with each other. These things don’t happen anymore.”

An open space near the Dubai Airport was a favourite picnic spot for the family, along with Khawaneej, National Park (Mushrif Park) and Jazeera Park in Sharjah, Shafeeq said.

And as for the eateries where the family would go to over the weekends, India House in Meena Bazaar and Khyber Restaurant in Rafaa, along with Picnic Restaurant in Al Fahidi area were regular haunts. “After school, we would run along with friends to Modern Bakery for chicken sandwiches.”

Dr Mohammed Shafeeq with his parents in 1989 Image Credit: Supplied

There were other events that Shafeeq treasures, prime among them being the Eid prayers at the Eid Musallah, after which they would shake hands with Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, then Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

After schooling in Indian High School, Dubai, Shafeeq did his medical studies in India’s Karnataka state and then returned to Rashid Hospital before moving on to Medeor Hospital.

How does it feel to complete 49 years along with the country?

“It’s a great feeling. The UAE has given us everything and we can’t ask for anything more. I came back to Dubai because my heart and mind was here. My Dad was buried here. And I can’t think of going anywhere else,” Shafeeq said.

Harsha Deepak Hemnani

Harsha Hemnani is a third-generation Dubai resident. Her grandfather, Damodardas Sriram, came to Dubai before partition and was a businessman.

Harsha Hemnani

As with most children growing up in the 1970s, Hemnani and her sisters went to the Indian High School, then situated opposite the Dubai Museum, and has fond memories of the early days.

As with most children growing up in the 1970s, Hemnani and her sisters went to the Indian High School, then situated opposite the Dubai Museum, and has fond memories of the early days. “There was a big empty area near where we lived, where children would play football. At other times people would just come and sit to talk, have tea and samosas.

“We did not have fancy gadgets or gizmos. Life was simple. There was love and compassion between people and a willingness to help one another.”

A favourite haunt for a family outing in those days was the Bhavna Restaurant near Meena Bazaar for a Gujarati ‘thali’ or the Dragon Palace near Falcon Roundabout for Chinese cuisine, she said. “The India Club was the most sought after place for us youngsters when we were growing up. And the Navratri festival used to be a super hit in our days, loved by people from every nationality.

Harsha Hemnani with her family Image Credit: Supplied

“The transformation from a sandy Dubai to the Green Dubai is a result of the dedication and honesty of the people working here. No country could have done what the UAE has achieved in such a short span of time,” Hemnani said. “I feel lucky to be born and brought up in this wonderful country that I call home. I cannot think of living in another place. I feel like a tourist in India.”

A homemaker, Hemnani has told her children: “If I happen to take my last breath here, do not take my ashes to any of the holy waters in India. Just immerse it in the Creek.”

Navin Patney

Navin Patney, an entrepreneur and investor, started his journey in life from Dubai, travelled around the world and then made Dubai his residence. He began his entrepreneurial journey from Dubai Media City, having started an advertising agency, expanded into media buying, events, exhibitions, interiors and trading over the years.

Navin Patney

An alumnus of Indian High School, Patney takes pride in saying that his company designed and executed many projects, but the one closest to his heart was the construction of the new school auditorium located in Dubai Silicon Oasis.

“We have grown with the city. My dad was a geologist who came to Dubai in 1964 working with the Ruler’s Office. This is the place where I fell in love, got married, had children, learnt whatever I know — the city I breathe. Every molecule in me is Dubai. I have more Masafi in me than the waters of India.”

Fondest memories

“We had a close-knit community while growing up. Everyone in the country lived like one big family. There was no commercial element in any of our relationships, no disparity. We all just lived together with genuine love for each other.

“We did not have too many avenues of entertainment then, but had open beautiful sand dunes in front of our homes where we would all play. As kids we used to go for ice-creams in the middle of the night to the airport — because that was the only place we would get ice-creams around the clock in those days.

Navin Patney with his family on Sheikh Zayed Road in 1980 Image Credit: Supplied

“I have travelled to more than 90 countries and have explored cities, lifestyle and clothing. But of them all, Dubai is the best. And there are many reasons for this, security being the primary one. I have no second thoughts about letting my wife or daughter go shopping at night because it is safe. That is what pulled me back to Dubai despite seeing the world from Las Vegas to Bali.

“I consider this a free city, as long as we live within the parameters of the law.

“Every molecule of Dubai’s air conveys success. Even a labourer is able to save money and send it back home. This is a true reflection of fertility in this land,” Patney says.

Tarlochan Singh

Businessman Tarlochan Singh looks back and says that the UAE is his first and only home. “My initial schooling was done at the Indian Association in Bur Dubai, which was located opposite the present day Dubai Museum. I then moved to the Indian High School located opposite Rashid Hospital and completed my schooling in 1989. I was part of the school football, cricket and volleyball teams

Tarlochan Singh

“We stayed in Karama in an extended family. I have two older brothers, one is a doctor in the US and the other is in the same business as me. Our days in those humble times would be spent playing outdoors in the parking lots of Karama, with lots of football and cricket thrown in."

“As we grew older, Sportstar was a common hanging ground for all kids ... they had pool tables, snooker tables, table tennis etc. But the best times of our lives were spent at school.”

“Eating out was usually in Sind Punjab Restaurant and picnics at the National Park (Mushrif Park now) and Safa Park.

Tarlochan Singh as a young boy

“On the whole, the UAE means everything to me. My three daughters were born here. I have my own business and am really happy to be part of this lovely country. The UAE has given so much to us — safety, security, a sense of belonging — it is our first and only home.”