Different Dialogues : Interview with Extended & Enlarged version of Mr. Maghanmal Pancholia’s Interview – Chairman of Arabian Trading Agency, Dubai, U.A.E.

This is the time of paying homage to Maghanmal J. Pancholia.


While I was writing the following content – I felt, in a closer communion – like a spiritual communion with the great man, Maghanmal J. Pancholia ji who passed away on 2nd September 2019 at the City Hospital, Dubai.  He was 95 years of age.


Undoubtedly, he was a prosperous entrepreneur and a stalwart of the Indian community in Dubai; he shared the responsibility of playing his honorable role in serving his adopted home – Dubai-UAE, and nurturing his roots originating from Thatta, belonging, then, to the undivided India.  By doing so, his heartfelt desire to serve his community was also fulfilled and he was in close touch with his motherland-India. 


My earliest contact with Pancholia ji was in the year 2013 when I was privileged to take his interview for my blog www.geetachhabra.com Later, in 2015 I posted the review of his book: FOOTPRINTS. Afterwards, every time I met him, I discovered how amazing his memory was in capturing the times when Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum ruled in Dubai. 


Around six months ago, I was sitting with Pancholia ji at his office located in Bur Dubai to have another interview with him.  As always, I could not decide how much of what I had to ask him because, he was so quick and crisp in scrutinizing my questions, and I was the eager beaver thirsting for knowledge on Dubai of former times.


‘My father’s father was Lalchand ji, and he probably came to the UAE in 1850s or 1860s; possibly he had no passport,’ Pancholia ji began. 


‘I’m the only surviving son – in total we were five brothers and four sisters – in fact, I am the only surviving sibling, and now I am 94 years old,’ he said with a smile.


I replied, ‘Sir, you look remarkably well, thank God for the good health you enjoy.  Your faculties are that of a fit sixty year old.’


‘This morning I walked three kilometers,’ he responded back with gratitude for the Almighty in his tone.


‘You believe in God?’ I quizzed.


‘How can I not believe in God? My father opened a temple in Sharjah 100 years ago, and 20-25 years later – the temple was shifted to Dubai.’


He narrated a touching incident about a book given to him by a lady – the book was on Vallabhchari – the spiritual guru who was the last of the Acharayas from his lineage in southern India. This lady and Pancholia ji’s father – Jethanand ji were also followers of Vallabhchari. ‘This book was written by the lady’s father and there were no takers for this spiritual book – at least, forty years back.  Out of sheer faith and joy, my radiologist son’s father-in-law and I bought all the 400 books.’ 


I could see a child-like smile radiating on Pancholia ji’s face!


Undoubtedly, he was a man who believed in sharing his wealth in numerous social causes.  In his lifetime, Pancholia ji adopted the village, Menar in Rajasthan.  In Kandivli-Mumbai, a degree college of commerce, and a high school are running; a home for destitute girls – “Balika Sadan” in Jaipur-Rajasthan is established.  He instituted an annual award to honour social workers.  In Mumbai at Mahavir Nagar, P.J. Pancholia High School is recognized. There are two wedding halls in Jogeshwari-Mumbai.  I understood that there is also an auditorium for Sardar Vallabhai Patel School in Kandivli-Mumbai with a capacity of seating 800 people.  In Madhya Pradesh, a vocation training wing and a public school have been jointly created.  


During this morning, we touched a number of topics, including, snippets about the era of the 1960s.


Pancholia ji said, ‘During that time, there used to be a British Political Agent – who found Indian names were too long to pronounce, and that is understandable.  Talking about long names, all Arabs preferred to make Indian names “short”.  My eldest brother, Narain Das was popularly called: Naru; I became Maghaba, ba meaning, brother.     


Pancholia ji spoke most fondly about Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Makthoum – whose worthy reference always came up in our conversations. He reminded me of Sheikh Rashid’s magnitude and said, ‘Sheikh Rashid at all times asked us as to what he could do for us.  You can imagine the greatness of this man.’


