Different Dialogues : Mr. Surender Singh Kandhari

In conversation with Mr. Surender Singh Kandhari – Founder & Chairman of Al Dobowi Group, Dubai (UAE).

Educational Background: Graduated with Honours in Commerce from Loyola College, Chennai (India).

Professional Background: He is the Chairman of Guru Nanak Darbar – Jebel Ali, Dubai.


Silhouetted against the expanding skyline of Dubai – a regal landmark stands in tranquility – embossing the true spirit of UAE. Every time I go there, I am mesmerized by the aura of the place. From then on what I am enjoying is a tremendous mood of fulfillment and peace.

Having myself known the importance of visiting holy abodes, I have always respected and understood the spiritual sentiments which are attached to sacred monuments.

I felt a surer faith of relevance, when I thought: what could be a better place to have a dialogue with Surender Singh Kandhari – than under the roof of a holy shrine? More so, when the gentleman has been privileged to be associated with the whole developing scheme of the Gurudwara…Guru Nanak Darbar. He saw it developing from the first brick to the last! In every sense of the word, Surender Kandhari has carried the responsibility with wishing extended prosperity of Indo-UAE friendship – through the birth of Guru Nanak Darbar.

Second only to The Golden Temple in Amritsar (India), Guru Nanak Darbar Gurudwara located in Jebel Ali, South West of Dubai, flourishes to remember and narrate the lineal philosophy of wise rulers, like: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who has been gracious to grant permission for constructing the revered Sikh shrine.

It seems, by the will of God Almighty, Surender Kandhari was the ‘chosen’ man to start and complete the monolithic project. I learn from him, amidst other governing yardsticks of principles, once the basic concept of sangat and langar - spiritual congregation and community meals was explained, and how the ideas of equality in Sikhism match with Islam, were exchanged with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs – things began to roll in a systematic order to commence the erection of the blessed sanctuary.

Surender Kandhari exclaims in appreciation, ‘The permission is one thing, but His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum gave us 25,400 sq. ft. of free land – for the community.’

He tells me in a committed tone, ‘The making of the Gurudwara – it was literally, a journey to the unknown for me. Sheikh Mohammed’s generosity and tolerance towards other religions is very commendable. He has always respected other nationalities and different cultures.’

This is a well-known fact. Thus it is this philosophical foresight and tolerant approach of the Emirati Leaders – which is providing boost to the advancement in UAE. I would say that Islam is displaying what is true of Islam! Of course, Guru Nanak Darbar Gurudwara is not the only example in evidence – in the region.

During our racy discussion in the Conference Room, over delicious snacks and tea prepared in the Gurudwara’s modern eatery – talks on different subjects began. More specifically, I was now focused on the life and achievements of Surender Kandhari. For part of the interview, his spouse, Bubbles sat with us. The lady herself is devoted in serving the community by giving many regular hours in supervising the various social events, like, kirtans, weddings, meals, prayers – the routine of this nature is continuously taking place in the holy premises.

Surender Kandhari is a well-respected Indian businessman in Dubai, who has taken his company’s operations to 65 countries in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia and North America. He is the founder and chairman of the Dubai-based Al Dobowi Group in the business of tyres and retreading. Apart from this, Al Dobowi is in the field of batteries and rubber products. The group’s leading brand partners are: CEAT, Good Year, Pirelli, Caltex, Exide, Hankook, Bandag and many more.

Furthermore, Surender Kandhari emerges as a leading global player in integrated tyre management, batteries, lubricants, conveyor belt systems, and technical rubber products. Taking the group into its next phase of growth – he is set to expand Al Dobowi into the South East Asian region, Australia, the UK and India.

As we spoke, I was beginning to realize more staunchly than ever – how well success in business, and spirituality can go hand in hand! This type of a combination has given people an-all-round-contentment. We have numberless examples of men and women who have achieved stunning results – both for themselves and community development, in the process.

This cannot happen overnight because it is like the stages in metamorphosis – a gradual process of transformation … a change over a period of time. For the stages of metamorphosis, there are factors and influences which are responsible in gradually shaping the newness.

This is exactly how Surender Khandari evolved – taking me back to his grandfather Atma Singh’s profile – who himself had helped build a Gurudwara in Vijaywada in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh in 1956. He remembers fondly the profile of his grandfather. He states, ‘My grandfather was very religious, and very practical. He did six months of business and spent the rest of his time in charity-projects. He used to say, “What the right hand is giving away, the left hand should not know”. This is how he was.’

I could easily make out that the childhood impressions for community service left a deep positive mark on Surender Kandhari.

Interestingly and historically, Surender Kandhari’s paternal grandfather moved from Pakistan to Kandhar – in Afghanistan. It is at this point, somewhere, the ancestor adopted the surname ‘Kandhari’ from the fond recognition of his new homeland.

