Different Dialogues: Interview with Extended & Enlarged Interviews of Mr. Bharat Kumar Shah – Chairman of Al Mustaneer Trading Company, Dubai, U.A.E.

Bharat Kumar Shah is over eighty four years of age – active, strong and agile in what he has to say, or, do. The octogenarian with the flame of a wand replies crisply to my query on how our world is taking shape. He elaborates on his apprehensions by stating, ‘Smaj Pratha – social values are disappearing. Family values are zero. Self and selfishness is increasing. Our own culture, our own language – they are losing importance. This is my worry. People who lose their language and culture are finished. What I’m saying is true. We are passing through a change… an upheaval… out of which a different type of a society is coming out. For instance, our Vedic values for the Indians are disappearing throughout the world. Western systems, western ways are overtaking our society.’

He pauses for a few moments and stresses his point. ‘The whole world is changing. Today, how many grand parents can tell anything to their grandchildren? Will these kids even listen? So, I say, what you cannot cure – simply endure! Yes, I do worry about India and Indians. I am concerned with the mindset of the people – I worry about the moral values.’

Bharat Bhai’s tone becomes stern but his expression also carries a faint smile. ‘Oh yes, I know that people find me to be outspoken. I’ll tell you, ten years back, I was “bloody outspoken.” Now, I am simply outspoken!’ He is mellow now and in a confiding voice he tells me, ‘With my growing age, people must accept what I am. I have everything like other people – I, too, have the good and bad in me like the rest of them.’

Considering his age, Bharat Kumar Shah works very long hours. He shares the daily schedule he is maintaining of arriving in his office punctually by 8:30 a.m. I learn from him that he works for almost 12 to 14 hours a day because the evenings are also utilized in socializing with people who could be helpful in giving him support in his social goals.

What are Bharat Bhai’s social goals?

He has many and one among them is to help those people of Indian origin residing in Dubai – who sometimes land into problems; they could be having medical issues, financial issues, prison sentences. Such people, when they are unable to figure out how to get out of the rigmarole in a foreign country, they come to Bharat Bhai for help. Either he visits them, but most of them come to his office in Deira-Dubai to discuss their raging challenges.

Bharat Bhai explains, ‘Such issues are complicated. Quarreling couples come to me, quarreling families come to me. Someone could be sick in hospital without having the means to clear all his medical expenses. These are not easy matters, one must have the right skills and the psychological experience to deal with the emotions of the aggrieved parties. I can say humbly, that Saraswati is in my heart and works for me. I can tackle such situations… and even sell air-conditioners to Eskimos! That is my qualification,’ he concludes with a hearty laugh.

‘So, Bharat Bhai, you do believe in God?’ I ask him. He replies, ‘Of late, I have become a rationalist. Now I think there is some Force which is creating and controlling the system of our living.’

In the span of forty minutes while I have been conversing with Bharat Bhai in his office, he has already received a few calls. I can tell from his talk that the calls are from people seeking his guidance. As he is attending to them, I try to assimilate the productive influence Bharat Bhai is having around him. I am already aware that he promotes awareness for EKAL Vidyalaya Foundation which is engaged in educating the poor Indian tribal children. He also believes in empowering women who are on the marginal periphery of economic growth. I am certain that Bharat Bhai must be connected to other varied social organizations, too.

‘You know, I want to go back to India in Saurashtra, my home place. I want to help my people there. They are deprived and they need help. I left India when I was only sixteen. I have spent sixty eight years in the Middle East, and now I want to go back to India and do social work over there.’

He ponders and says, ‘I hope, I wish, I am able to convince my wife to return!’

Bharat Bhai’s past words of a previous interview echo in my ears. I remember his words so well. He had explained, ‘I am coming from a very poor family. I was born in India in a family where there was not enough to eat. My father was a labourer having a large family to support. This is how I have come up. I worked as a house-boy in Saudi. Later, I was a street-hawker selling small crockery pieces on the footpath of Aden. When the fight began in Aden, it was a very difficult period for my wife and my small children because our lives were in danger and we had to simply flee from there to begin our lives all over again.’

After being in Saudi Arabia, Bharat Bhai resettled in Dubai, to establish his name and business steadily over here. It was not that he was a stranger to Dubai.

It must be said that Bharat Bhai’s long stint in the Middle East has not changed his basic nature to remain a true Indian at heart. Roots are important for him. He briefs me about his own patriotism. He tells me, ‘I wear ‘khadi’ made out of – Indian handloom spun cloth. I use Indian toothpaste, Indian soap. I fly on an Indian carrier. My wants are simple; I have six sets of ‘khadi’ outfits and no more.’

He has been in the forefront as an organizer of Indian cultural shows and events for the Indian community in UAE, particularly, in Dubai. It is a known fact, and a heartening one that Bharat Bhai has served the NRI community in various social capacities since the year 1948, in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and UAE. He has been the convener of NRI Cell of Indian Business & Professional Council-Sharjah, UAE. The list is long!