‘There is a Heritage building in Sharjah which was used by my father – Jethanand ji for forty years as a godown for storing sugar, wheat flour, tea – including, other groceries and items, like locks and keys.  This building was constructed with stones brought from Sharjah Creek.  ‘Gutch’ – a cementing agent to bond the stones was from Abu Musa Island,’ he revealed.


Pancholia ji mentioned the names of Muhamad Hamadi and Rashid Bukhas.  He said, ‘Rashid Bukhas is a historian connected with Dubai Municipality for more than eighty years, and it was from him that my mobile number was tracked for connectivity; this is how Muhamad Hamadi from Abu Dhabi Heritage Tourist Department and Research called me because his centre had received a call from Sharjah Heritage Department, stating that the London Department of Heritage had asked if Jethanand Pancholia’s surviving descendants are still in the UAE.  Is this not an interesting story?’ Pancholia ji said smilingly. 


I definitely agreed with him and said, ‘You and me can see how important it is to keep a tab on history. The second important thing is to keep recording history. The information you are giving me right now will be cherished by so many, because I will record it to pass it on; this type of evidence is like sharing: light or, it is similar to building small steps to link the past and the present.’


My reply had certainly given me conviction of my beliefs, and I could see a pleased expression on Pancholia ji’s face.


He carried on.  ‘There is so much to tell you of those old struggling years when Dubai and Sharjah had so little water, electricity was scarce, and look now – the rulers have done such a great job of development.  The people who came during my time, or, at the time – when my father and grandfather arrived here – they and us experienced many, many hardships.  The ladies who participated in those challenging periods must also be admired.’


I was hearing Pancholia ji’s swift and clear messages and taking notes on my pad to keep up with his pace. 


After this interview I went to Mumbai for an extended time.  When I returned here in June 2019, I must have thought at least a dozen times of either seeing Pancholia ji, or, at least, giving him a call to pay my regards.  Somehow, I missed on both! I was caught in the grip of family duties, and completing my forthcoming book.  


I guess there should be no regret or remorse kept in our hearts – Maghanmal J. Pancholia went with his boots on – and his soul is eternal.  I am sure he is in the best place.    


Interview with Extended & Enlarged version of Mr. Maghanmal Pancholia’s Interview – Chairman of Arabian Trading Agency, Dubai, U.A.E.


Receiver of Life Time Achievement Award from MASALA Publications in 2011.  Elected Hon.  Chairman of Mercantile Hindu Community of Thatta (Sind), Dubai from 1978-2008.  Founder and Permanent Trustee of the India Club, Dubai.  Nominated to the Al Maktoum Hospital Board, as a representative of Indian Community from 1965-1980 by British Political Agent. Formed Indo-Arab Electricity Company to supply Electricity to Dubai Side from 1957-1961. Elected Director of Dubai Electricity Co, founded by H. H. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum (Late Ruler of Dubai) from 1961-1980 till the company was nationalized.  Nominated by H. H. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum (Late Ruler of Dubai) to the board of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry from 1965-1980.  Nominated by British Court as a member of the Jury in 1970.  Elected President of Indian Association, Dubai in 1961-1968.  Again re-elected President from 1986-1990 for a cumulative period of 12 years.  Founder, Chairman Emeritus of Indian High School, Dubai.  Established Educational and Community Welfare Institutions in India.  An avid reader.

Quite recently, (on 30th June 2018), when I was sitting at the office of Maganmal J. Pancholia, he and me, knew that we were going to discuss what the UAE was in the 1950s, or even much earlier than that.


Maghanmal J. Pancholia has been a successful entrepreneur, and is considered a stalwart of the Indian community in Dubai.  Perhaps, he is the oldest member living in the UAE, and it is my great privilege to hear him share his experiences with me and my readers.


He talked of the time when he left his beloved Thatta in undivided India. 


He always takes quiet pride in being a Thattai Bhatia. 


