UAE National Day: This family has been calling the Emirates home since 1955

Purva Grover /Dubai Filed on December 1, 2020 | Last updated on December 2, 2020 at 12.34 am

The Kurian-Varghese family in one frame in a photo taken recently.

Jessy Thomas, with her family and cousin in 1969 in Al Ain.

KC Varghese with his wife Ramani Varghese (centre) with their siblings in 1974 at Al Bateen, Abu Dhabi.

Artwork made by five-year-old Neena Anna Kurian, a fourth-generation expat living in the UAE.

Their home buzzes with stories told over the course of four generations

When five-year-old Neena Ann Kurian was asked to draw her favourite landmark as part of the virtual UAE National Day celebrations at her school, she filled up the empty sheet with a family portrait of her grandparents, parents, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, and nanny against the backdrop of the Dubai Frame.

A fourth-generation expat living in the UAE, Neena, along with her two siblings Gianna and Anina, is growing up in her home in Dubai, surrounded by a treasure trove of UAE stories.

The narrators of these stories are her maternal grandparents, Jessy and Dr Thomas, and her parents, Ann Kurian and Kurian George Chirayil.

As the UAE marks its 49th National Day, the family has hailed the country they have called home since 1955 — much before the union of the emirates in 1971.

Landing in the Trucial States

Neena’s maternal great grandfather, KC Varghese, arrived in Abu Dhabi in 1955 and spent three decades here before returning to India.

Since there were no Indian schools in the emirates then, his daughters Jessy and her sisters studied in a boarding school in India, and visited Abu Dhabi every summer vacation.

“Each year, starting from 1965 (before she moved to Abu Dhabi permanently in 1974) until I completed my studies, we’d get on a flight from home to visit our second home,” Jessy recalled.

The travel itinerary was quite interesting as well: Cochin-Goa-Bombay-Dubai-Abu Dhabi. “Called the Trucial States then, we’d travel via British Airways,” she added.

She shared how there were only “10 Malayali families” in Abu Dhabi then, and how they all lived as one large family and gathered to celebrate each occasion, over home-cooked food and a game of Rummy, together. For outings, her father would pack the kids in his Land Rover, and they’d go to Buraimi, Oman, and spend time at the date farms and by tiny streams.

“The Corniche, Abu Dhabi, was made up of duplex buildings, with the presence of a few buildings by banks ... and a couple of textile shops,” she added.

Moving to Ras Al Khaimah

When she got married, Jessy and Dr Thomas made Ras Al Khaimah their home in 1979, as he took up a job with the Ministry of Health.

Now, as per tradition, each weekend, they’d pack their kids, Ann and her brother Dr Ajith, and drive them to Dubai or Abu Dhabi for an outing.

Emirates over the years

Dr Thomas shared how the Pepsi-Cola area (we know it as the Dubai Refreshment Company, Sheikh Zayed Road) was a two-lane road. He has fond memories of celebrating Christmas at Lamcy Plaza — the three-storeyed ‘newer’ mall.

When asked if he ever imagined the UAE to be the country that it has become, as a leading nation, across fields, he was quick to say: “Definitely! With the kind of leadership and the vision the country has had, we were certain to watch it reach greater heights.”

Ann, 39, who runs a boutique now, has her own stories. She is mostly fascinated by her mother’s travel to the UAE as a 12-year-old child.

Ajman-Sharjah road

Ann recalled how during her growing up years, the World Trade Centre was the last point in Dubai.

“There was nothing beyond that,” she added. “There was no Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Road — we commuted on something I recall as the Ajman-Sharjah road, while my mother shared how they literally drove on sand dunes.”

She recalled the weekend trips with delight. “The highlight was eating KFC in Al Ghurair Centre; there was no KFC in RAK,” laughed Ann.

Her father chipped in: “Not to forget that it was air-conditioned!”

He also recalled the one-day weekend of Friday back then.

She shared how while a lot has changed in the seven emirates, RAK remains as peaceful and quiet as it was.

As the UAE celebrates its National Day, the Indian family’s home continues to buzz with stories told over the course of four generations.


Purva Grover

Purva Grover is a journalist, poetess, playwright, and stage director. She made her debut as an author, with The Trees Told Me So, a collection of short stories. She is the editor of Young Times, a magazine that empowers the youth in the UAE. She conducts fortnightly writing workshops, author interaction events, open mic sessions, etc. for the writing fraternity in UAE. Her stage productions have been recognised for their boldness, honesty, and unique voice. She is backed with a post-graduate degree in mass communication and literature. Born & brought up in colourful-chaotic India, she writes in English and currently resides in Dubai, UAE. You can stalk her on Instagram @purvagr and say hello to her at

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