Mural paintings of Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid at Hatta Dam

Indian-origin journalist Asha Bhatia, who has worked in Dubai for over three decades, recently published “Life in the Twinkle of an Eye – Dubai: A Hundred Years in Ten.” Asian Lite shares two chapters of the popular book for the Friday Reading…..

                            Dubai was his life and his love

The skyline of Dubai.

Every resident in Dubai developed a bond with Shaikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the Ruler. It could not be described, it went beyond his sterling qualities. When he passed away the people both local and expatriate felt they had lost a member of their family. He warmed people’s hearts forever, this benevolent and unforgettable Ruler of Dubai. In the customary sequence of events the Ruler was buried and life carried on with little or no fuss. It felt as though an earthquake had occurred and one expected things would come tumbling down. But the foundation Shaikh Rashid had laid was so strong and so unique that nothing crumbled. Infact there was a new enthusiasm and energy brought about by the desire to live up to the ‘dreams’ of Shaikh Rashid and take Dubai forward with gusto.

His doctor, Dr. Joseph Muscat-Baron took care of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum  for 14 years. He said he felt honoured and privileged to have had this opportunity and he developed a bond with him which he could not describe. In a voice choked with emotion Dr Baron said Sheikh Rashid was one of a kind and he could understand how his family must feel because he felt terribly sad. ‘I have never ever met a man in my life who could compare with him,’ he added. His dynamism is something which is well known but what Dr. Muscat-Baron talked about was Shaikh Rashid as a man. He had the incredible power of almost hypnotising you into giving him allegiance. He did not have to do anything it was just his presence. He was terribly kind in the most refined way. He never spoke very much, when something needed to be done he did it with the greatest alacrity and the least possible fuss. The late Sheikh Rashid looked at a person and judged for himself if he could do the job in hand. That was all that mattered – looks smiles or any flowery language did not affect him. He considered the human being and his capabilities. His only criteria was – if you were good for Dubai you were good for him.

Dr. Muscat-Baron said Shaikh Rashid was aware of his surroundings till the last few minutes. He bore his illness with tremendous courage and never lost either his dignity or his respect. The greatness of the man was such that he could convey his thoughts in just a few words – he spoke sparingly, he never ventured into lengthy discourses, but his words conveyed a wealth of meaning. Dubai was his life and his love, you could see it on his face when he returned from a trip abroad, as soon as Dubai came into view, he was home. Sheikh Rashid was the rock on which everyone and everything secured itself added Dr. Muscat-Baron but he developed other rocks in his four sons and they are the future of Dubai.

Dubai Canvas, the annual 3D art festival.

“He was a genius” said G.B. Choitram Jethwani, recollecting his time with the late Ruler. An old-time trader in Dubai G.B. as he is affectionately known, heads Gee Bee Trading Co. and started operations in Dubai in the 1950’s. It was the first company to bring in furniture from Bombay and start an office with desks and chairs. They were also pioneers in comfort and brought in two fans which operated on wet batteries. Everyone visited their office to stare at the fans they were such a novelty. “We saw Shaikh Rashid very often in those days,” he mused “every Diwali he would come and dine with us and share his thoughts and plans for Dubai. We would walk in to see him at any time of day or night and his attitude was always approachable, cooperative and kind. When Dubai discovered oil and things changed Sheikh Rashid did not forget his old friends.”

B.K. Menon came to Dubai in 1975 and made it his home. He felt Shaikh Rashid was a ‘resplendent’ Ruler one of a kind that providence occasionally gives to mankind to guide and promote people to a better quality of life. He was a man blessed with great wisdom with resolution of thought and a lion hearted approach to life. B.K. said that Sheikh Rashid was a trail-blazer particularly in the areas of national development. Every project that he undertook was studied and analysed and the reports declared that their financial viability was doubtful. But for Sheikh Rashid, a man gifted with foresight, those ventures were a must for the country. Sweeping aside all the criticisms of well meaning doubters, he would go ahead like the bumble bee. The bumble bee, according to scientific principles, cannot fly. It has a short wing span and the pay load is too heavy. And so aerodynamically speaking it cannot fly. But the bumble bee ignores all these aspects and flies, and flies well. Sheikh Rashid was like that, Port Rashid, Jebel Ali, Dubai Trade Centre, Dugas and many more are standing monuments to his resolute attitude.