‘You see, our small community of 250-300 people were coming to the UAE since 300 years.  Our male members would stay here for six months, and then go back to their families because there was no infrastructure for the women and the kids – the conditions were hard.  Those times were very different from what it is now.  Usually, the set up was like this – the shop was below and the living accommodation was upstairs. This is how business went on – close to where we slept and cooked.’ 


I asked Pancholia ji about the source of water during that era. 


He replied, ‘I would even go to Sharjah to fetch water.  FALAI was the spot to get fresh water from.  At that time camels and donkeys were used for transportation.’ 


He further added, ‘I came here in 1942.  Water was very scarce in my time, kuccha wells, about 8 ft in depth were dug. These wells produced water for our drinking and household purposes. To dig a well did not take time, but, the trouble was that these kuccha wells would become obsolete after a week or ten days. Sea water would seep into them, sand would clog them. But we had no other choice, really. We kept digging.’


Pancholia ji drew more memories from his past. He said, ‘The currency in those days was the Indian Rupee.  Taxis charged Rs. 1/- for a trip to Dubai from Sharjah.  The taxi driver would not leave until there were enough passengers for his vehicle, and the wait could be long for us unless we were ready to pay the remaining fare to the driver.’


As much as Pancholia ji was possessive of his past, he was equally keen to link it with the present.  ‘Look! How swiftly the UAE has developed.  See! The whole look of this place has changed due to the vision of the leaders.’


I give a strong nod to show that I have the same belief. 


‘How good is your Arabic?’ I asked.


‘I can speak Arabic which is more like “working Arabic.” My elders spoke this type of Arabic which was related to their business transactions.’

‘Business transactions can be complex.  Could this “working Arabic” work out for contracts and other official documents?’ This was my other question.


‘Oh, yes, it all worked out.  By and large, there remained a feeling of trust between us and the locals.  You won’t believe it, but some legal documents were signed having nicknames, and that was perfectly ok. The locals had difficulty in pronouncing our Indian names, nicknames were easier.  So, on the business contracts, a person with the name Bhagwan could be addressed as Bhagu and so on.’   


I was thinking… History is such an integral part of mankind.  It is never enough for any of us to revisit history – because the more one knows about it, the more one wants more of it. I have read: FOOTPRINTS – Memoirs of An Indian Patriarch.  The book never stops to fascinate me, but talking face-to-face with the man whose autobiography it is… was another type of an experience.


Pancholia ji was amazing me with all this information. 


With every new question I asked him – there was a revived elation on his face. He told me, ‘In those times of 1950s, business premises used to cost Rs. 100/- per annum.  As I told you, the Indian rupee was the currency, and rents were raised every year.  If a tenant felt that the landlord was hiking the rate, he could seek Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum’s help.’


‘Were you able to see Sheikh Rashid in those days?’


‘Yes, yes.  I met him many times. We went to H.H. Sheikh Rashid if we had problems, he would readily help us. One had to go to his office and seek an appointment.  I got to meet Sheikh Rashid more frequently than my older brother and father.  They were based in Sharjah, and they would get the opportunity to meet the grandfather of the present ruler, Sultan Bin Muhamad Al Qasimi, commonly known as Sheikh Sultan III.’ 


At the end of the interview, he said with great warmth, ‘The UAE rulers were always good, and now, though times have changed and the UAE has expanded widely in terms of business, space, population… in spite of all this, the leaders continue to be good. I’ll tell you about the hospitality of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum – Deputy Ruler of Dubai. Once, at Eid celebrations, I’d gone to convey my greetings to him.  He was so observant to make me comfortable.  He even remembered that I am a vegetarian!  He told his people to serve me vegetarian dishes.’


Pancholia ji also mentioned with deep affection the name of his parents – Jethanand Lalchand Pancholia and Totabai Jethanand Pancholia, who were instrumental in his coming to the UAE.

Here, I am taking the liberty to copy the Dedication Note which is from Maghanmal J Pancholia’s book, FOOTPRINTS. 


