Chapter 33. Ten Years in the United Arab Emirates

When I arrived at the Dubai International Airport, on 26th Februay 1977, I was surprised to see my first cousin, Ashaque Azad, waiting to receive me. It was so kind of him to do so and I wondered how he knew that I was coming by this flight.

Also at the Airport was Joseph, a member of the staff of Al-Owais Trading and Real Estate Establishment, carrying my photograph. He accompanied Ashaque and me and helped to get me settled in Phoenix Hotel in Nasser Square where I had been booked. It was a walking distance from the office.

The following morning Joseph came and escorted me to the offices of Al-Owais Trading & Real Estate Establishment, where I had the pleasure of meeting Muhammad Bin Nasser Al-Owais, elder brother and partner of Humaid Bin Nasser Al-Owais, joint owners of the Establishment. He was seated at his desk in his office which was much smaller than the office of Humaid, across the narrow passage between them. He greeted me with a smile, shook hands and asked me to sit down.

I do not remember much about the conversation we had, which was not very much, except that he did not seem to know what I was expected to do. I kept sitting and listening to the chit-chat he was having with visitors who kept coming one after the other. An office boy kept serving Qahva (Arabian coffee) to everyone present each time a new visitor arrived.

I learnt later, that unless you shake the small cup in your hand, the office boy would continue pouring coffee. The whole morning went by doing nothing and not knowing where my office was situated as, in addition to these two offices I have mentioned above, there was one room accommodating three members of the staff – M. R. Ghag, Syed Mohammad Sibghatullah and P.V. Joseph. There was one more room occupied by Bishara Fahim Bishara, an Engineer.

I had called Sajjad Haider to report my arrival. He very kindly came over and took me to lunch. His own office was about a block away from our office.

When I returned after lunch, at 4 p.m., Humaid had come. He welcomed me and lead me to the Mezzanine floor and showed me my offfce which was quite large and had a fairly large office table, and a comfortable leather chair in which he asked me to sit down.

He then sat himself on one of the three chairs facing me, and spoke briefly about the company, members of the staff and told me to make a list of stationery I needed. There was a small room diagonally opposite my own for the secretary/typist which was not occupied at the time. Opposite me, a little distance away, was the Accounts Department with one accountant, G. Nair in charge. Beyond this room, in what was the rear end of the room, was the toilet and washroom.

Working hours in the U.A.E. were quite unique. We started at 9 a.m. and there was a break of three hours from 1 to 4 p.m. for lunch and rest, and the day in the office ended at 7 p.m.

While getting used to these office timings, I started by talking to each member of the staff to find out what each one did, their salaries etc., and found none of them had an appointment letter nor terms of service. I had files made out for each one of them and issued letters of appointment based on the information they gave me.

There was no one in charge until I arrived. Each person had direct access to Mohammad and Humaid and everything was done verbally. The main business of the company was buying and selling land. The Al-Owais brothers were reputed to be the biggest land owners in the U.A.E.

The person who handled matters connected with “real estate” was Syed Mohammad Sibghatullah, independent and hot headed, spending his time in the “Land Department” or visiting various buyers or sellers. Everyone called him Syed. He gave me a lot of trouble as he had direct approach to the owners and, in fact, never let me in into matters concerning land.

M. R. Ghag, was the longest serving employee, he was the Cashier and had the keys to the safe and looked after the personal affairs of the owners. He was also responsible for keeping a check on Oman Travel Agency in Sharjah, owned by the brothers. He had kept me in the dark about the workings of this travel agency until I sent for the Manager to find out what he was doing and issued a letter of appointment and opened a file for him.

I seem to forget when I appointed June as my secretary. She was from Mumbai, India, and proved to be a good and competent worker. She was with me until my contract with the company was terminated in September 1986, six months before its expiry. She embraced the Islamic faith and married a Pakistani whom she got to know in Dubai, and was known as Fadia Chowdhury.

