The day was very hot but bearable, despite the sizzling temperature. It was an afternoon in mid-June in 1976 and I landed at Abu Dhabi’s old airport in Al Bateen, which is now a hub for private jet aviation.
However, the city was not new to me. I had spent a lot of time with my family.
My father was a diplomat at the Pakistan embassy and I used to spend my holidays here.
But I knew that my arrival this time would be life-changing, as I was here to don the role of an intern with an automobile company.
There were a few dozen people waiting to receive their friends or taxi drivers looking for passengers. Among them was my father.
Driving down a dusty desert single lane road, he took me to our apartment located opposite the old Souq on airport road, where the famous landmark cannon stands tall today.
Our building was a two-storied housing complex, dwelled by the embassy staff.
Dead slow life
The UAE capital back then was a small town. Madina Zayed was the city centre, a residential-cum-commercial locality, where trading companies as well as low-rise two to three-storey housing quarters were located. Commercial and social life centred around the areas of three streets – Khalifa, Hamdan and Electra Street.
The corniche, which is one of the capital’s most attractive places for leisure and fun now, was only a vast expanse of under-developed beach.
The city, which now prides itself for its parks, and green belts alongside roads and highways, had little greenery back then.
In fact, the old airport was the only place where there was an adequate amount of trees, flowers and grass, feeling like an oasis. That’s why the weather was a little harsher than it is now. But later, the father of the nation, the late Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s efforts turned the city into what it is today, a place where millions of trees give us shelter in the sizzling afternoons.
Life was dead slow and with little to no entertainment. The electricity supply was rationed, and there were frequent power outages. The afternoons were dull as people would prefer to stay indoors for a nap after eating their lunch.
After becoming a federation of seven emirates, the country was getting its due place internationally. New facilities were cropping up, and schools and medical facilities were being built.
The city had few places to hang-out in the evening. I remember, there were only three cinemas to watch movies; Eldorado, Al Marya. The third one, Firdous cinema, near Sheraton Hotel on the corniche was an open air theatre, where I saw dozens of movies. We used to go there every now and then with friends. My friends and I used to play cricket near Al Hosn Palace on airport road.
The city now boasts a marvellous set of spacious shopping malls, the Formula 1 circuit, Al Yas Water World, dozens of modern Cineplex, parks and other hideouts to spend a nice time with friends and family.
Back then we had only the old souq, the epicentre of the city’s life. There were around 200-250 stores selling electronics, textiles, household articles, perfumes and foodstuff.
That landmark bazaar got burnt to ashes in a wild fire in late 2004. Later, it was demolished to give way to one of Abu Dhabi’s tallest structures, the World Trade Center or Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Tower. It’s a mammoth complex, of concrete structures housing a luxury hotel, an office tower, up-scale apartments and a vast shopping mall.
I first came to Abu Dhabi in 1974, at 18, to spend my summer vacation with my family, who were staying here. My father’s foreign assignments had previously took me to Brazil and Baghdad.
In 1976, after completing my graduation from Rawalpindi’s Gordon College, a family friend offered me an internship at Al Masaood Automobiles, the dealers for Datsun cars.
I rose from a junior salesman to general manager, running a company which has a payroll of 3,000 people. This year, we sold 17,000 vehicles.
Abu Dhabi’s growth is vital for selling our automobiles, as the government is our leading buyer of 4×4 wheels. A good growth means more budgetary allocations for development and to purchase vehicles.
In my life here, I have seen three major business cycles – In1985, when the oil market crashed; in 2008, when the property market crashed in the US, it had its impact on financial markets; and the last year’s oil price plunge caused by oversupply.
Our dynamic leaders steered the nation out of each of these challenging times, when the economy was not as diversified as it is today with the services, aviation, tourism, petrochemical, industrial manufacturing, trading and other sectors taking over oil economy.
The emirate would continue to grow even as oil prices have plummeted 70 per cent from the June 15 level of $134 a barrel.
Technology sells here
When I look back to my early years here, life was very simple; where people used to socialize at the majlis over a cup of Arabic qawah and tell the stories of the day. Now the majlis, as an institution to meeting and greeting, is not that popular.
The latest communication platforms such as WhatsApp, SMS and Facebook have taken over.
There was a time in the 1980s, when pagers were in fashion for effective communication. In less than twenty years, no one even remembers that.
That’s why technology sells here. As a society, Emiratis embrace new ideas, gadgets and the latest devices.
I understand the power of social media, as a marketing person. As a company, which deals with high network individuals, we use it to advance our sales strategies and promotion.
The people who inspired me are His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai and His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces for their vision, generosity and kindness.
The leadership’s futuristic approach has made this country a regional economic, political and cultural hub. They have provided us a pro-business environment, peace and tranquility.
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