The Dedication Note says:
To Thatta, a home I can never leave behind 
To Dubai, a home I can never let go
To my family and friends
To my parents


It was a dialogue which I will cherish. 



On 31st October 2014, Mr. Maghanmal Pancholia celebrated his 90th birthday at Samaya Ballroom, Ritz Carlton, DIFC in Dubai.   As a single great community, his family members, friends, business associates, under a variety of ages and designations came to shower their wishes upon him. 


As a guest, at the event, my stay was brief due to a prior commitment.  However,  I clearly observed there was all the evidence that Mr. Maghanmal J. Pancholia’s lifestyle will keep him evergreen in mind and soul – in the coming years. Besides, the goodwill which he enjoys, the blessings of the public is going to bestow upon him many healthy years ahead.


My pen gives me place to talk very fondly of him – the grand old man.  On many an occasion, I have witnessed how humble he is: the purity in his humility is the main essence of his great persona.

After some days, Pancholia ji, subsequently, sent me an email as follows which highlights an important and beneficial message not only for me but for all my readers.


Dear Smt. Geeta Chhabra,


In our function on 31st October while you had left, someone asked me the secret of my good health at this stage.  I replied that Geeta Chhabra had once asked me the same question to which I replied, ‘Prevention is better than Cure’, and Gandhi ji used to say ‘Don’t live to eat but eat to live’.


And, in my case, I have two doctors in my family: Dr. L.M. Pancholia – Radiologist & Dr. Rajesh Rai Pancholia – Cardiologist.  Apart from that I have 6 free doctors from God (Nature) – which I described in reply to the audience.  I follow them – the 6 free doctors, they are: Sunlight, Water, Air, Diet, Exercise and Rest.


Profound words from Mr. Maghanmal J. Pancholia!






In conversation with Mr. Maghanmal Pancholia – Chairman of Arabian Trading Agency, Dubai, U.A.E., which appeared in the month of June 2012.


Receiver of Life Time Achievement Award from MASALA Publications in 2011.  Elected Hon.  Chairman of Mercantile Hindu Community of Thatta (Sind), Dubai from 1978-2008.  Founder and Permanent Trustee of the India Club, Dubai.  Nominated to the Al Maktoum Hospital Board, as a representative of Indian Community from 1965-1980 by British Political Agent. Formed Indo-Arab Electricity Company to supply Electricity to Dubai Side from 1957-1961. Elected Director of Dubai Electricity Co, founded by H. H. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum (Late Ruler of Dubai) from 1961-1980 till the company was nationalized.  Nominated by H. H. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum (Late Ruler of Dubai) to the board of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry from 1965-1980. 


Nominated by British Court as a member of the Jury in 1970.  Elected President of Indian Association, Dubai in 1961-1968.  Again re-elected President from 1986-1990 for a cumulative period of 12 years.  Founder, Chairman Emeritus of Indian High School, Dubai.  Established Educational and Community Welfare Institutions in India.  An avid reader.


One late morning in Dubai, I had gone to see Mr. Maghanmal J. Pancholia at his office to pay my regards.  What I was thinking at the time of my visit, I want to share.  I was reflecting: a platform is offered to all of us in life.  Individually, it is up to us to choose a role and make it to the dedicated goal.  My mind was clear crystal, as I already had the understanding how well Maghanmal Pancholia has played the chosen role and reached the objectives of his fine accomplishments.


Maghanmal Jethanand Pancholia was born in the year 1924 in Thatta (now in Pakistan).  Loyal to the core to his ancestral background, Maghanmal Pancholia was quick to express his sentiments to me.  ‘I’m proud to be an Indian, a Sindhi, and a Thattai Bhatia.  I love to mention about my community first, before I speak about myself.  At the same time, I am also attached to my adopted home, Dubai, and respect its culture.’  He narrated how generations of Thattai Bhatias have been coming to UAE formerly “Trucial States”. 