I look around Bharat Bhai’s office room where we are having our dialogue. The walls are conferred with photographs of numerous awards. On a wooden shelf, I see a number of trophies, including, the most recent ones of the year 2015.

I bring up the topic of his achievements for this year. His mood becomes light and he gleefully begins. ‘This year, I received six awards. You know, the sixth award is the heart bypass that was performed on me in Mumbai-India! I feel twenty years younger. I am energetic to work fourteen hours a day.’

I jot down the names of the prestigious awards which have come to Bharat Bhai this year. They are as following:

▪ Pravasi Bhartiya Samman Award by Honorable President of India, January 2015.

▪ Conferred Doctor of Professional Entrepreneurship-Business Enterprising Management (Distinguished Comrade of Doctors) by European Continental University, January 2015.

▪ “NRI of the Year (2014)” in Philanthropist category by Times of India Group & ICICI Bank, April 2015.

▪ Listed in “Super 100 Business leaders, Professional and Corporates” in Middle East & Africa in the year 2015.

▪ The “Jewels of Gujarat” a leading Global Gujarati Personalities award in the year 2015.


Before I leave, Bharat Bhai acquaints me with the virtues of Hadith – which is a collection of traditions containing sayings of the prophet Muhammad… with accounts of his daily practice (the Sunna), containing the major source of guidance for Muslims apart – from the Koran. Between my enthusiasm and Bharat Bhai’s comprehension, he also mentions the famous Indian poet, Narsi Mehta – whose verse became the favourite of Mahatma Gandhi.

As our discussion is concluding, the early evening is also drawing to a close. At this point, I take leave… and Bharat Bhai’s parting words to me are, ‘God has not made perfect humans. So I am also not perfect. One thing I can say is that I’ve never worked with a selfish motive. Yes, it is true that I wanted recognition and name. But not now… not now. I have earned what I achieved from my sincerity. At this stage of my life, the way things have worked out, I am content and happy.’

I am quite sure that most of us would want to be as active as Bharat Bhai – when we come to his age in our lives. I hope, I do!

Continuation…

Recap of the conversation with Mr. Bharat Kumar Shah – Chairman of Al Mustaneer Trading Company, Dubai, U.A.E., which appeared in the month of July 2012.

Professional Background: Coordinator, Speaker for Gulf NRI Seminars held in Bahrain, Dubai (UAE), New Delhi (India). Keynote Speaker to the Business Advisory Council, Kuwait. Main Speaker on NRI matters in Aden (Yemen). Presented several memorandums to committees including, to the standing committee of Indian Parliament visiting Dubai. Appeared on several TV channels, which depict his social work. Presented papers in Joint Seminars organized by FICCI & Overseas Indian Economic Forum, New Delhi (India). Organizer of Indian Cultural Shows in Dubai (UAE). Convenor, NRI Cell, Indian Business & Professional Council, Sharjah.

I browse through sheaves of office printed paper matter, that I have received from Bharat Kumar Shah. Predominantly, the material is related to his past interviews in magazines, newspapers. For me, an engaging clipping tallies with the persona of the untiring social worker. The bygone clipping describes a dinner invitation that Bharat Kumar Shah had sent out to his Indian friends and colleagues in Dubai. The card at its bottom had stated: dinner will be served at 10:27 pm sharp. The host’s logical explanation to the odd precision of “10:27 pm sharp” was that punctuality might be the guiding manual for the late Latifs – the habitual late comers!

Yes, and what’s more the way one can know about the pacesetter, Bharat Kumar Shah, in a glance? Years ago, how he celebrated his golden wedding anniversary was also in quite a novel manner. Along with his wife, Indira’s (Induben) support, the couple sent out the invite that read as: ‘Sorry, we are unable to invite you for our party this time. But, we have a small request to make to you. A small gift comes to you with this card and we urge you to reach to someone needy, you would be knowing. By doing so, you will bless our holy union.’ The 600-distributed-cards to family, friends in UAE, India, and the U.S. included a cheque of an equivalent to Rs. 1000/- pinned to every individual invitation. In conclusion, the Shah’s rationale corresponded with the versatile ideology to utilize the money for deprived people, rather than on a splashy get together.

When day’s work is over, the work is still not over for Bharat Bhai – (as he is fondly known). The octogenarian is spirited with purpose and energy to talk about things which will see the end results. If he finds it a waste of time, he will not hesitate to tell you on your face. The impressive selection of social activities to which he is dedicated can act as guiding stars for the younger generation. ‘I have the capacity to work for endless hours. Almost for 14 hours a day, I am working. Between 2 pm and 4 pm I rest and do not take any phone calls. However, if it is really an emergency, I take the call,’ Bharat Bhai tells me in a matter-of-fact-way. In other words, the doors of his office are open up to long hours for any visitor. People approach him for different reasons: visa problems, matrimonial disputes, legal cases, business queries, local UAE rules and regulations.

