Indian expats who made it rich in UAE are giving back
Published on: Sunday, October 06, 2019
By: James Sarda
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KV Shamsudheen and Ram Buxani
THE opulence that has come to symbolise the Emirates today is reflected in the towering glass, steel and concrete structures that straddle all its seven  provinces, particularly Dubai.

But there was a time when even the Ruler of Dubai lacked money to raise even a creek that prevented vessels from bringing in goods and passengers to his province.

That was in the early 1960s when the emirates was dismissed by even the British colonisers as a financial burden and were more than eager to let it go. Thankfully, the oil that transformed the area from a sleepy fishing village dotted with tents and camels to a bustling metropolis was only discovered a few years after Britain decided to leave the emiratis to their fate. The discovery of the large oil deposits, reputed to be more than even neighbouring Saudi Arabia which they share the peninsula with also coincided with the Arab oil embargo.

Philantrophist Ram Buxani remembers that time in an autobiography he launched at the Sharjah International Book Fair, recently. He tells how he had seen the emirates transform since he set foot at age 18 and how in the case of the emirates, trust and friendship proved more important than anything else. 

The bond that developed between the Rulers and the Indian community after the British abandoned them, is also what led to the Indian dominance in the Gulf economies since, mostly from Kerala. Which also explains why among the first visits abroad by Narendra Modi and Imran Khan upon becoming leaders of India and Pakistan, respectively, were to the Emirates.  

As much about himself, the book also explains the important role played by the Indians and Pakistanis. How the Rulers and the locals accepted and trusted the Indian community. 

How  Indians helped in building the emirates from the ground up, resulting in both the countries relying on each other to grow together.

Buxani, a Gujerati, uses the creek to highlight this salient point, having had problems getting across it himself after he left Hyderabad to seek his fortune and landed in Dubai in 1959. 

He remembers thinking that he might have made a mistake coming this far if he was to lose his life getting across from a big boat to a smaller one safely since he could not swim.

“I don’t know how many may have gone through this creek but there was a time during low tide when you had to cross from one side to the other and you did not need a boat. 

“This is not known to many people but at that time Sheik Rashid, the Ruler of Dubai, who was very business-minded wanted to promote trade but had no boat.”

The only way to do business then was the dhows (arabian boats) which brought in materials from outside and vice versa. “When it was low tide, the water was totally dry. The boat will be stuck and the business will be stuck.

“So Sheikh Rashid, being a real businessman at heart, wanted to raise the creek to make it more convenient for businesses to operate and a British company was hired for that,” he said.

But the cost was 300,000 rupees and that kind of money was not available. There was only one bank and the cost of banking was very high. 

“If you wanted to borrow money, you would have to deposit almost an equal amount to do business. So much so that many of the traders trusted Indian businessmen to keep their money.” 

Buxani said Sheikh Rashid then came up with a novel method of raising the money, an idea that was ahead of his time. He decided to  issue bonds to foreign and local merchants which nowadays are recognised in global financial markets as a financial instrument.

“He (Sheikh Rashid) issued bonds of 5,000 rupees each repayable whenever and without interest. So many people who were interested in the betterment of Dubai business came forward to subscribe to the bonds and the creek was soon taken care of,” he said.

“This is the sustaining power and determination of the Rulers of this place, whatever they wanted to do, had it done. We (Indians) have done quite a lot in this place. I always say that we go to university, but the whole universe is your university. At every stage we have to learn and Dubai is a great learning place for everybody,” he said, adding that his book was a prescription for the younger generation.

“It is a good lesson on what hard work and being focussed can achieve in life and its fantastic.” As for Buxani, he liked what he saw and decided he would not leave this place.  “It was love at first sight.”

Buxani who started with a clerical job in retail was the first to be given a trading licence by the Ruler of Dubai, which speaks a lot about his contributions to the State.

Asked what lesson, if any, Dubai had taught him in his rags-to-riches story, Buxani who has been in Dubai for 60 years, said a very important lesson was to never give up.

“When I came here Dubai was in the 19th century and the world was in the 20th century. Now the world is in the 21st century but Dubai is in the 22nd century. This is the determination and if you are determined, Dubai has never let anybody down. When I say Dubai, I’m referring to the UAE.” 

Another philantrophist who has put out a book about how ordinary folks can maintain their lifestyle through financial wisdom is KV Shamsudheen, who was a financial advisor to the sheikhs.

Like Buxani, he was one of those whose lives changed as the UAE transformed and helped the expat community achieve the same through proper financial planning and discipline.

“I teach people how to use the resources God has given them,” said Shamsuddin, who has conducted over 4,000 sessions, nearly 1,000 TV programmes and whose work has been recognised by Georgetown and Michigan universities in the US.

“I am concerned whether these people (Indians working in the UAE) will have enough financial resources when they return home to maintain their lifestyle,” said KV as he is better known, the director of Barjeel Geojit Securities and was voted best financial advisor in 2010.

“I tell them about the pathetic condition that many who returned home without financial planning faced and that they are going to be like them. From that minute I will try to change them and can witness the changes taking place within two-and-a-half hours,” he said. 

He tells them how to invest their hard-earned money and live a lifestyle that would ensure they have a nest egg upon returning home by keeping a substantial part of what they earned.

KV, who heads a welfare trust and Vice Chairman of the Indian Business Professional Council, cited a case where a person whose expertise was in servicing Reverse Osmosis and air conditioning machines came to him for advice when he lost his job but ended up landing a lucrative job doing the same in Iraq – from earning about 1,000 rupees per month to 35,000 rupees.

“If I help these people become millionaires I also feel like I have become one but will collect it in heaven. That satisfaction is more than enough,” said Shamsuddin, who receives an average of 25 calls daily from people needing advice.

I tell them, ‘when you come to this part of the world, your earnings will shoot sky high but to make sure they save enough to maintain enough savings to sustain that level of living for years to come.”

There are now small enterprises in villages in India started by those he counselled while they were working in the UAE. 

He received an award in 2012 for his effort to educate non-resident Indians on financial planning and bring Kerala businessmen to the Gulf.

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