People from the Trucial States were coming to Thatta (which was an inland port before Karachi) to sell their products and purchase food items and other general stuffs.  In return, they were inviting the Thattai Bhatias to come and invest in their pearl industry and the rest is history.  Thereby, an important inter-link with the future was established.  Later on, to know more about the historic place of Thatta, late His Highness Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum and late His Highness Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum personally visited Thatta in 1937 and in mid of 1960, respectively.


One of Maghanmal Pancholia’s earliest memories of the Indian community is of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the late ruler of Dubai, creating bonds of brotherhood by visiting the homes of Indian merchants during festivals of prominence, such as, Diwali.  As is the case till today, the ties between India and UAE have remained immensely cordial.


It was most interesting, the way Maghanmal Pancholia, described the days of the past, when the chief hub for Indians was centered around the Jama Mosque and the souk in Bur Dubai.  He told me of Sheikh Rashid’s majlis, which was a salient feature of getting together people for purposeful discussions.  On one of his nearly-recent-time-visit to Mr. Juma Al Majid’s majlis, the host pointed at Maghanmal Pancholia and said to those present, ‘They were the first people to set up a money exchange enterprise in Dubai.’ 


If it were not for Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India Movement in 1942, Maghanmal Pancholia might have stayed on in India, because he was very keen to pursue higher education after his school.  As waves of violence and unrest engulfed different regions of undivided India, Maghanmal Pancholia’s college days abruptly ended for forever, and he was advised by his elders to join his father, Jethanand L. Pancholia in Sharjah.  His mother, Totabai, would permit her son to sail away to join her other members of the clan, because a Thattai Bhatia had to be Gulf bound!  So, young Maghanmal got on to a Chinese cargo ship, after paying a fare of Rs.23/- (half American $, 1 Dhs 50 fils) to arrive in Sharjah after 8 day voyage. 


There was no looking back after that as Maghanmal Pancholia has spent around 71 years of his life in UAE.  Versatile in the Arabic, Persian and few Indian languages, he also added, ‘In fact, I have hardly spent a cumulative period of 5 years in India after partition’.


When the massive global depression of the 1930’s ruined all businesses in the Region of Gulf, the Pancholia family’s business of pearling also took a dive.  The dive virtually landed the enterprise to crash heavily with money losses in every sense.  It is at this time, that the true spirit of vision and endurance surfaced within the ranks of the Pancholia clan.  Switching over with inventiveness, like, importing food supplies, spices from India, and later diversifying into textile import from China, Japan and India gave the kindred a fresh, new lease for survival.  It seems evident that essentially, the prerequisite for the members was fair ethics in work and development. Thus, by and by, the group revived, and later began to flourish. 


During the course of our conversation I had far too many queries.  Maghanmal Pancholia would stop with attentive patience and say to me in an easy, light-hearted manner, ‘Ah, this is a good question.’ With that, he was always forthcoming in introducing additional, interesting episodes and how UAE moved on and on – to its progressive direction under the statesmanship of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum and Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.


In reference to this interview, I must mention the book published by Motivate Publishing: FOOTPRINTS – Memoirs of an Indian Patriarch – as narrated to Vasanti Sundaram by Maghanmal Pancholia.  The book goes very far in providing a part of history and heritage of Indians and Emiratis.  To quote the narrator: ‘The past, indeed draws you deeper and deeper into its recesses telling you it is alive, pulsating the same vigor, long after you thought it was forgotten and put to rest’.


I will say this: A man of Maghanmal Pancholia’s stature – who has delivered so much in the realm of social welfare, both in Dubai and India – be it founding Indian High School, Dubai, or, contributing his time and intelligent vision by the way as a trustee or member on board of several prominent organizations;  being the recipient of Life Time Award from MASALA Publications in 2011 – his shining past is bound to draw us all deeper and closer to the meaning of real values in living. 