B.K. Menon also says that more than his being a far-sighted Ruler, what will be remembered by the ordinary man is his benevolence. Foreigners may live for decades in another country but it is only in Dubai that for every resident Sheikh Rashid was ‘Our Ruler’. Years ago he remembered a worker in a factory when mentioning Sheikh Rashid referred to him in Malayalam as the ‘divine embodiment of nobleness’, how apt and how true.

Mural paintings of Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid at Hatta Dam

In 1944, when Khimchand Naraindas Khiara came to Dubai, Sheikh Saeed, Father of Sheikh Rashid was the Ruler. The early Indian traders had close links with him explained Khiara, affectionately called ‘Chacha’ by all who knew him. Khiara’s family had been in Dubai for over 200 years. In 1958 when Sheikh Rashid took over as Ruler of Dubai, the Indian merchant community had excellent relations with him. When they started booking orders from Japan, Sheikh Rashid encouraged them every step of the way and told the newly opened Customs post ‘give Chacha all the help he needs. He knew that the traders’ business dealings would put Dubai on the map.

Whether it was the Hindu temple, the plot for the Indian High School building, the Indian Sports Club or the cremation ground, Sheikh Rashid ensured that the Indian community had all the facilities they asked for. Chacha added that when they went on picnics in those days Sheikh Rashid would come and join them for a while and chat. Eventually goods started coming into Dubai and there would be no place for the barges to come into the Creek and the goods would be discharged ten miles out at sea. Seeing the problem Sheikh Rashid called for a meeting and a decision was taken to clear the mouth of the Creek.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi

“After oil was discovered God gave him everything” Chacha added but he did not forget the Indian traders who had started business transactions in Dubai years before the boom. “We will miss him” said Chacha, “he was a gem of a man. Often he would sit in his Majlis till two in the morning deliberating over the creation of modern Dubai. He was always available to anyone who needed him.”

An event, such as the passing of the Ruler could have had far reaching consequences to our daily lives in Dubai. However it was kudos to the Government of Dubai that the transition was smooth and after the period of mourning life was back to normal. Shiv was out of town when Sheikh Rashid passed away and rang anxiously morning and evening to ensure all was well. In fact his phone calls were more frequent now when he was away and I felt he probably missed me and the kids. I was always teased by my girl friends about his attentiveness and concern; they felt it was rare and unnatural after 21 years of marriage! I mused and contemplated their remarks and put it down to envy – every marriage was different and they obviously grudged me the attention I received from my husband!

Dubai flourished in the aftermath of the invasion of Kuwait and funds poured in to support our work at the Centre. Despite the siege or perhaps because of it, our work with the children thrived. We did get requests from parents of Kuwaiti special needs children for admission, but we could accommodate only a few, our waiting list seemed to get longer every month. The outcome of all the publicity and attention we received catapulted me into the lime light much against my wish. I had always maintained that the best way to live in a place like Dubai was to put your head down and work. The more discreet you were the better, especially in the environment we lived in. Unfortunately it was not to be and I suddenly got inundated for requests for interviews by journalists, my colleagues. I fled the scene but I had to acquiesce to a few requests.

Shiv was a little bit in his own world but I put that down to the fact that most of us with school going children were concerned in case we had to leave Dubai due to the political situation in the region. Our children, unlike most of our friends’ kids, had studied in a primary school that followed the Indian curriculum so they were well versed in Hindi and the Maths and English programme that was followed in the Indian educational system. For the kids who had only studied the British curriculum a change, if it was a return to India, could be very arduous.