Al- Owais Trading & Real Establishment, henceforth to be referred as ‘ATREE’ had a sister company known as Gulf Union Trading Company (G.U.T.C.) which had a showroom across the lane which passed between Al-Owais Building and the one next to it. This show room displayed various electronic products, Televisions, VCRs, Radios etc., and was looked after by Haji Zainulabedeen, who also had a share in the business.

The electronic items like refrigerators, washing machines, freezers, cookers etc., were products of Arthur Martin of France. P. V. Joseph was responsible for placing orders, which he did through telex in broken English, and opened letters of credit. The owners did not make much profit from sales of items in GUTC.

I was shocked to discover that the biggest land owners in the U.A.E. were actually in the red. Surprisingly, Sajjad Haider had no knowledge of the situation the Al-Owais brothers were in. Had he done so, he would not have head-hunted me for this company.

Humaid used to come to my office, once in a while, and sit with me for a little while but he never discussed matters concerning buying and selling of land, and never gave me, even a hint, that most of the land documents in their possession had very little value. Their position was made worse by the Manager of Habib Bank who allowed them to over-draw well above their limit. I forget his name, but remember him to be a short person with shifty eyes.

He would come to our office and sit with the staff downstairs and never came up to my office. I was told that he had direct access to the mother of Mohammad and Humaid. I do not know what he gained from that close connection with a very wealthy lady. When the matter went well out of hand Habib Bank Head Office got scent of his nefarious deeds and had him transferred to Karachi.

I do not know what action the Bank took to punish him.
Whatever I did to try and bring some order and infuse discipline was undone due to the owners dealing directly with the staff. I was frustrated and was going through a state of depression, with the added problem of the unusual delay in getting my Resident Visa, without which I could not apply for a visa for Ayesha to join me. Whenever I asked the person dealing with our visa problems – a free lancer paid for the job he does – his answer would be “Bukra” (Tomorrow), and that tomorrow would not come.

Fortunately for me Anwar Kahlon had some business in Dubai. He was staying in an apartmnent in Sharjah which meant that during the break from 1 to 4 p.m. he had no where to go. At one o’clock he would come to my office and we would walk down to Phoenix Hotel, have lunch and go up to my room to rest. He gave me a lot of encouragement telling me to have patience and not to get so frustrated. He had a car and very often drove me to Sharjah. In those days the roads were narrow and there was deep sand all round.

We also visited Sajjad Haider and Shameem and Enver Masood (Anwar Bhai) and Roshun Apa. Sajjad had his own company of Chartered Accountants, while Anwar Bhai was a senior executive with Al-Futtaim. We also spent time with Ali Afridi, a barrister, who had his own law firm, and his wife, Gillo. Then there was Jalal Khan, his brother, Kamal and his wife Nuzhat

The company got me a two-bedroom apartment on the first floor of a low-cost housing complex known as “Al-Shaab” and had it furnished. The moment water and electricity were connected I checked out of Phoenicia Hotel and Anwar Kahlon loaded my baggage in his car and drove me to “Al-Shaab”.

The moment I entered my apartment I was shocked to find it flooded. The workers were careless to leave the water taps open. Anwar Kahlon and I were joined by Jalal and Kamal who helped in draining out the water. Jamal, Kamal and family also lived in one of the buildings in the same Housing Complex.
This housing complex had just been built. There were no roads.

Every morning I stepped out of the building on to sand and walked a couple of kilometers to get to the main road to take a “sharing” taxi to go to work.
One morning, I had the most pleasant surprise to get a call from my brother K. M. Shahed, to give me the good news that he had come to Dubai to work for a Shipping Company, having tendered his resignation from P.I.C.I.C. in Karachi.

I walked over to his office as soon as I could and was glad to learn that he was in an apartment at “Al-Shaab”, in one of the buildings a little distance away. We also got to know of one of our relations – Dr. Manzoor, his wife Zainab and children and K. M. Amer – living in the same complex. A year or so later, Shahed had joined another company and moved to Abu Dhabi.