Talking about his reasons to shift from India to the UAE, Surender Kandhari says, ‘1976 and the following years offered many opportunities because Dubai was growing. I decided to shift here after having been groomed into the family business.’ Hence, it was a conscious and an independent decision which he took for the big change.

I also understood from him that there were recessionary trends in India by 1974. The climate of the country was tense – politically; some fundamental changes had taken, or were taking place in his life, too. His younger brother had tragically died in a car accident. So, all these factors propelled the young man to move to newer horizons – who by now was already in business for 6 years.

‘Governing laws in Dubai have been very pragmatic and conclusive for good business. This has helped us grow in Dubai for 38 years. We have expanded in China and other international countries,’ Surender Kandhari says with a confident expression.

In our conversation, Surender Kandhari mentions with admiration – names of Dr. Paramjeet Luthra – a mature resident of UAE. He also warmly recalls his association with Ramesh Khanna (retired partner of AF Ferguson & Company residing in Mumbai). ‘He was a godfather to me’. To that I reply, ‘The world is small – he’s my first cousin and we reside in the same building.’

The main topic of the interview again reverts to human faith… sentiments in our beliefs. Surender Kandhari confides with pride, ‘I didn’t ask for any donation for the construction of the Gurudwara. As I followed my dreams of building, support flowed from the community. Today, this is an iconic monument. I simply followed my elders’ example and the example of Mother Teresa.’

He pauses and then repeats, again, ‘The generosity of Sheikh Mohammed is never to be forgotten.’

Hearing these words, I am deeply moved because my first hand experience – as a longtime resident of Dubai brings gratitude towards the local leaders, also. Indeed, they are far-sighted and benevolent in their vision. I also know that the Indian community, especially, the Sikh and Sindhi members are applauding the gift of the Gurudwara!

As regards to the Sikh culture - a Gurudwara is more than a holy shrine. It is the hub – demonstrating and conducting the right-code-for-living to celebrate the spirit of universal harmony. Because Sikhism is based on love and peaceful existence – it does not follow the rigid and narrow theories of blind religious theories which incite unrest. The Sikh spiritual ideology is based on rich values of building society.

The local initiative has certainly reaped a rich harvest! Today, Guru Nanak Darbar Gurudwara is on the map of UAE. Therefore, by the day and the night, the temple is delivering the finest message to the worshippers, and the world. Directly or indirectly, the monument stands tall as a beacon of goodwill and gratitude.

Guru Nanak Darbar Dubai was inaugurated on 17th January 2012 and fully functional now. Construction of the Darbar started from May 2008 and completed in December 2011.

As we drew to culminate our talks, I asked Surender Kandhari, as to what were the key recollections… past memories which he would like to share with me and my readers. He said, ‘We felt we had to respect elders. Ma Piyo di izzat – respect for our parents.’

Later, Bubbles took me for the entire round of Guru Nanak Darbar, including the ultra-modern kitchens, the freezer room, and well-kept storerooms stacking fresh vegetables, spices, lentils and other ingredients that go to make wholesome and full of flavor meals for the langars.

Many weeks later, I was sitting down to compile the salient points of our conversation. Additionally, I had the opportunity to read lines from the revered Granth Sahib, the Sikh Scripture Book. Sentence by sentence, the beauty emerged like the bloom of the most fragrant rose!

“There is One God of all; there is no other at all. By Guru's Grace,
the Lord comes to abide in the mind; in the heart of such a one, He is revealed”

“The One God is pervading and permeating each and every heart;
the Name of the Lord, Har, Har, is revealed to the Gurmukh.”


Beautiful words … shining light on those who believe in them.

Q 1. What has been the turning point of your life?
A. First turning point was when I got married to a wonderful partner – Bubbles and this changed my outlook to life. I became more responsible, mature and caring. My moving to Dubai to expand our business was the second turning point. I became more international in my outlook and Dubai gave me the opportunities to grow professionally, commercially, financially and socially. The last turning point was the establishment of the first Gurudwara in Dubai with the help of all the community. This made me very spiritual.

Q 2. If you could go back in time, what would you want to do?
A. I would love to be a preacher. I would love to lead people to the right path of life. With the modem ways of corruption, scandals and extravagancies, I feel people are not making use of a beautiful life given to them by the Almighty. We should be grateful to God for the wonderful life we have, and we should start thanking HIM – instead of complaining always.

Q 3. What are your future dreams?
A. Serve humanity and the community while I still continue to be in my business career. I would not like to retire and do nothing. I would rather work, strive to higher goals and learn everyday about the new developments in technology, life and well-being. There is God in every human and if we serve humans we serve God.

Geeta Chhabra



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