As with several of my radio interviews I had the opportunity to meet international celebrities but I was delighted and nervous when I was informed that Mohammad Ali , the greatest sportsman of all times, was passing through and I was expected to interview him. Ali packed a punch and my sports crazy family had watched every fight and held his persona in great awe. The man who could ‘float like a butterfly and sting like a bee’ was my next talk show guest, my sons were very jealous and asked if they could come with me as an assistant – to hold the mike perhaps!

Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE.

Ali the light-heavy weight champion in the 1960 Rome Olympics held the world championship an unprecedented three different times. Notably, the ‘greatest’ was proud to say, “even if you dream of beating me, wake up and apologise.”   His life captured the unrest of the Civil Rights movement and the black person’s quest for equality. In person, Mohammad Ali was coping with the onset of Parkinson’s disease, he bore the symptoms well but he did not look like the all conquering hero, the disease took its toll. It was indeed, an honour to talk to Ali but I left feeling sad and telling my technical assistant that we would not say anything about his physical ailments to anyone – the image of the greatest had to be preserved for posterity.

With so many new people residing or visiting Dubai tourism blossomed and one of the favourite outings was to the souks. The perfume souk is very popular but the spice souk is almost more exciting and is a  treasure trove of pungent aromas, tantalising tastes and a symbol of tradition passed through the ages. It is a precious heirloom, handed down through generations, reminiscent of a way of life in times gone by. As you enter the smells assail, arrest and attract all at once. They conjure in slow motion, dramatic vignettes of undulating lines of caravans moving through a harsh desert landscape loaded with silk and spices. The souk is a direct descendent of those days of barter trading. The only difference today is that the volume of trade has increased manifold in keeping with the times. The aromas of various spices wafts through the air – pungent, tingling, arousing, mysteriously mouth watering – compelling you to breathe deeply of them. The souk is like nature’s own backyard, replete with a bounty that mankind can harness for the good of both body and mind.

Known for its variety of fabrics – cotton, polyester, rayon, linen, woollen, acrylic, terelene – the choice of fabric is endless, the kaleidoscope of colours is breath-taking and the variety in design ranges from the traditional to the very modern. We are in the fabulous fabric souk of Dubai. Vashu Shroff came to Dubai in 1960 before the textile souk had developed into a retail market for wholesalers. He arrived on the ill fated Dara vessel with one hundred and twenty four dirhams and a determination and confidence which he says has guided him all these many years. A well known figure and the back bone of the Indian community in Dubai, Vashu says he started his work as a cleaner, salesman and manger. He had to do everything he admits and added that he learnt so much from the experience. He remembers showing off armfuls of smooth pastel voiles and soft shimmering satins. He would open and roll the fabric many times a day and initially the local residents were thrilled with the availability of goods on their doorstep. Today from small beginnings Vashu’s Regal Traders developed and Dubai slowly turned into a shopper’s paradise.

Sky line of Dubai city.

Charged, dynamic and electrifying the Dubai electronic market is over-coming the initial uncertainties thrown up by the Gulf crisis. It is slowly but surely moving back to its place of prominence in the city’s trading turf. An accurate barometer of the ‘state’ and ‘atmosphere’ of trade in Dubai, these high profile markets, with their supplier and dealer networks, adjust constantly to changing times and fortunes. Most traders take losses in their stride, confident that in time the pendulum will swing the other way. Chandu Bhai’s family came to Dubai in the 1940’s when his father started business with pearl diving. He encouraged his son to join him 15 years later, but Chandu Bhai decided to strike out as one of the first electronic dealers in Dubai. He has never looked back but admits that till today to do well, although the market is now huge and usually there is more demand for goods than supply, you have to have intuition and faith to survive.

