Abu Dhabi: KKV Dharan, 77, has been rummaging through his old photographs the past few days — recalling his life in the past six decades he has been living in the UAE that started when the country was then known as the Trucial States.
The photos speak vividly of his life and it is with deep nostalgia that he is packing each one of them, along with all his memories in the past 57 years, in a suitcase as he prepares to go back home to his motherland in Kerala, India, together with his wife of 51 years, next month.
Each photo also speaks of the different hats he has worn — a loving father and a doting husband, a pioneering businessman, philanthropist, educator, social activist, banker, entrepreneur, and even an oral historian. He has seen it all — how the UAE started and became a strong nation. He himself has become an institution in the country, particularly in the vast Indian expat community.
One can say he has lived a full and productive life — he was born on March 28, 1943 and rose from a life of want to become a successful businessman. He helped not only his immediate and extended family but also the wider expat community.
As he recalled his eventful life in an exclusive interview with Gulf News, he also shared the start of his journey — when he was a dashing young man of 20 decided to pack his things and migrate to this country.
Start of the journey
It was a Sunday afternoon, October 13, 1963, Dharan shored up his courage and picked up his suitcase as he boarded MV Dwarka, one of the four modern D Class passenger/ cargo ships of the British India Steam Navigation Company. “The ship sailed straight to Karachi port,” Dharan told Gulf News, adding: “We arrived two days after we left the port in India. Imported goods from India were offloaded and we continued our journey to Muscat, Oman.”
Travelling by plane was not yet the norm. British ships were the key transport link between India, Pakistan and the Gulf in those days. Passengers were a mix of Indian and Pakistani migrants as well as Arabs who frequently travelled for holidays and business in the subcontinent.
After Karachi, MV Dwarka’s next stop was Muttrah Seaport in Muscat before arriving in Dubai. The sea journey from India to Dubai took six days, Dharan recalled. “Being October, the sea was rough. We waited for 3-4 hours at sea before the captain told us to disembark and we carried our luggage on our shoulders or above our heads,” he added.
From Dubai to Sharjah
Dharan’s passport was stamped entry on October 19, 1963. Armed with a higher secondary education and with the help of his first cousin who worked for Dubai Petroleum Company, got his first job at Sir William Halcrow and Partners, a British consulting company to the Government of Dubai.
The average wage for a clerk back then was 250 Indian rupees but Dharan drew a monthly salary of 350 Indian rupees. Soon after, in the middle of 1964, Dharan was transferred to Sharjah office, where the company was supplying sweet water it drilled in Bidea area, 20 kms away from Rolla. “We sold 60 per cent of our water to the British Royal Airforce and the rest were distribution among the local population,” Dharan said.
He lived in a two-bedroom house but there was no electricity and ready supply of potable of water. So he had to buy it from local sellers who ply their trade on a donkey. A can of water (equivalent to four gallons) back then was one rupee.
Dharan worked in Sharjah until 1969 and he was receiving 700 Indian rupees before he moved to Abu Dhabi to join Mohammed Abdul Rehman Al Bahar and Sons and got a pay cheque of 1,200 rupees every month.
Married and family life
Dharan was 26 when he got married on September 30, 1969 to Nandini Vidya, also from Kerala, one year his junior, who he lovingly call Ammini. Life in the 1970s was obviously not as comfortable today, but Dharan said they had staff quarters and accommodation with electricity running 24 hours daily.
Dharan moved to another company in 1970. He joined First City National Bank of New York and became a head teller at its branch in Abu Dhabi. He then received 3,000 dirhams, equivalent to 4,500 rupees back then while his wife worked for a Belgian company as office secretary. It was also in 1970 that the Dharan couple welcomed their firstborn son. Vidya Sagar, who is now doctor in India, was born on March 13,1970. Two years later, Bindu Dharan, who is also now a physician in Kerala, was born on December 16, 1972.
In 1974, Dharan was promoted as chief of cash and savings department and the family was living in a comfortable community in Madinat Sayed.
Business venture and philanthropy
After saving enough capital, Dharan set up his first business venture in 1978. He established Al Saqr Stationary and Office Equipment company and supplied various office items to government entities and private companies. Dharan was a pioneer in the field and his company, Al Saqr, remains in existence up to this day as the first and oldest stationary company in Abu Dhabi. He also ventured in civil engineering and general contracting.
Dharan also helped several social and cultural organisations, including India Social Centre, Kerala Arts Centre and Abu Dhabi Malayalee Samajam. He was also a founder and former board member of Indian School Abu Dhabi.
His commitment to educating young Indians extended back home. He and 10 of his Indian friends established two engineering colleges in Kerala — Vidya Academy of Science and Technology (Engineering College) Thrissur and Trevandum and Vidya Academy of Science and Technology Technical Campus at Kilimanoor.
Return to motherland
Dharan, now a grandfather of four, said: “I have lived a comfortable life and I saw how the good Rulers of the UAE have taken care of their people. It is with a heavy heart that I will leave the UAE on November 2 but, deep in my heart, I know I have to go back to my motherland.”
“I am an Indian citizen — I love and deeply respect my adopted country, which is the UAE — but my country is my country, and I cannot have another mother or father that’s why I’m returning to my own country,” added Dharan, as he took another look at his photographs.