Dubai: When several people took to social media to wish His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, a happy 72nd birthday on Thursday, an Indian expat driver silently prayed for him, marvelling at his life’s treasure: A photo album of his favourite leader.
It is not just any other photo album that was created by Moni George, 52.
It is a mammoth album weighing over 27kg, measuring 1.5 metres by half a metre, and has 200 pages filled with a decade-long collection of hundreds of news photos of Sheikh Mohammed that were published in Gulf News.
In 2014, it made an entry into the Limca Book of Awards, for which George was given a grand reception by members of his church, St. George Orthodox Syrian Church in Sharjah.
As reported first by Gulf News in December 2012, George had started this rare collection due to his admiration towards Sheikh Mohammed’s charm, authority and efficiency as a leader.
Hailing from the south Indian state of Kerala, George came over to Dubai in 1999 to work as a heavy vehicle driver at a construction company.
How he made the album
Soon after he landed here, he was impressed by the then Crown Prince of Dubai. “His face is full of grace and shows the power and authority of a leader.”
His special admiration towards Sheikh Mohammed just grew day by day. George said he had started collecting Sheikh Mohammed’s photos from different sources in 2001 itself.
But in 2003 he decided to make it “the world’s biggest collection of news photos of a leader”.
That is when he started buying Gulf News. “I used to buy the newspaper just for his photos. Later, one of my relatives, Thankachan Pappachan, helped me with the papers as he was already a subscriber.”
George recollected bringing over a mammoth album from India for keeping his photo collection safe.
“Earlier, I only collected his photos. Later on, I started keeping clippings of important news items also along with the photos. Some photos were big and would not fit in normal albums. So, I ordered for a customised album from a studio in Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.”
When George’s wife went to collect the album, he said he got frantic calls from her. “She did not know about the size of the album. When she saw it, she was stunned. She had to call an auto rickshaw to take the album home. It was brought to Dubai by one of my relatives, Babu George, who was flying with only his hand luggage. It weighed 23kg at the airport.”
He also got the glue ordered from India as he found it costly over here.
George finished sticking all the photos when he finally got a full page cover photo of Sheikh Mohammed flashing his special victory sign taken after his momentous feat at the Longines FEI World Endurance Championship in the UK in August 2012.
Struggle to keep treasure safe
“It took almost 10 years for me to complete the album. I had to struggle with sticking the photos and news clips on the huge album in a room shared by six people. I am thankful to my roommates for their cooperation those days. I remember sleeping with my feet under the stand of the album because of the space constraints,” he recollected.
Later, he had kept the album at the India Club where he used to work till earlier this year. George, who no longer works there, has housed the album with cousin in Sharjah.
“This is my most precious treasure. I cannot keep it in my current accommodation. My cousin and family are stuck in India due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions. When they come back, I will have to find another safe place for it because they have small kids.”
Currently working with a plastic manufacturing company in Sharjah, George said his love for the special gift he made for his leader is more endearing to him on special occasions related to Sheikh Mohammed.
“His birthday is the most special among them. I wish good health and long life for His Highness and all the prosperity for this country,” said the father of two whose children who study in India.