As soon as my Resident visa came through, I applied for Ayesha’s visa and for a Driving Licence, which I obtained at the first attempt. Armed with my driving licence, I got permission from Humaid to buy a company car.
Ayesha joined me in July. Shahed and I received her at the Dubai International Airport and drove straight to the residence of Anwar Bhai and Roshun Apa for dinner, before going to our apartment after dropping Shahed at his. The following day, when I came home for lunch I found that Ayesha had been busy re-arranging the furniture in the living room, and cooking a delicious lunch for me.

Nazli came from London, sometime in September and, in December 1977 started working at Intermarkets Advertising in Dubai. She was head hunted by Lintas Middle East and from there head hunted by Publigraphics Middle East, where she worked for ten years. She left Publigraphics to start her own advertising agency in partnership with another person, which did not do very well and after 5 years closed it down. She was then offered a job by Zee TV where she spent 8 years as General Manager.

In April 2002, Nazli, Taimur, Zeyna and Mona migrated to Canada, where they now live in their own house in Mississauga, a suberb of Toronto.

Nazli and Taimur Shah were married in Dubai in January 1981. The Aqd (wedding) took place on 7th January, and, on 8th January, Ayesha and I held a reception at the Sheraton Hotel for about 100 guests, the majority of whom were friends and colleagues of Nazli.

All our relations living in Dubai and my colleagues in ATTREE were present. Shahed and Begum came from Abu Dhabi, while my sister Hushmat and Ayesha’s sister, Haseen had come from Karachi. Ayesha’s youngest sister, Shazdeh, along with her husband Abu Zafar and son Yousuf, had come from Saudi Arabia.

Taimur Shah, was a Major in the Special Services Group (SSG) of the Pakistan Army, and took early release in 1977. The same year he moved to Dubai and started his own business. He is the son of the late Mian Farooq Shah of Kakakhel, who lived in Shahpur Farm, eight miles from Peshawar. He had been a Minister in the Government of Afghanistan and moved to Peshawar after Pakistan got its independence.

He represented Afghanistan in hockey at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Both he and Taimur’s mother, the late Begum Nooria Shah had come to Dubai for the wedding.Taimur’s elder brother, Shah Agha and his wife Roohie, his sister Maggie (Marghala), her husband Alam Khan and Taimur’s youngest sister, Zarmineh were present at the wedding.

Zeyna, the first child of Nazli and Taimur, was born at the Al-Zahra Hospital, in Sharjah on 1st January 1983, and had her education there. In the year 2002, while she was at Sharjah College, the Shah family migrated to Canada. Zeyna joined York University to continue her education and is now a B.A. in Anthropology.

She is presently the Site Coordinator in Beyond 3.30 “which is a free after school programme where children can play sports, get help with home work, make and eat great food, learn skills and make new friends.” Her past relevant experience includes: Site coordinator Boys and Girls Club of West Scarborough and Recreation leader Bracburn Boys and Girls Club of Rexdale.

Mona, their second child, was born on 21st August 1985 at Al-Zahra Hospital. The birth of both sisters was supervised by Dr. Nath. Mona also had her schooling in Sharjah, and in Toronto, she was at Seneca College, School of Arts, Toronto, ON Digital Media Arts, 2004-2006 Presently she is a Digital Media Developer with marketing experience and technical know-how in all standard web development tools.

As I write – 5th December 2011 – it makes us very, very happy to record that Mona has been employed as a Junior Web Developer with effect from 1st December 2011. She had taken a year off from studies and had come to see us a few years ago. We have not seen Zeyna since our visit to Canada in 2002.

During our stay in Dubai we spent a lot of time with Enver Bhai and Roshun Apa, Sajjad Haider and Shamim, Almas Zakiuddin and her family, Mahmood Bham and Amer Morshed, and others. During week-ends I used to spend my afternoons watching hockey being played by British, Indian and Pakistani expatriates.