It is unique for its dazzling glitter, its lack of security and its unsophisticated presentation. The Dubai Gold Souk – a must on every tourist’s tour of the city – is built on years of trust and eastern tradition where it is almost mandatory for a woman to own gold ornaments. It is considered her wealth, a form of saving for emergencies and an investment in the future. In Dubai the Gold Souk emerged in the late 1940’s with a few shops in Bur Dubai and a sprinkling in Deira. When Jamnadas of Jamnadas Mohanlal Jewellers came in 1956, it was because he had been summoned by his grandfather who had already established the family gold business.  There were just eight shops in those days, by 1990 there were over 500.

Asha Bhatia

Jamnadas was the twenty-ninth member of his community to make Dubai his home. His arrival in Dubai in January 1956 is vividly etched in his memory. He came on the Dwarka and the five-day voyage cost him Rupees 66 which included two meals and  two snacks per day! He admits that he used to work 20 hours a day being the owner, salesman and sunar (goldsmith). In 1961 Saif Al Ghurair installed a generator in Deira and you paid five rupees for a fan as a year’s rental charge. In the evenings around 6.30 pm he would switch the light off and on three times at an interval of five minutes to signal that he was switching it off. Quickly Petromax lamps were lit so work continued. ‘It was very hot,’ he said, ‘We would have a pool of perspiration around us when we got up to leave. Today,’ he mused, ‘if the electricity goes off for five minutes my wife and children complain and rush outside.’

Reminiscing about Sheikh Rashid, Jamnadas was misty-eyed. At one time or another he helped all of us he said. Whatever we may do for him today is not enough. It is because of him that we are here in Dubai. “Look at the Gold Souk, the hustle and bustle, the amount of business being transacted, traditional and modern designs in jewellery finding their own market” he added. ‘We are proud of our Gold Souk and of the fact that we were pioneers here. Silver tarnishes, iron rusts but gold remains the same even after years of storage and use.’


‘De-War’ children

Model of Emirates Airplane in Miracle Garden, Dubai.

Channel 33’s decision to telecast CNN live has put paid to rumour-mongering during these difficult times. The instant coverage of the war has almost had a security blanket effect on the public as they were kept totally informed at all times. The only drawback was the lack of regular viewing for children for whom war has entered the home. I felt parents should be aware that they would have to ‘de-war’ their children once this was over.

Emphasis at home on love, kindness and good human relationships is essential to counteract the overdose of fighting to which children are being exposed to. This is important for disabled children as well: confused information only causes fear and uncertainty. A little time taken by parents to explain or communicate that the situation here is secure and normal will go a long way to ease the doubts and tensions in a child’s mind.

A friend of mine told me her nine-year-old son is convinced he is a Tomahawk Cruise missile, while another friend’s daughter wanted a fighter aircraft for her birthday! I am speechless – children must find out about war, death and destruction but not in this way. But then in what way, how should they be told? Television war, which has so suddenly, some might even say unceremoniously, invaded our living rooms and our lives is a reality which has come to stay. My children like all their friends were watching CNN every spare moment and what amazed me was Sahil, usually soft spoken and mild-tempered, had become militant in his speech. Mrs. Omana Menon added that there was a small baby in their house who was vying for attention with CNN. The viewing is so compelling and makes one such a part of the process that any incursion, even a phone call, is received impatiently. We converse across CNN, she explained. An army colonel and former commander of the T-72 tank says he cannot fathom why media should be allowed to interview pilots coming back from a mission just as they deplane. This interferes with battle plans and de-briefings and it sometimes seems to him that the field commanders have to charm the Press before they can be called successful. Media should be restrained from gumming up the works!

Amidst all this confrontation, the ‘Making Tracks’ series in the magazine became hugely popular. I found many weekends booked for full or half day trips and the children loved joining in. Unfortunately Shiv was not so enamoured and often preferred to stay put at home if he was not on a business trip. Nature, peace and quiet, undulating hills, waterfalls and newly formed lakes did not draw him into their net.

