From taking the Abra to owning a Bentley in Dubai
In the 51 years he's been in UAE, Shyam Bhatia's belief in Dubai and his passion for the game of cricket is unchanged.
From commuting by Abra in the mid-60s to owning a Bentley, it has been a long 51-year-long ride for the septuagenarian Indian businessman, Shyam Bhatia. But his belief in Dubai and his passion for the game of cricket is unchanged.
In fact, the faith in the City of Gold kept strengthening for Bhatia with the growth of his personal stature - from an executive with the New India Assurance to one of the top steel manufacturers in the Middle East.
"We grew with Dubai that has seen mind-blowing progress, I am a great believer of Dubai," enthused the tall lithesome Sindhi businessman, who first landed in Dubai on August 7, 1965, by ship. The steel magnate's eyes lit up every time we talk about Dubai or cricket.
Having played school cricket in India, young Bhatia was obviously keen to pursue his favourite sport in Dubai, too. "I first went to India sport club that was established a year before I landed in Dubai," he says, adding that he began playing with the others in Sharjah.
"I first went in 'whites' but was surprised to see the others in casuals and some playing without shirts in the hot weather," he says with a chuckle.
After about three years of stay in Dubai, Bhatia got a 'jute mat' shipped from India. "We didn't have any proper wickets here so we would look for some flat surface to roll out 'matting wicket' and start playing cricket," he says. Nationals like Abbas Kazim, Abdulrehman Falaknaz, Mohammed Reda Abbas and few others would join for a session of cricket, he recalls.
"The (UAE) nationals picked up cricket while studying in India or some in Pakistan."
Formalising a cricket body in Dubai was a natural progression. Bhatia was at the forefront with Hero Jashanmal, Falaknaz and Mohammed Reda Abbas in forming the Dubai Cricket Council in 1969. "Each one of us contributed 5,000 rupees to start the council," he says, adding that those days Indian currency was in use here. "The notes were slightly different in colour (red) but the coins were the same as used in India."
The next step was to play a match against cricketers from Abu Dhabi. "Mohan Jashanmal agreed to host us, so we stayed at his house overnight to play a match the next day," he says.
Shyam Bhatia with prominent sportsmen in Dubai. Bhatia says Dubai helped him not only meet his idols but also host them.
Fondly recollecting the four-hour journey from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, Bhatia said: "We would drive on the right of the sea while going to Abu Dhabi and on the left while returning to Dubai and that was our 'GPS' then."
However, all that trouble to drive up and down Abu Dhabi was only to have a game of cricket.
The India-UAE bond through cricket took a turn for the better in 1981. "(Abdulrehman) Bukhatir started to bring international teams to Sharjah and cricket boomed," Bhatia says.
During those cricket matches, Bhatia would host international cricketers to give them a taste of 'home food'. "They would bring one or the other memorabilia for me and that kept piling up, so one day I got an idea of creating a museum and as they say rest is history," he says.
Bhatia has one of the finest privately owned cricket museums, which every international cricketer admires.
"My dream is to make a much bigger cricket museum in Dubai that would be open to public and could become one of the 'must visit' places in the emirate," he reveals. For that, he is optimistic about getting a positive response from the authority for a request for a land and other assistance.
Recently, Bhatia met Saeed Hareb, Secretary-General of the Dubai Sports Council. "He (Saeed Hareb) is also keen to promote cricket in Dubai," he says.
Through his Cricket For Care programme, Bhatia wants to distribute cricket kits in UAE schools so that more and more young nationals get involved with the sport that is being played here for over five decades.
Bhatia is confident that cricket is here to stay as Dubai keeps getting bigger and bigger.
When Dubai was just a small town ...
Most long-time residents of the UAE have fond memories of a smaller Dubai town of yore and Shyam Bhatia is one of them. The Indian businessman has seen the emirate grow into one of the top cities in the world in the last 51 years. "When I arrived in the UAE in 1965 by ship, there was only one street along the creek in Dubai," he recalled.
The New India Assurance posted Bhatia, a passionate cricketer, in Dubai and that's how the Sindhi-speaking entrepreneur's journey in Dubai began. "Abra was the only mode of public transport then and we used to pay 10 paise (Indian coins) to cross the creek," he recollected. "We would take dhow rides after a game of cricket as part of socialising in those days," he said.
Abra rides are still the cheapest mode of transport in the city that now has the most modern public transport system. "Dubai was, is and will remain the city for our family," said Bhatia, whose son and daughter were born and raised here and continue to live here.
His cherished meeting with Shaikh Rashid
Dubai has given everything to Shyam Bhatia - health, wealth and a close-knit family - since he first arrived in the emirates 51 years ago.
However, there are some memories that the septuagenarian cherishes the most.
As a passionate cricket fan, Bhatia worshipped some of the top cricketers from the sixties. "Dubai gave me the unbelievable opportunity not only to meet those heroes I idolised but to host them and become good friends with them and that is one thing I will never forget," he said.
For Bhatia, however, the most cherished moment was a chance to meet the late Shaikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. "I just wanted to see him. Those days we could go to his majlis," he said.
Bhatia said that he went to the majlis one day and sat in a corner. "Shaikh Rashid called me and made me sit next to him and then patted me, that moment is still fresh in my mind and will remain one of the best moments of my life in Dubai," he recollected with pride.
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