Different Dialogues : Extended & Enlarged Version of Mr. Bharat Kumar Shah's interview

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.

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).

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 Bharatbhai – (as he is fondly known). The octagerian 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,’ Bharatbhai 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.

Bharatbhai 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’, Bharatbhai 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 Bharatbhai, and his job was to count the unloaded, loaded boxes of cargo from ships. One day, an official passing by the jetty, asked Bharatbhai if the cargo was coming from Antwerp. Bharatbhai’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’, Bharatbhai 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.

Bharatbhai 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, Bharatbhai being taken as a partner.

I asked Bharatbhai 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. Bharatbhai 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 BharatBhai’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, Bharatbhai 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’, Bharatbhai 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, Bharatbhai 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; Bharatbhai 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.’ Bharatbhai 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. Bharatbhai’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. Inspite 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.

Geeta Chhabra

Geeta Chhabra Comment Form
Form a link. Comment inside the box below. Your views will be published in a coming edition.