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Riyaz Kilton showing old documents and photos in his office, his grandfather Hamza Abookacker came to Dubai in 1948 and now the 4th generation is living in UAE. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: The UAE National Day is one of the main occasions when old-timers here recollect their fond memories associated with the country.

Though it is the same for Dubai-based Indian businessman Mohamed Riyaz Kilton, chairman of Kiltons Group, hardly a day goes without him reminiscing the legacy of four generations of his family in the UAE. The reason — an entire wall in his office reminds that story with several photos and documents from the time his grandfather first landed here in 1948.

“This is a legacy that I am very proud of, especially when this great country, to which we are grateful for, is celebrating its 51st National Day,” Kilton, 40, told Gulf News as he walked us through the family’s history by explaining the milestones exhibited on the wall of the building in Al Ghusais where lives in as well.

The family from the South Indian state of Kerala established roots here when his grandfather C. Hamza Abubaker came to the Trucial States, the erstwhile name of the UAE before the Union,

“He was running a restaurant in Karachi, which became part of Pakistan after the separation of India in 1947. He chose to return to India after partition and later in 1948, he headed to South Africa after getting a job offer from there when he was in Bombay (now Mumbai),” said Kilton, who is also the co-founder of International Promoters Association (IPA) of Indian businessmen and vice-president of the United PRO Association, a syndicate of businessmen and PROs.

Seaport journeys

Kilton doesn’t have documentary proof to show the exact year of his grandfather’s journey. “We were told that he was on the way to South Africa from Bombay through sea route in a boat. But due to unfavourable weather conditions, the launch had to land in Sharjah Port for some days. When he got stuck there, he searched and found a job in Sharjah.”

“From there, he took up the big task of opening what is said to be the one of the first restaurants in Sharjah. It was named as “Bismillah Hotel,” and it was inside the Souq Al Arsah. We are proud that that place still stands as the Sharjah government has maintained the souq in the heritage area.”

According to the Heart of Sharjah historical preservation and restoration project, Souq Al Arsah is probably the oldest market place in the UAE and was the meeting place for the Bedouins and their camels in the old days.

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Riyaz Kilton showing old documents and photos in his office, his grandfather Hamza Abookacker came to Dubai in 1948 and now the 4th generation is living in UAE. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

The earliest passport of his grandfather that Kilton’s family has managed to preserve is one that was issued in Bombay in 1959. As the business flourished, Kilton’s father Abdul Kader was brought over to Sharjah in 1962. “He was only 13 when he joined his father. His details including the visa were endorsed on my grandfather’s passport. He came via Bombay-Karachi-Dubai seaports.”

At a time when electricity was alien to the residents, Abdul Kader’s duty was to operate a kerosene-powered refrigerator for the restaurant.

Joining the army

Their path changed when Abubaker wound up the restaurant business and joined the British Army of Trucial States.

Abdul Kader’s name was removed from his father’s passport in 1964. “Back in those days, the title ‘Kumar’ was used to refer to ‘Master’ in India and that was mentioned before his name in my grandfather’s passport. The first passport in my father’s name was issued on January 15, 1964 by the Indian Consulate in Muscat as there was no Indian diplomatic mission here. There were different visas for different emirates,” Kilton said, as he showed these documents.

In 1965, Abdul Kader also joined the British Army, which was then called the Trucial Oman Scouts and eventually became the UAE Armed Forces. His visa shows it was exclusively issued to those employed by the Trucial Oman Scouts. “He was appointed as Sergeant Major WO-II (Warrant Officer),” said Kilton.

Images of Abdul Kader’s next passport, again issued in Muscat, and a photo of him with his younger brother and father and his father’s brother taken at Sharjah Airport in 1970 also adorn the “wall of history.”

Abdul Kader’s first passport issued by the Indian Consulate in Dubai in 1972, after the formation of the UAE, shows travel was only permitted to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. In his next passport, the list got expanded with Oman, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq.

