Dubai: This expat once paid Dh2,000 annual rent for a villa

Dubai - Shaukat Ali Rana has lived in the UAE since 1968, back when it was the Trucial States.

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Saman Haziq

Published: Thu 7 Oct 2021, 5:13 PM

Last updated: Fri 8 Oct 2021, 4:21 PM

At just eight years old, Pakistani expat Shaukat Ali Rana witnessed the birth of a new nation — the formation of the UAE.

Rana, 61, landed in the then Trucial States in 1968. His father had come two years prior after landing his first job at the British Bank of the Middle East. His salary was only Dh450, but in those days, one could live comfortably with that amount.

"I was too young to understand what shifting meant, but I clearly remember we would get super excited at the slight mention of travelling," Rana said. "And in 1968, my mother and us (seven siblings) landed in the UAE after taking a train from Lahore to Karachi and then flying with PIA from Karachi to Dubai."

Rana and his family stayed in Cola colony in Karama, where the rent for their three-bedroom villa was Dh2,000 per year.

"(It was) named after a Coca-Cola plant in the area. And this colony comprised of only villas," he said, showing a tenancy contract from 1970, which he had meticulously laminated and preserved in a file.

"There was just this small colony of villas in Karama and all around it was only a sandy area, where me and my siblings would go in the evening to play," he said.

"We slept either in our courtyards or terrace as air conditioners were not easily available in those times, and we would walk to our school, Pakistan Academy, which is still in Oud Metha."

UAE’s first Independence Day

There was a time in UAE's history when one had to show their passport to travel from Dubai to Abu Dhabi.

This was when the UAE was still formally establishing itself as a country.

Recalling the momentous occasion, Rana said the UAE's Independence Day celebrations had taken place on a grand scale at the Abu Dhabi Corniche on December 2, 1971.

"I was just 11, but my father had given his hobby camera to me, as he knew I absolutely loved it, and asked me to take shots of the celebrations that are with me even today. He helped me find my talent and gave me wings to fly and realise my dreams of pursuing photography as a career," Rana told Khaleej Times, showing the pictures he had taken as a young boy.

Rana and his family travelled to Abu Dhabi in his father's Volkswagen. To this day, he has preserved the border pass as a keepsake.

"This was the Shoeb border in Abu Dhabi," he said, showing the pass. "After the border area, all we could see was sand and my father did not know the way. So, we waited for a taxi to come and then we followed him to show us the way to Abu Dhabi ... It was a day to remember as the whole country lit up. We saw fountains light up; the celebrations were on a big scale."

In 1976, Rana started his own business — a photo studio called Shaukat Photo Studio. He later got married to his distant relative, a Kuwaiti, and settled down in Dubai.

"In 1985, I built our house in Mirdif, when there were only two villas in this area. There was only barren land all around," he said.

He added: "I got a special grant in my wife’s name as she is Kuwaiti so we got this piece of land here and we built our house. And ever since, we have been staying here,” he said, adding that he is one of the oldest residents in the area.

Ringing in the Golden Jubilee

As the UAE gears up to celebrate its 50 years of existence, Rana is planning a different kind of celebration for himself and his family.

The sexagenarian, who started his career as a photographer and now has a full-fledged family business in the same line, has pulled out his huge collection of old photo albums and his precious antique vintage cameras. He intends to share his fond memories of living in Dubai and experiencing it as it was in that period with his friends and family.

“I have seen this country bloom from being just a sand pit to becoming one of the leading nations in the world, and when I heard that the UAE is marking its 50 years of independence this year, I knew it was time for me to dust the old memories and show the world the journey of this incredible country," Rana said.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, Rana spent time digging out his oldest albums and cameras. He boasts a collection of some 25 or more antique vintage cameras that he has used and preserved from his time since 1968.

When Khaleej Times visited him at his villa, his collection of cameras and photo albums were spread across two coffee tables placed in the majlis of his villa.

Displaying his collection of cameras of all shapes and sizes, along with heaps of plastic films of negatives that were packed in compact boxes, Rana said: “I learnt photography from my father at a very young age as it was my father’s hobby to document and take pictures. I took it the next level by taking photography as a profession and later on becoming a distributor of frames, photography materials, canvases, mirrors and fine arts material.”

Met several celebrities

Thanks to his profession, Rana said he was present at major functions and gatherings of celebrities in different fields, such as sports, films and also politics.

Among the celebrities Shaukat has met are the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, former Ruler of Dubai; Imran Khan, former cricketer and current prime minister of Pakistan; and a number of Bollywood actors, including Rishi Kapoor, Prem Chopra, Sanjeek Kapoor and Shatrugan Sinha, among others.


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“I have travelled across the world, but the ease, comfort, flexibility, hospitality, safety and security that one experiences in the UAE is unmatchable. I am proud to call it my home and hopefully my future generations will continue to do so, too," he said.

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