With the first showers of the season we set off to Wadi Iyeli, which is transformed from barren desert into an idyllic picnic spot. The village of Iyeli, 2700 feet above sea level, is famous for its camel farm and is well worth a visit, especially during the cooler months. It boasts of being one of the camel-breeding farms in the area. In fact villagers bring their camels from all over to this stud farm and there are heavy charges involved. Researcher Rajan explains that the special animals were carefully tended and raised on a diet of almonds and pistachio nuts apart from their food! Rajan is a good personal friend of the walli (chief) of the tribe in Wadi Iyeli. Traditionally the people of this area are very fond of poetry and are good at composing and reciting verse. The other highlight of the trip is the waterfall at Darrah. During the months of February and March when it rains it is one of the most scenic sights you can see in the UAE.

A spectacular LED illumination of the Indian National flag on BurjKhalifa on the eve of 68th Republic Day in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo Courtesy: Burj Khalifa/Twitter)

Jajirat Siniyah, the beautiful island off the tip of Umm al Quwain was known to be an ideal ground for bird-watching. An enthusiastic birdwatcher could spend a happy morning relaxing here and enjoying the tranquillity. The fishermen will not take you to the island if it is high tide explained Rajan but if you are lucky and the tide is low the boatmen will take you across and on a good day you are bound to see a variety of birds in particular, the water loving birds like the Phalarops and the Turn Stone. Umm al Quwain used to suffer due to lack of sweet water till the Ministry of Water started a desalination plant at Siriah. Now sweet water is available in plenty in the town. Ahmadabadi ‘baer’ trees (a wild tropical berky) have been introduced in the area and they are flourishing, Rajan added. Baer is a fruit grown all over India. Drive further and you would reach Fallaj Al Moalla, the second largest town in the Emirate of Umm al Quwain. There are several natural springs here and over 500 gardens in the area. People often drive passed it as it is a little out of the way but it is worth a visit. The area is very green with several farms both private and commercial. Poultry farms are also popular and the product could be bought directly from the farms even on a Friday. The terrain in this area is different, it has a lot to offer and still remains largely unexplored.

The UAE encompasses plains, sand dunes, tall mountains and the coast line – nature at its most barren and in contrast stretches of lush vegetation. One of the most fascinating sights for a newcomer as well as locals is the hot springs at Khat. The medicinal value of the warm waters has attracted visitors since time immemorial for it has cured a cross-section of people with skin problems.

Geographically, Ras Al Khaimah encompasses all the four features of the landscape of the UAE.It has the plains, the sand dunes, the tall mountains and the coast line. From Digdaga, well known for its dairy products, there is a short cut to Khat. ‘The sulphur content of the water,’ explained Rajan, ‘increases the temperature to over 35 degrees centigrade. In the latter part of the last century when the Portugese came to the area they landed on the East coast of the UAE in Kalba and Khorfakkhan but moved across to Ras Al Khaimah. Documents in the archives in Lisbon mention the name ‘Khat’ and refer to the medicinal value of the water.’ If you are keen to visit the hot springs avoid the weekend, if you can, as the area usually gets over crowded.

The chemistry was just right explained Reta Annen, the brain behind the weekend jaunt to Fujairah, when ten ladies abandoned husbands and home to paint. The Gulf War was dragging on week after week and everyone was depressed so they decided to do something different, fun and as it turned out, very productive. The result of the time spent together working and letting their hair down became an outpouring of water colours that completely astonished them. One of the most fascinating aspects of the outing was how different each artist was. In fact that is where the new ideas came tumbling out as they criticised each other’s work, interacted happily and by and large ate far too much over the weekend!

A local family in Masafi invited the ladies home for Kahwa and they will never forget the goat who followed them around trying to sample water-colour paper. Esme Nunes enjoyed the opportunity of meeting the local family who were very hospitable. She said she would love to paint the mother, who hailed from Hyderabad, because she had such beautiful features and a very kind face. The group is like a little United Nations with an amalgam of so many nationalities, cultures, ideas and crafts.

