Ram Buxani's fascinating 1959 journey to Dubai: Retold in this excerpt from his autobiography
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Ram Buxani’s fascinating 1959 journey to Dubai: Retold in this excerpt from his autobiography

Ram Buxani’s fascinating 1959 journey to Dubai: Retold in this excerpt from his autobiography

In his book, Ram Buxani recounts his journey to Dubai in 1959 as an 18-year-old, beginning his career as an office clerk at ITL.

Gareth van Zyl

One of the UAE’s most prominent businessmen, Ram Buxani, passed away on 7 July 2024, but his legacy will live on through his autobiography, first published by Motivate Media Group in 2013.

In his book, Taking the High Road, Buxani recounts his journey to Dubai in 1959 as an 18-year-old, beginning his career as an office clerk at ITL. Over nearly five decades, he climbed the corporate ladder, eventually becoming chairman of the Cosmos ITL group in 2014.

READ MORE: Iconic Indian businessman Ram Buxani passes away in Dubai

Buxani’s illustrious career was marked by numerous achievements, including persuading the Indian government to abolish estate duty in 1985, founding the Overseas Indians Economic Forum in the UAE, serving as chairman of the India Club in Dubai, and acting as a spokesperson for the Non-Resident Indian (NRI) community.

As a philanthropist, Buxani was a board member of the Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs in Dubai and was involved with various charitable and voluntary organisations, including the Rotary Club of Jumeirah.

He was also honoured with the Shield from the President of India, among many other accolades.

In the following excerpts from Taking the High Road, Buxani narrates his journey to Dubai, offering a glimpse into an era when the city was a small village, just beginning its transformation into a bustling hub. You can purchase the full book from BooksArabia.com. The below, selected extracts from Taking the High Road have been published with permission from Motivate Books.

For me, coming to Dubai was the beginning of a new life. That was more than fifty years ago – 18 November 1959 to be precise.

So let me go back to the beginning. I came to know of the vacancy in Dubai from an advertisement in Hindustan, a Sindhi newspaper published in Bombay (now known as ‘Mumbai’). I hadn’t the slightest idea of the place — what it looked like, what opportunities it had to offer and what the living conditions were like. I don’t think I could have located Dubai on a map at the time I responded to that advertisement. 

Dubai wasn’t a well-known destination in those days. Not many people came here looking for employment. It was yet to emerge as the El Dorado where you could make money. But for me the advertisement was a godsend. I’d been silently nurturing an ambition to work for a reputed Sindhi company overseas, a company such as Kishinchand Chellaram, which established the famous KC College in Bombay, or KAJ Chotirmall & Company. It so happened that KAJ Chotirmall & Company was a business associate of ITL, the advertiser and my prospective employer in Dubai. I wanted the job abroad because of its financial prospects and even more because of the opportunities it would provide to build my career. An inner voice told me I stood a chance when I submitted my application form, because I had the right qualifications. I also had the necessary experience, having been employed as an office assistant in Jyoti Limited, an engineering goods manufacturing company in Baroda (now known as Vadodara) in the Indian State of Gujarat.

If you go by Sindhi tradition, I was also the right age. At eighteen, I was old enough to seek a place in the competitive world of business. It wasn’t unusual for us Sindhvarkis (the people from Hyderabad, Sind) to take up employment once we finished school or turned sixteen. Our forefathers, who had established businesses outside India, invariably sent their children abroad at this age. It wasn’t a big deal because Sindhvarkis seldom showed the inclination to pursue higher academic studies. They were primarily interested in perpetuating the family tradition of business. A Sindhvarki would be groomed to take up responsibilities from a very young age. He would grow up in an atmosphere of business, unconsciously imbibing every nuance of the trade, gaining enough experience to don the family mantle. My family was no different. My father, Jivatram Ghanomal Buxani, who died when I was six years old, had worked in the Canary Islands, Morocco and Gibraltar for many many years. Even before I finished my schooling, I sounded out my uncles and close relatives in Hong Kong, Singapore and Nigeria about working abroad. I was told it was easier to get visas for these countries because they belonged to the Commonwealth. 

But nothing positive emerged from this, so I decided to try my luck in Dubai instead. Sindhi companies operating outside India generally preferred to advertise in Sindhi newspapers. It wasn’t a matter of parochial feelings, but based purely on practical considerations. Employees had to be single in those days because living conditions of the expatriate workforce in many countries were harsh and amenities to support family life non-existent…

… I boarded the passenger liner, Dara, in Bombay for my journey to Dubai. Travel by sea was more convenient than air because Dubai did not have an airport at the time. Sharjah was the nearest emirate with an airport, but no airline operated regular or direct flights to Sharjah from Bombay or any other point in India. It wasn’t as if flights were not available if you wanted to travel by air, but they usually followed a circuitous route. 

Considering the hassles and logistics involved in air travel, the journey by sea was a far better option. It took only a couple of days more. The British India Steam Navigation Company had been running a regular service to Dubai since 1904, its eye on the lucrative and ever-increasing trade of the emirate. Five ships serviced the route between Bombay and Basra, with stopovers at Karachi, Gwadar – then an independent territory but now under the administration of Pakistan — Muscat, Dubai, Doha, Bahrain and Kuwait. 

All five ships had names ending in ‘a’ — Dara, Dwaraka, Daressa, Dumra and Sardhana. Sardhana was so popular among Dubai passengers that a building in Bur Dubai was named after her. That building exists in the textile market even today and is still known by its nickname.

I was booked tourist class on-board the Dara — in a cabin accommodating just two passengers. The ticket was priced at about 300 rupees while the deck class was more economical at about 100 rupees. Most of the 800-odd passengers — merchants, job seekers and Arabs returning after vacation or medical treatment in Bombay — travelled by deck class. The ship may not have been a luxury liner, but the journey was comfortable… 

… Sometimes I would sit on a deck chair with the vast expanse of the beautiful Arabian Sea around me. The sunset at sea was a magnificent and unforgettable sight. With only the muted whir of the engine to break the all-pervasive silence, you could spend hours contemplating nature as an artist at work on the huge canvas of the sky descending on the horizon. The splashes of reds, streaks of yellows, sprays of whites and greys merged and mutated like a surrealist painting. The memory of that scene – the reflection of that beautiful sky on the surface of the ruffled water, ringed with a golden glow, still evokes a feeling of longing and nostalgia in me. 

Ram Buxami
Taking the High Road, by Ram Buxami, was first published in 2013 and, since then, there have been many editions published in the UAE and India.

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