Dubai Diaries: A calendar of memories
Vintage photos of the UAE take you down memory lane.
Whilst musing on what to write on this week I caught sight of the Khaleej Times calendar on my desk, the 2021 version paying tribute to the history of the UAE through vintage photographs of scenes and landmarks from around the seven emirates. Archived from the office library and shot by a host of talented photographers over decades, these images take one back to the early days of the UAE.
Some locations, captured beautifully in black and white, are iconic — like Dubai Creek in 1987 or the Clock Tower at Deira in 1980 — and bring back memories of my early days in Dubai. In the laidback and small-town atmosphere of the ‘80s, as kids we excitedly crossed the creek in the abra, paying 50 fils to a Dirham as I recall, for the passage, and waving excitedly to the smaller boats that crossed our path as we looked forward to a day of shopping in old Deira with our parents. I vividly recall a small park-type area on the Deira creek side where we would sometimes play, and watch the sea-vessels including traditional fishing boats in awe.
The Clock Tower was another spot that always managed to capture our fancy; we would check our little watches to make sure they were tuned to the correct time as displayed by that magnificent clock. I remember my kid brother innocently asking, ‘but dad, who climbs up there and fixes the time everyday’, while I wondered what kind of batteries the clock ran on.
I never imagined at the time, that around these famous landmarks would someday flourish a thriving cosmopolitan metropolis that now attracts visitors and residents from around the world. I never imagined that one of the calendar’s other iconic showcased venues, the Dubai World Trade Centre (photographed in 1981 with a smiling lady seated on a camel in its foreground), then the tallest and most imposing building in the city, would someday be dwarfed by a host of skyscrapers that are a testament to Dubai’s ambition to reach for the stars.
Other fascinating images in the calendar include Union Square Park in Dubai, shot in 1981, with the Al Ghurair Centre looming in the backdrop — the first shopping mall I ever visited as a child; its arcade — Sindbad’s — was a hot favourite with kids and the most anticipated outing on special occasions like birthdays.
Another memorable structure featured in the calendar is the DNATA Office Building pictured in 1985, to which as expats we would flock for ticket bookings to our home countries for the summer vacations of July-August. I remember the excitement of flying by the newly launched Emirates airline for the first time to (then) Bombay.
As I flip through the KT calendar and muse on Umm Al Quwain Creek development in 1978 and crane installations at Port of Fujairah in 1983 as well as images of capital city Abu Dhabi in the ‘80s and vintage sights from Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah, as a wordsmith I’m ever thankful for this kind of nostalgic inspiration.