As the Centre grew and we needed more space to accommodate more children, I succeeded in adding another villa to our existing two. Of course that meant more money required for refurbishing and rental. A novel idea crossed my mind – why not sell each brick in the boundary wall between the existing Centre and the new house and raise funds? The Wall Appeal as it was called aimed to sell brick-by-brick for a cause – to achieve our target every brick had to go and eventually it did. When we broke through the wall in a bob-cat we had the funds to redo the house and add over 25 children to our student strength.

Maya decided to take a gap year after ‘A’ level examinations and join university in the U.K. after spending a year in Delhi. She was always the youngest in her class and I was happy about this as it would give her quality time at home staying with her Grandmother. Shiv was not that keen but felt perhaps the experience would widen her horizons and give her a proper taste of living in India. It would be strange not to have her at home we had always been a close-knit family and a year away was a forerunner to her being away in university and thereafter wherever her career and life took her. The first child was leaving the nest and it gave me a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. It is not that I didn’t want her to go, she had to step out in to the world, it was her time but I knew I would miss her more perhaps than the boys because we were good friends above everything else.

The name Hayl has always been special to the Arabs because ‘Hayl’ in Arabic means cardamom – one of the special condiments used in Arab cooking. Rajan introduced us to Hayl Fort, with its backdrop of rocky mountains, explained that even one hundred years ago the rulers of Fujairah used to retire to the peace and tranquillity of Hayl whenever they wanted to get away for a break. This is a high rainfall area as can be seen from the lush vegetation around. Fifteen years ago the UAE government constructed permanent houses for the people of Hayl. The original village though is not at the spot where the houses have been constructed. In fact, it is situated ten kilometres closer to the mountains.

The ancient fort of Hayl which the Royal Airforce photographed in the 40’s and 50’s is a rare monument. It is tucked away deep in the interior. Rajan explained that he had visited it with the late Sheikh Suhail bin Hamdan al-Sharqi of Fujairah. In 1974 they walked from the present Al Hayl village to the fort. One of the reasons that the fort is so established is because they say at the time of tribal disputes in the old days this was considered a neutral area where tribals could forget their problems and solve their misunderstandings. The tranquillity of the place is what they all enjoyed and it lent itself to an atmosphere of reconciliation.

You can explore the ramparts and the out houses but be careful because the masonry is ancient and could fall through while you are standing on it! A climb up to the watch tower is worthwhile and once you are on top you get a marvellous view of the whole area.  While at Hayl we were ensconced in this feeling of seclusion and isolation when our solitude was broken by the arrival of two gentlemen in a private car. They turned out to be the local CID officers, whom the villagers had informed of our presence. They questioned Rajan about the purpose of our visit and when assured that we were just exploring they smiled and said ‘enjoy yourselves this is your country.’ They left us with a feeling of warmth and belonging and a great sense of security – had we got stuck, help would not have been too far away.

Rajan, an outsider, knew the UAE inside out. With his extensive knowledge of the region and its people, he was an unfailing guide for the series Making Tracks and we completed current episodes making plans to contact him after the summer holidays. We discussed several options on how we would take the series forward making it more reader friendly and attractive to the intrepid traveller. I recollect that Shiv was out of town and I was in the garage getting the kids into the car to take them for their Saturday Hindi lesson when the phone rang. Rajan’s number, I wondered why he would call me.  The voice at the other end was sobbing as she said ‘Rajan has gone – I had to tell you myself he treasured the work you did together. It gave him joy and a great deal of satisfaction.’ Mrs. Rajan put down the phone and I was numb – disbelief, sorrow and the enormous impact of this tragedy rushed through my mind. Why him and why now? Who knows, can we question fate?

Trying to remain cool and unruffled, I quietly told the children what had transpired, called my good friend, Mrs. Omana Menon and asked if she would accompany me to Rajan’s home. I had to offer my condolences to the bereaved family immediately, I had lost a friend they had lost everything. The children proceeded to their Hindi class with my trusted maid in a cab and I changed and waited for Omana to pick me up. It was sad that Shiv was away, it would have helped if he had been with me at this moment. The obituary I wrote for the magazine said it all.

