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DUBAI - DOWN MEMORY LANE

By  Dr. Utpal Kumar Kataky, Dubai

First of August, 1976, time 9 p.m. Another British Airways flight from London had landed. As we emerged from the aircraft a gush of hot wind blew over our faces. We thought instantly that it must have been from one of the engines. No! We were proved wrong. That was Dubai’s summer temperature which we had least expected. The climate hasn’t changed much over the years but Dubai has, and much can be said between life then and now.

My wife and I thought that we were the only Assamese couple in Dubai, a city, not much heard of in those days. Again we were wrong. The day after our arrival as I was escorted to the reception of Rashid Hospital, Dr. Habibur Rahman warmly welcomed me and instantly I remembered that we both were from Assam Medical College. I was happy to know that we would be working in the same speciality. After a couple of weeks, as I was having the fuel tank filled up at a petrol station, I noticed a gentleman staring at me from a few feet away. There was something familiar about him. "Aren’t you Utpal?" he asked. "You must be Sarwar." I said. We hadn’t met since we left school in Shillong. That was after a fourteen-year gap. Dubai indeed was a small place.

Believe me! My car tyres used to get stuck in the soft sand in the middle of Karama. Intercon Hotel (not the plaza) was the tallest building around. The Trade Centre was under construction. Hasani’s supermarket in Al Maktoum Street and a small Choithram were the only supermarkets we knew of. There was no Garhoud bridge or Hyatt Regency, no Dubai Hospital or Deira Tower. Driving along Dubai-Abu Dhabi road we could see only five or six cars within our view and a number of abandoned vehicles on either side of the road. Except during the holy month of Ramadan, roads were virtually deserted after about nine p.m. Dubai of those days was just a sleepy little town.

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At present, Shaikh Zayed road can be matched with any motorway in terms of vehicular traffic. In addition to several flyovers and underpasses, a broad network of dual-carriage-ways criss-cross the city. It is not unusual to get held up in traffic jams, especially during peak hours. Finding a parking place in some areas can be a nightmare. All this is due to a miraculously rapid development that this city can boast of during the last two decades. Having relied more on trade than on oil, Dubai kept pace with the rest of the world during the economic boom of the seventies. The then ruler of Dubai, His Highness Shaikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, made capital out of the situation. Gradually business began to flourish, construction activities escalated and the standard of living improved for all residents. After his demise, the wise leadership continued, and with effective planning and vision, the present rulers have already converted this desert city into a shoppers’ paradise. The current Dubai Shopping Festival speaks volumes regarding this.

Today Dubai has excellent departmental stores combined with shopping cum leisure complexes, hotels of major international chains and comprehensive health care services. Environmentally conscious Dubai municipality has paid particular stress in making the city green with palm trees, shrubs and flower beds along the streets, roads and roundabouts besides around government buildings and institutions. As regards sports, games and recreation, you name it and Dubai has it. The city has developed, over the years, numerous parks, golf clubs, water sports activities, car rallies and horse racing. Major international events have been held in recent times such as the Chess Olympiad, snooker tournament, the Desert Classic, the ATP tennis match and of course, the Dubai World Cup.

Along with increase in the local population, there has been a large influx of expatriates. Besides people from western countries and the Middle-East, those from the Indian subcontinent have taken up various jobs especially in the private sector. More people from Assam have gradually come over during the last few years. Of these, some are professionals, some in white collar jobs while others are in lucrative business ventures. In the earlier days, there were only a handful of Assamese for a Bihu get-together. Today we have, in this region, at least twenty families from Assam in our midst, besides a few young and active bachelors, for the oncoming Rongali Bihu celebration. We hope that our function on 15th of April, comprising of a feast and a colourful cultural programme, would be a roaring success.