Bharat Bhai narrates to me how the formative years of his growing up were in the state of Gujarat, India. Almost with open pride, he explains to me, ‘Let me tell you, I never had the chance for any proper form of formal education. My father, Jayanti Lal Shah was drawing Rs. 65/- per month (equivalent to 4 Dirhams 50 Fils, 1 Dollar 16 Cents) to support a large family, including me. This amount was barely enough for our survival. Since both the present and future looked grim, I spent endless nights without sleep, talking to God. I had nothing on my side, not even my physical appearance’.

Therefore, when Bharat Kumar Shah was offered a chance by his father’s friend, he left his homeland and arrived in Aden, Yemen in 1948, seeking a better future. It was a nine night journey by sea from India to Aden on a Mogul Line vessel – SS Alawi, offering an open deck accommodation to him and he was sixteen years of age, then. Once on the foreign soil, within days, the young lad quickly realized that there were far more challenges than he had perceived. Among hoards of hurdles, one more hurdle was his lack of knowledge to speak or write in the language of English.

‘Given the circumstances, the working environment in Aden was tough for me. To become someone better than a house-boy, I also became a part time hawker, selling picture-posters of Indian leaders like Mahatma Gandhi’, Bharat Bhai tells me with an easy laugh. As time passed, he got the awaited break when he was hired by a well-established business house, A. Besse & Co. The 250 employees were mainly Gujaratis like Bharat Bhai, and his job was to count the unloaded, loaded boxes of cargo from ships.

One day, an official passing by the jetty, asked Bharat Bhai if the cargo was coming from Antwerp. Bharat Bhai’s thought-through-reply: What’s Antwerp? – virtually cost him his job for his utter ignorance. ‘That’s the time, I realized that I had to educate myself’, Bharat Bhai states with his typical style of assertion. Today, the grand old man connects to formal discussions related to social issues and education, as fish take to water.

Bharat Bhai worked in A. Besse & Co. for almost 16 years, and by now he was in charge of the inward and outward freight department. Though he was having a steady career, his mind was restless to do something different. At this period of time, he came across a man of means who was representing interests of Minolta Camera and textiles. The association developed into a fruitful one, Bharat Bhai being taken as a partner.

I asked Bharat Bhai about the days he had worked as a colleague with the late Indian doyen – Dhirubhai Ambani who built the corporate empire of the Ambani enterprises. Bharat Bhai has the ready details and explains, ‘Dhirubhai arrived in Aden in 1950, on the Italian ship, Caboto. That was the last ship that carried passengers without visa requirements. We worked together for 7 years in the same office, and our residence-rooms were back to back, sharing common walls, a common courtyard. Kitty Cola was a popular, fizzy drink made from the date-fruit which we used to share together, dividing the bottle’s content among Dhirubhai, myself and our respective spouses.’ I get Bharat Bhai’s point right away. Even for those years of 1950’s when one was in the salary strata of Rs. 200/- or Rs. 225/- you had to cut every corner of expense to protect oneself from anything unseen cropping up. Besides, it was a fact that the mere bottle of the refreshment costing Rs. 2/- was 1% of the gentlemen’s salary!

And it so happened that the unseen was cropping up. The unseen was actually happening. By the year of 1969, the Communists grew in might in Aden. Waiting and watching, Bharat Bhai fled the place to save his life from the bubbling unrest. Luckily, Induben was in India and he fled to North Yemen’s town, Taiz. The 18 hour trek to Taiz was on horse back, pony back, and in a jeep. The year was of April 1971 – a turning curve to move him to Saudi Arabia to establish a secure home for living. ‘We lived in Jeddah’, Bharat Bhai reminiscences and so does Induben. ‘There was hardly any Gujarati business community there, and no vegetarian Indian restaurants. At our home, we were fortunate to receive many of our county-fellowmen and serve Indian food to them. It was a rarity in those days to see a woman in a saree in Jeddah.’

Apart from doing business in Jeddah, Bharat Bhai had been making trips to Dubai from 1960 onwards, and found the UAE a very suitable place to come and settle down with his growing family. So, he arrived in Dubai in 1983. He still visits Saudi Arabia and the Shah couple possesses fond memories of Jeddah. Both of them are fluent in speaking the Arabic language. They have not forgotten Aden either; Bharat Bhai went in detail to describe the small region of Crater within Aden. He explained to me why the area is named as Crater. Apparently, in the lap of an ancient extinct basin, humans began to live and multiply over here. ‘I think it was the hottest place on earth, my bachelor accommodation was in a very, very hot room with one fan and 26 persons sharing the facility. That’s how people like us lived.’ Bharat Bhai states in an easy tone.

