Dubai Diaries: Shopping around old Karama

We strolled innumerable times through that magnificent stomping ground, one of the highlights of our childhood and teenage existence in Dubai.

by Enid Grace Parker

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Photo: Neeraj Murali
Photo: Neeraj Murali

Published: Tue 10 May 2022, 4:11 PM

Last updated: Tue 10 May 2022, 4:14 PM

If, like me, you grew up in old Dubai, chances are you are familiar with some of the popular shops that dotted the locality of Karama in the 80s and 90s. It was an era when malls had not yet made a huge impact on our lives, drawing us to them with that irresistible appeal of loafing in air-conditioned surroundings, and window shopping, as well as delving into our pockets to pay for often superfluous items.

Old Dubai life was a simpler time when going to the mall meant a special family outing. Otherwise on most days, we would roam around Karama Shopping Complex, one of the area’s oldest building complexes. Most of our clothes and other necessities were purchased from here by our parents. Reasonably priced shops sold, apart from garments, items like shoes, accessories, toys, music cassettes, furniture, secondhand books, perfumes, luggage and more.

It was our ‘mall’ of the 80s in a way, I guess. As kids we would be thrilled whenever we were in the vicinity of the gigantic (or so it seemed at the time) toy shop somewhere in the middle of the complex. Aptly titled ‘King of Toys’, it was like a dream come true for any kid, its walls stacked from top to bottom with dolls, Lego, Meccano, board games, battery-operated robots, and hundreds of other amazing things. We would stare expectantly and wistfully at the shelves, till our parents sometimes got us what we wanted, and sometimes said ‘we’ll do that for your birthday or a festival’.

My mother who had an eye for bargains would get most of our clothes from the Shopping Complex, and also Meena Bazar in Bur Dubai. I still remember how for years the white canvas ‘keds’ we wore to school were bought from Karama, at the price of Dh10-15 a pair.

One of my favourite stores as a young teenager was the music shop Thomsun (in place of which is a supermarket now). I bought my first ever cassettes from there thanks to an amiable salesman who I still consider one of the most knowledgeable people about music I’ve ever come across. I vividly recall the interiors of the shop, with hundreds and hundreds of cassettes displayed; once when I was browsing, a couple walked in and bought so many titles because they were “going on vacation”, they told the salesman. It was the first time I ever dreamed of having a huge music collection, never imagining that someday these cassettes and my tape recorder would be redundant and every song I’ve ever loved would have a digital presence.

Today the Shopping Complex is much different from what it used to be. Mesmerizing street art adorns its walls. Tourists, a rare sight back in the day, roam through its corridors. Most of the shops have changed from the ones I remember. Sometimes I spot an old store or face that I recognise, and nod in acknowledgement to the aging salesman who probably witnessed us growing up as we strolled innumerable times through that magnificent stomping ground, one of the highlights of our childhood and teenage existence in Dubai.

Enid Grace Parker

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