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Riyaz Kilton with his mother Nafeesa Abdul Kader, Riyaz's grandfather Hamza Abookacker came to Dubai in 1948 and now the 4th generation is living in UAE. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Studies in UAE, abroad

The wall also has certificates of Abdul Kader completing a course from the Al Nahyan Evening Centre for Adults in Abu Dhabi, a technical diploma course on typewriting from Olivetti, the pioneering Italian company, and another diploma from Military Engineering Institute.

“He had received diplomas and certificates from various Italian companies. In 1991, the UAE government sent him to Germany for further technical studies,” said Kilton, as he showed his father’s certificate of passing a training programme with excellence from Steiner Optik — a German manufacturer of optical equipment for the military.

The certificate states that Abdul Kader passed with excellence in the training programme for service and maintenance of Steiner Military Binoculars.

Adjacent to that are the images of official IDs of Abdul Kader and a photo of him after his training as an Intelligence Bureau officer on the cockpit of a helicopter.

“I never knew he had worked as part of Military Intelligence. I got to know about it only after we lost him in 2010. My uncle told me about it. My father had always kept it a secret as demanded by the job profile. I was so proud to find his second ID card.”

Honour certificate

When Emiratis and Arabs visit his office, Kilton said, they are impressed to see military and defence ministry ID cards and a good service certificate that Abdul Kader received for his excellence in service from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in 1991 when Sheikh Mohammed was the UAE Defence Minister.

“That is a prized possession for the entire family. We are extremely proud that my father served this country’s Armed Forces for 31 years and retired in 1993 after receiving that certificate from our great leader Sheikh Mohammed,” said Kilton.

The wall also tells the story of the arrival of Kilton’s mother Nafeesa Abdul Kader to the UAE in 1974.

Nafeesa, who now lives with Kilton, joined us to share a part of the history from her side. “When I first came over, I stayed here for eight years. We used to live in a villa in Sharjah’s Rolla area. There were only a few buildings. Initially, I only had my first daughter Muneera, who was born in 1972, with me. My second daughter Tahira was born here in Rashid Hospital in Dubai.”

She recollected that people used to depended on Bur Dubai to buy most of the things. “We used to drive from Sharjah and would cross the Creek in Abra from Deira. Some time, we had to bring over some things all the way from India. But, now everything from all the countries is available here.”

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Riyaz Kilton showing old documents and photos in his office, his grandfather Hamza Abookacker came to Dubai in 1948 and now the 4th generation is living in UAE. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Kerosene pipe supply

Nafeesa said she used to cook on a two-burner kerosene stove back in those days. “Instead of gas pipe supply, we used to have kerosene pipe supply,” she recollected. “There were only three families of his colleagues in the nearby areas. We, women, had to cook even when we were not well. Women here can now get food from every corner of the world delivered home if they can’t cook,” she said, laughing.

“Back then, family members used to cry when a lady like me had to travel to the Gulf. Now, families don’t give their girls to men who cannot take their wives with them. It was a bit scary those days to stay alone when my husband went on duty. I am so happy to see how safe it is for women to go out at any time of the day and night now.”

Her husband was a founder member and former president of the community group Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC), which began as Chandrika Readers’ Forum.

He was also the former president of Malayali Samajam which eventually became the Indian Association Sharjah.

“He was one of the people behind the establishment of the Sharjah Indian School where my daughters studied. He spent 49 years in the UAE,” she added.

Nafeesa said she had gone back home for the delivery of her only son and then used to visit her husband on and off while she focused on the construction of their house and education of her son and four daughters including Raeefa and Fathima.

Why the Kiltons?

Later, Kilton, who won the Indian Presidential Award for Scouts in 1994, also joined his father in Dubai. In 1999, Abdul Kader started a business set up service firm, Sheikh Abdullah Management Consultancy (SAMCO) in Sharjah which was later rebranded as Kiltons.

Kilton, who is now on the director board of several entities including the Hope Child Cancer Care Foundation, had started working with his father from 2002.

He said his company was rebranded to keep the legacy of his mother’s father who was famous as a trader of a special sweet named Kilton from Lakshadweep, a union territory of India.

“It’s great to be a descendant in a family with a proud history. We all still continue to live here. I am settled here with my wife and my children, who make the fourth generation of our UAE family history. Life is cool when families stick together,” Kilton’s story on the wall adds.