Living in Dubai for 100 years: Bhatia family gets nostalgic
Model Indian expatriate family receives high praise in their adopted homeland and back home.
How does it feel to carry forward a legacy of four generations in Dubai? Pride! It's an attribute that also brings in a lot of responsibilities, according to Deepak Bhatia, 49, managing director of Uncle’s Shop, son of Vijay Bhatia and grandson of Uttamchand Bhatia ---popularly remembered as ‘Vattra’ by Emiratis and ‘Uttrabha’ for Indian expatriate community -- who set up a modest family business in the Arabian Gulf and native India almost a century ago.
Bhatia, the third generation of the illustrious family, spoke about the family’s 100-year-old rich history. “It’s such a proud moment to be a part of this family, as we've completed a century of living in Dubai over four generations. But at the same time, it has a lot of responsibilities, hard work, and challenges. Today, if I say that I’m facing challenges, I can imagine how difficult it must have been for my late grandfather in those days who set his foot at the tender age of 11 on an unknown land; came across an alien language; no one to play around in a harsh desert; and with no electricity, potable water and other basic civic facilities. Yet he accepted the challenges, sowed seeds in the desert, and later built a strong bridge between the Emiratis and the expatriate Indian community in Dubai. He will always be an inspiration to the generations to come.”
Down memory lane
Bhatia recalled living in a joint family of grandfather, grandfather, uncle, aunt, father, mother, and six siblings. He still cherishes the good old times spent as children living under a single roof.
“Back in the day, there were no amusement centres. We used to visit a place that was located on Itihaad Road somewhere close to where the Mercedes showroom called Happy Land is now located. We were frequent visitors, and every Friday we’d enjoy a few rides there,” reminisced Bhatia.
“Sheikh Zayed’s farmhouse at Al Khawneej, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed’s farmhouse at Al Aweer and Dahid; our family farmhouse in Ras Al Khaimah were some other places of visit. The old Indian High School, which was earlier situated opposite Dubai Museum, was my baby step to a kindergarten that was filled with sand dunes and located on the outskirts of yesteryear Dubai and now where the modern-day Ramada Hotel is located. That used to be our happy hunting ground and hours spent in pursuit of innocent childhood activities. National Park, which is now called Mushrif Park, was another favourite haunt and a treasure trove of sweet memories. My trips to Shindagha with my late grandfather and father have also stayed on with me.”
The Bhatias bought a property at Shindagha in 1940 and has also been instrumental in acquiring the land from late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum for Indian High School, Dubai, India Club, and the Krishna Mandir at Bur Dubai.
“The legacy will continue for the generations to come with my son Yash being the fourth generation. New generations always bring in new developments, changes, thought processes, innovations in business and other fields. Yash is carrying on the family legacy with new developments and innovation,” said the proud father.
He strongly feels the deep bond his grandfather developed with Dubai’s royal family. “We’re thankful to the royal family of Dubai for always taking care of us. It makes us proud that even after my grandfather’s passing 35 years ago in 1986, he’s still remembered as a revered figure,” he added.
The legacy of the Bhatia family continues with Yash, 25, the fourth generation. “It's quite a proud and emotional moment for me. Carrying on the legacy is quite an honour. The stories I’ve heard not just by the family, but members of the royal family, other members of the community and Emirati families just add to the honour as my great-grandfather was the closest friend of the late Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.”
Yash, who is also developing solar and green energy products, helps his father in their family business and aspires to explore the hospitality field. The family diversified in various sectors such as textile, pearls, foodstuff, film distribution, and building and construction materials business.
Honour in the UAE, back home
Shaikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and Chairman of the Emirates Group, said: “My earliest memories of Vattra and his family go back to when I was perhaps around 10 years old, when I spent time with the family at our farm on some weekends. Later on, I would meet Deepak (Bhatia) and the family during festive occasions, and we always maintained cordial ties. The Bhatias are friendly, industrious, and humble people, who have made tremendous contributions to the growth and development of Dubai. I’m glad to see the family continue to prosper and now into the fourth generation.”
Mirza Al Sayegh, Director of the Office of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, too, waxed eloquent.
“It gives me great pleasure to pay my tribute to the late Mr. Uttamchand Bhatia. I also congratulate Deepak, Yash, and his family on this occasion of completing 100 years of living in Dubai. I remember those days in my childhood with the fondest memories and remember Vattra as a man who forged a strong bridge between the Emirati and the Indian expatriate community in Dubai during this wonderful era. When we talk of one family, we talk of a nation. I hold many sweet memories of the early Indian expatriate community in Dubai. In the UAE, we don’t regard Indians as foreigners, especially among the elderly. This relationship is one of friendship, neighbourhood, trade connections, and deep trust. The feeling persists even today.”
Hala Badri, Director-General of Dubai Arts and Culture Authority, hailed the family’s meaningful contributions to the UAE.
“The family’s ancestral house at Shindagha has been a witness to Dubai’s development and serves as an important piece of history in our present. The royal family of the emirate and other Emirati families, including mine, have known the Bhatias for four generations, and we collectively share this inseparable bond that defines our relationship with them. A century is a milestone to be celebrated, and I hope the Bhatia family continues to inspire and make meaningful contributions to the UAE like they always have through the decades.”
Pavan Kapoor, Ambassador, Embassy of India, Abu Dhabi
"The Bhatia family’s saga exemplifies the shared history of people-to-people engagements between India and the UAE and the close bonds built over the centuries. The dynamic and entrepreneurial contribution of the Bhatia family to the UAE is recognised and much appreciated not just by India but also by the UAE’s leadership and is a testament to their enduring effort in this regard," said the diplomat.
Chaggan Bhujbal, Cabinet Minister of Food and Civil Supply, Consumer Affairs in Maharashtra and Member of 14th Legislative Assembly of Maharashtra from Yeola Assembly
“I’d like to congratulate Deepak and his family on this milestone of completing 100 years in Dubai over four generations. I've known the family for over decades. It’s a moment of pride for all of us today. Late Uttamchand Bhatia (Uttrabha) will always be remembered for his contributions to the growth of Indian businesses, institutions in the UAE and a man who forged a strong bridge between the Indian and Emiratis in the country, his extremely close friendship with the royal families especially with the late ruler of Dubai, Shaikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. He grew into such a towering personality in the diaspora through his various contributions to many important social causes and upholding of traditional Indian ethos. He had such an amiable nature that he was very close to the royals of the UAE as to the Indian diaspora. I’m very happy to see Deepak and his son Yash carrying the same legacy and relations ahead and wish the Bhatia clan the very best and build on the goodwill earned by his late grandfather and father in the UAE.”
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