Dubai: As the mist rolled in Cumulus puffs across the acres of parrot green paddy fields of Thanjavur, the 16-year-old boy gripping the metal handle bar of the train coach door dreamed of belching mills, curving roads and fame. He was running away to Mumbai, where women wore beehives on their heads and men swaggered in fancy prints.
His home was “the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu”, his destination “the money capital of India”.
It was 1977, everybody he knew was trying hard to find a job in the “Gulf”, specifically Dubai. His friends were doing the same, although an agent had already cheated them once.
Abdul Jabbar had failed six subjects in his final higher secondary exam. His family wanted him to try again, but he was tired of waiting and made the decision to drop out of school.
One of the Gulf News readers for the longest time – 30 years to be precise – Jabbar has lived and prospered with the newspaper. A dream that a teenager left home with has been realised among the golden desert sands of the UAE.
His family had a wholesale vegetable business and he was the second eldest child of 11. Once in Mumbai, Jabbar struggled to make ends meet. Finally he wrote to his family for some money to help him get to Dubai.
His father sold a patch of land and sent him Rs6,500 (Dh650). Within months he made it to the land of his dreams – the UAE. It was April 11, 1977. The only hitch was that the job was that of a construction labourer.
“The villa I helped build with my hands still stands in Jumeirah 3. I was paid Dh25 a day. After three weeks I quit,” Jabbar said.
“I went to stay with family friends and started work at a motel in Sharjah. While I was there, I met a very kind Mexican couple.
“The wife would insist I eat some food before cleaning the room. One of the subjects that I had failed in at high school was English. I could read the letters, understood to some extent but spoke very little of it.”
One day, the couple called him to the room and the husband offered him a job at his company Dresser Rand, a multinational firm in the field of oil and gas.
“I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He advised me to call the Indian receptionist to help translate. But, I refused, as I feared that the receptionist might take up the offer,” Jabbar said.
Finally an understanding was reached and Jabbar realised the need to be able to communicate in English. He had a job at the man’s company to assist in administrative duties for a salary of Dh800 per month and a daily taxi allowance of Dh4.
He accepted. but there was a hitch.
Jabbar’s passport was with the first company, who were reluctant to release the document.
On the first day that Jabbar joined the new company, August 1, 1977, the government declared that every person working for any organisation had to be sponsored by it. Deadline after deadline expired but Jabbar failed to convince his first employer. When all looked lost, a UAE national from the Ministry of Labour stepped in to help. The employer relented and Jabbar had a permanent job.
Thirty-one years later at the same company, Jabbar looks back and feels that it was like a “new beginning”.
He said: “All my problems vanished. Since then, I have not looked back. I am now an office administrator and handle the spare parts segment of the business.”
The climb up the corporate ladder was not easy.
Jabbar worked hard at it, with the help of a dictionary and Gulf News.
“In my office there are mainly Americans. It was important that I could speak and understand English,” he said.
Jabbar got his hands on a Tamil-English dictionary and set to work. “Every morning I would read Gulf News and refer to the meaning of the words in the dictionary,” he said. Today he is a fluent speaker.
“I can talk well now, but I am still learning. Every day I come to work by 6.40am, even though my shift starts at 8am. I read the paper from cover to cover.
“The paper stays with me the whole day and whenever I get the time, I read,” Jabbar said.
The father of three has inculcated the same love of language in his children, as it has helped him turn his life around.
“Gulf News helped further my career, along with my company that has been extremely supportive. Gulf News helped me learn and improve my English – knowledge is power.”
While he would never dream of criticising Gulf News, he does have a few observations.
“I miss debates among people on issues in the letter to editor section. Nowadays, people only seem to be complaining about traffic and rents. I don’t blame them, life has become tough,” he said.
Every day he reaches office at 6.40am so he can read Gulf News before his shift starts at 8am.