I can also conclude with conviction that Maghanmal Pancholia connects with the perennial philosophy that age is no bar, if the mind has the capacity to soar with wellness.  When I asked the 88 year old grand man the secret of his healthy state of well-being, he replied, ‘Prevention is better than cure.  I never overeat, I am regular with my daily walks.’


I will remember Magabha – big brother (as he is fondly addressed), as a personality of subdued stillness: ascertaining the quality of very fine culture.  It would be an understatement to say anything less about him.


Q1. What has been the turning point of your life?

A. After 25 years of my hard business life in Dubai and laying foundation stone of Indian High School in 1968, I decided to see the world and visited 40 countries and met different people and tried to learn.  This resulted in doing something good for the betterment for the people in the field of education, health and social field


Q2. If you could go back in time, what would you want to do?

A. Since I could not pursue higher education, I will like to complete PHD and MBA in various subjects to express myself in writing and in public speaking, towards moral, spiritual and human values.


Q3. What are your future dreams?

A. We have read the history of difficult days of past and are enjoying the present amenities created by advent of science and technologies, research and invention.  I dream of wealthy, strong and peaceful India living in harmony with the world and respect for every culture.


Extended & Enlarged Version of Mr. Maghanmal Pancholia’s interview –Chairman of Arabian Trading Agency, Dubai, U.A.E.


Q 1. In your view, what is most important in life?  Accordingly, name three aspects, important in life.
A. I consider it is important for one to be a successful professional and gain distinction for proficiency. It is also equally important to be financially self-reliant and self-sufficient and be supportive of others. Finally, good character, moral values and courage are prerequisites, traits that every individual must possess.


Q 2. If you were not doing what you are doing now, what would you be doing?
A. At my age, I am fortunate that I can choose to do what I wish. And, I am happy with the choices I have made. So, I will continue seeking to support my family and supporting selfless NGO’s to realize their mission of helping the less privileged.


Q 3. What motivates you to achieve your goal?
A. The fact that I am able to touch people’s lives and inspire them, particularly the younger generation, to be good role model motivates me to wake up every morning and look forward to the day. When I look back at my life, I see a journey well-travelled. I am glad that the journey is continuing to progress at a steady pace, with the blessing of good health and positive attitude.


Q 4. How do you handle stress and pressure?
A.  We live in a world where each one wants to excel the other one, hence the stress. If only we looked at the plight of the less fortunate, we would certainly feel more blessed and less pressured.


Q 5.Which of your qualities would you want to pass down to your child/children?
A. I subscribe to the paradigm – ‘simple thinking, high living’. I would like everyone to inculcate my determination to remain modest and honest.


Q 6. Who is your favourite author?  Which book of your favourite author have you enjoyed the best?
A.  Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and his book Bhagwad Gita are my all-time favorites.


Q 7. What are you pursuing currently, by the way of a light hobby, or by the way of a serious goal?
A. I continue to walk and do pranayama everyday to keep myself physically fit. In order to remain mentally agile, I also read books on philosophy and spirituality. Reading newspapers and viewing TV to keep myself abreast of world affairs is also another must-do.


Q 8. In the last one year, is your particular goal advancing?  Which is that goal/dream?
A. I have always aspired to further the cause of education without seeking to make profit. I think I am achieving my goals in this regard. We inaugurated our third campus with the opening of the International Indian High School Dubai at Dubai Silicon Oasis. We are also considering the establishment of one more school. I am happy that my work is being recognized through distinctions such as the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from Masala Publication. For this, I have to thank all those people who have placed their trust in me through the years and stood by me to help me realize my dreams. I consider “VIDHYA DHAN UTTAM DHAN”.


To view photographs of the event on 31st October 2014, celebrating the 90th birthday of Mr. Maghanmal J. Pancholia, kindly click on http://www.geetachhabra.com/photo_news/Birthday-Celebrations.php


The diarist, Geeta Chhabra, took the interviews earlier in 2012 & 2013 for www.geetachhabra.com



        Geeta Chhabra
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