The vast and forbidding desert mesmerized Rajan; the local inhabitants of the far-flung hamlets and villages drew him like a magnet. Relentless in his efforts to provide them a regular supply of flowing water, he became their friend; the foreigner to whom they opened their homes and their hearts. The man they introduced to their families, the person who became their link with the fast developing world outside.

Dubai Airshow 2017

Rajan Balakrishnan Iyer, who died at the age of 47 on Saturday, 30 May 1992, was mourned not just by the large expatriate community for whom he was a pillar of solace and sincerity, but by his hundreds of acquaintances in the far-flung villages of the United Arab Emirates. Moving to Dubai in 1967 at the young age of 22, studying the lifestyle of the tribes was something he had always wanted to do. In the UAE with his job at the Ministry of Water and Electricity, he had a wonderful opportunity to see first-hand how the Bedouins lived deep in the desert. Most people came here to earn money and better the future prospects for their families. Rajan was different. As senior co-ordinator in the Studies and Research Section of the Directorate of Water he used his expertise to learn about the culture and history of the people. He threw light on the strong links between India and the UAE dating back to the pre-Islamic era. The man whose work was to ensure water supply to every village, no matter how deep into the desert or mountain it was, was in fact the only non-Muslim Asian doing research on Islam, Arab history and culture in the UAE. He was the only Indian who was a member of the National Heritage Committee of the United Arab Emirates and a member of the UAE Geographical Society and Folklore Society.

Rajan knew every tribal chief by name and his finely detailed map of the northern emirates contributed tremendously in helping the work of local geographers, federal and local departments in their planning of projects for the development of their people living in remote hamlets. Fondly known as Abu Kharta, Father of Maps, Rajan mastered the Arabic language and spoke several dialects. In his efforts to learn more about the customs of the people, Rajan could sing in Arabic and also dance with the Bedouin. He earned the trust of the people and they in turn showered their love, affection and hospitality on him. If you were a known friend of Rajan, the homes in the remotest hamlets opened their doors to you and made you feel more than welcome.

Rajan’s greatest pleasure was to take people out into the desert. In the previous 25 years he must have shown-off the UAE to more V.I.Ps, ambassadors and visiting ministers than anyone else. On Fridays, the weekend, he was happiest in a four-wheel directing a couple of cars or a huge convoy. He travelled with no maps, no notes or directions. In a huge expanse of unchartered, untracked desert he would just flick his forefinger to indicate to the driver whether to turn left or right. No words were exchanged and there was never any confusion. He knew exactly where to go and how to get there as the terrain was like the back of his hand. Rajan did not drive and he often said it was because he wanted to spend time soaking in the environment and landscape. ‘Go to the top of the high dunes at Margam he would say, and sit there at night under the stars with the world at your feet.  Jebel Hafit, 3500 feet above sea level was another favourite place like the waterfalls 15 kilometres off Khor Fakkan on the east coast. When you reach he said you would see the other side of this great country. It is a waterfall that discharges almost one million gallons a day.

In his community, Rajan was like a pivot. He was a Keralite from Palghat and was in the throes of compiling documentary evidence of how some Arabs settled permanently in the coastal regions of Kerala. People, from all walks of life, approached him for help and advice and he never turned them away. With his knowledge and expertise on the subject, Rajan often talked of compiling a book. It would include his trips into the desert, a list of villages in the UAE together with details of their culture and history.

The book will never be. Driving out, to check one of the water wells under his jurisdiction in the remote and high mountains of Fujairah, Rajan’s vehicle fell into a ravine killing him instantly. He died leaving behind his wife and two young children who will always cherish the memory of their caring and loving father who was taken away from them too suddenly and too soon. They will not be alone, for Rajan is remembered by many, in particular, by the Bedouin in the desert for whom he was a very special friend.

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