In July 1986 when I returned to Dubai after spending a month’s holiday in Karachi, I was shocked to find a letter, signed by Humaid, giving me two months notice to terminate my contract of service, only six months earlier than 26th February 1987 when it would have terminated automatically. I called Humaid and requested him to kindly give me an opportunity to meet Mohammad and himself to discuss this letter. He gave me a date to see them at his Majlis (where they meet visitors every night) after 9 p.m. I met him and waited until well past 10 p.m. but, Mohammad did not show up. All my effort, thereafter, to meet them failed as Mohammad did not wish to see me.

I could only think of a day when he called and asked me to send him some money when I told him that it was the end of the month and the staff had to be paid their salary and there were no funds to spare.

During that time, the financial position of the company was very poor and, whatever funds came in, my first priority was to pay, whatever was possible, to those whom the company owed money.

There were times when I did not draw any salary for myself, and suggested that I should be relieved of my contract and allowed to return to Karachi. I must say this for Humaid, that he was kind and gracious to say: “If we eat you will eat also”. Therefore, I could not bring myself to understand what was the reason for their attitude, that they would not even agree for me to stay on for six more months until 26th February 1987, when my ten-year contract would have ended in any case.

However, on 22nd September 1986, I handed over the keys that were in my possession to M. R. Ghag, the senior most member of the staff, shook hands with all members of the staff and left the office. That was a big mistake as a game of ‘hide and seek’ then started, as I was unable to get connected to speak to Humaid at his office, regarding the settlement of my dues in accordance with the terms of my contract with the company.

Sometime when I did get the chance to speak to him he would say that they were looking into the matter, and I should call him a week later. Since it was stupid of me to leave the office, I could not draw any salary. Which meant I was staying on, month after month without any income and unable to start packing up to return to Karachi.

By the way, I forgot to mention that, over two years or so earlier, Humaid had been appointed Minister of Water and Power in the Government of United Arab Emirates (U. A. E.). His life style did not change and he found time to come to our office whenever he found time.

It was now the middle of December 1986 – three months without pay – and I was going through an agonizing time. In Karachi, Assad was born to Mehreen on 7th November 1986, and her husband, Farrukh Amin was seriously ill, a fine young man, gentleman to his finger tips. He passed away on 25th December 1986.

May his soul rest in eternal heavenly peace. We were in the most difficult position, unable to leave Dubai, to be with Mehreen when she needed the presence of her near and dear ones to comfort her. Assad was then six weeks old.

Today, by the grace of God, he is Dr. Assad Amin M.D. being interviewed by various Institutions in the U.S.A. to which he had applied for his internship and residency. We wish him the best of health, every happiness and success in his profession in serving humanity to the best of his abilities. Mehreen is a well known H.R. (Human Resources) specialist, head of H.R. at the Head Office of Faysal Bank in Karachi.

It is impossible to describe the mental agony that I was experiencing at that time. Then, one day, in December 1986, Abdul Kader, the Egyptian officer, a fine gentleman in Farooq Mohammad & Company, our company Auditors, who called to say that he had been instructed by Humaid to meet him to settle my dues. It is pointless going into details. He explained the financial position of the company, of which I was fully aware, and offered a settlement of fifty percent of the amount of gratuity that was due to me.

There was no mention of the five percent per annum increase in my salary which I did not receive, nor any compensation for spending over three months without pay due to no fault of my own. I was mentally so disturbed that I paid no heed to friendly advice from well wishers to take legal action.

The only thought in my mind was to start packing up and arrange for a ‘Container’ to transport our goods to Karachi as soon as possible. At the same time we got busy shopping, specially electronic items like Washing Machine, Cooking stove etc. Thus, it was on 26th February 1987, exactly ten years from the date I arrived in the U. A. E. in 1977, we returned to Karachi, finally retiring after over forty years of service in nine different jobs.

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