Today, like yesteryears, the Shahs continue to travel to places, dividing their time mainly between Dubai and India. They are supremely frank to tell about the origin of their struggles; their manner of describing their experiences deserves praise for their perennial positive attitude. Their zest for life comes in great measures by getting concerned about others and making sincere efforts to help them. Bharat Bhai’s concluding statement was, ‘In Aden, I joined social organizations as a smallest volunteer. During this period, I learnt a lot, including English from my seniors and colleagues. In spite of being away for India, I am a staunch Indian in my way of thinking. I am believing in the Gandhian principles, using Indian utility products all the way. Side by side, I respect my adopted land. The rulers of UAE are wise and kind. I also believe service to humanity means that God has put you in this special level.’

With a namaskar, (Indian way of greeting) I left Bharat Kumar Shah’s office. I had the strong idea that he had everything that he wished life to give him.

Q 1. What has been the turning point of your life?
A.   When I saw all the disadvantages in me, I decided to lift myself up. I had no money, no personality, no opportunities of any formal education. I felt, literally, like an insect. That was the turning point of my life. My dialogue with Almighty was that I would strive and achieve everything not in my possession.

Q 2.  If you could go back in time, what would you want to do?
A.    I have really achieved and it seems God has understood my feelings. I have a good spouse in Indu, good children. I have been happy, content in what I have been doing.

Q 3. What are your future dreams?
A.   It is my wish to die vertical, not in the horizontal position – in my home town. I want to go back to India and work in Gujarat, mainly in Saurashtra. I can fit in the role of helping social organizations who are calling me. I have done my duty as an NRI in the Gulf and now I want to discharge my duties for the down-trodden in India.



Extended & Enlarged Version of Mr. Bharat Kumar Shah – Chairman of Al Mustaneer Trading Company, Dubai, U.A.E.

Professional Background: Coordinator, Speaker for Gulf NRI Seminars held in Bahrain, Dubai (UAE), New Delhi (India). Keynote Speaker to the Business Advisory Council, Kuwait. Main Speaker on NRI matters in Aden (Yemen). Presented several memorandums to committees including, to the standing committee of Indian Parliament visiting Dubai. Appeared on several TV channels, which depict his social work. Presented papers in Joint Seminars organized by FICCI & Overseas Indian Economic Forum, New Delhi (India). Organizer of Indian Cultural Shows in Dubai (UAE). Convenor, NRI Cell, Indian Business & Professional Council, Sharjah.

Q 1.  In your view, what is most important in life? Accordingly, name three aspects, important in life.
A.  Service to humanity. No negative theory in life. Outspokenness with bold and clean behaviour.

Q 2.   If you were not doing what you are doing now, what would you be doing?
A.   My earnest wish right from my childhood till today is only to give my entire life for the upliftment to the downtrodden and underprivileged people of my country, for whom I would have expected to be attached with strong, good NGO’s in India.

Q 3.   What motivates you to achieve your goal?
A.  Napoleon’s well-known phrase: “Nothing is impossible in the world”.

Q 4.  How do you handle stress and pressure?
A.     In my opinion, words like ‘stress’ and ‘pressure’ are manmade gimmicks. In countries where the Government takes care of everything and everybody, there is more likelihood of people being unwell in those very countries of the world. To avoid stress and pressure, I would use one known proverb in Hindi – “KAL KAR SO AAJ KAR AAJ KARSO – AB KAR” (Concentrate on the present, rather than on tomorrow – to achieve your goals).

Q 5.   Which of your qualities would you want to pass down to your child/children?
A.    Generation gap is so much that even if I have to pass down my qualities, they will not accept – as the whole world has become self-centered. However, I am happy that my both sons have accepted my character of being honest and fair in dealings.

Q 6.  Who is your favourite author? Which book of your favourite author have you enjoyed the best?
A.     Ramanlal Vasantlal Desai, Zaverchand Meghani, Gunvantrai Acharya are my favourite Gujarati authors. Since I have very little knowledge of English literature, I read only books of well-known authors in vernacular – Gujarati language.

Q 7.   What are you pursuing currently, by the way of a light hobby, or by the way of a serious goal?
A.   When I was young I had no money and time to have any type of hobby and today, when I have everything I have no time for it. I, of course enjoy Hindi movies and their songs.

Q 8.   In the last 1 year, is your particular goal advancing? Which is that goal/dream?
A.    In last one year, I have achieved all my goals by performing service to humanity and organizing cultural activities for Indians in general and Gujaratis in particular – in Dubai, UAE.


To view the award photographs of Mr. Bharat Bhai Shah, kindly click on http://geetachhabra.com/photo_news/Awards-for-Achievements-of-Bharat-Kumar-Shah.php

 

Geeta Chhabra


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