Different Dialogues : Interviews with Extended & Enlarged Interviews of Surender Singh Kandhari – Founder & Chairman of Al Dobowi Group, Dubai (UAE).

On the morning of 11th November 2019, I was at Guru Nanak Darbar in Jebel Ali-Dubai, bowing and offering my humblest prayers at the sacred alter – with the loveliest feeling I know.  The aura of the temple is like the canvas of a devotee’s fancy – the hues are embossed with divine wakefulness and light; their proportions certainly bring a kind of a magnetic energy for the faithful. Undoubtedly, the unimaginable vibrations of holy places are such!


That morning, for an hour, or, more, I was privileged to hold dialogues with Surender Singh Kandhari and his spouse, Bubbles Kandhari, collectively – as regards to their recent visit via the Kartarpur corridor which coincided with the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji – the founder and first Guru of Sikhism.


Kandharis were in the first ‘jatha’ – delegation to travel on 9th November 2019 with India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan to pay felicitous tribute to Guru Nanak Dev ji, who lived for 18 years until his demise (1539) in Kartarpur.

Surender Kandhari said, ‘The idea of the Kartarpur corridor was initially thought about by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif in the year 1999, when the two leaders were Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, respectively. Now all of it has become a reality, and Prime Minister Modi thanked Imran Khan for understanding India’s sentiments for the holy place.’  


On my asking about the experience of the pilgrimage, Surender Kandhari expressed: ‘Who can deny that it is the first time such a great event has taken place since partition between India and Pakistan – 9th November 2019 is a special date in the history of both nations.’


Bubbles joining us later, said, ‘Fulfilling a long-standing wish of the Sikh community, not only in India, but also worldwide – has thrilled us all.’ 


It is appropriate to mention a few facts on Sikhism; Sikhism is a monotheistic religion, and though established a few centuries ago, has made remarkable social contributions, worldwide. The core fundamentals of a true Sikh are to pray, work and give/share – while keeping the concept of One God in his mind at all times. These fundamentals expect Sikhs to follow the path of universal love and harmony.


Guru Nanak Dev ji (1469-1539) travelled far and wide to preach about the vital importance of peace and deeper understanding among societies. Between 1500 and 1524, he travelled more than 28,00km – most of which was on foot; his childhood companion, Bhai Mardana, a Muslim went with him to most distant lands in five major tours – covering Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Kashmir, Nepal, Delhi, Panipat, Banaras, Sialkot, Sikkim, Tibet, Mecca and some Arab countries. His fifth tour (1523 – 1524 AD) covered regions within Punjab.


Guru Nanak Dev ji’s message to the masses was to find God through kind and noble acts – rather than by having blind faith in the corrupted systems of priest, pundits, mullahs and qazis. He was against casteism and unnecessary religious rituals encouraged, to exploit the common man. Meditation, chanting, loving, remembering the Almighty made Guru Nanak Dev ji a Bhakti sage. He played a very important role in the Bhakti movement – he can be considered a Sufi – his religious philosophy, his verse reflects Sufism. Because he combined the noble principles of Hinduism and Islam, therefore, he had followers from both religions.


Surender Kandhari was brisk and genial.  ‘We were getting the feeling that we had come to paradise – the development of Guru Darbar Sahib – Kartarpur is excellent.  We could not imagine that we could be here without any difficulty.  Arrangements from India and Pakistan were excellent – upon our arrival at the holy place, we were in tears!’


It has been interesting to research on how the events of history have taken place, including, the Radcliffe Line which took the decisions on how India and Pakistan would be divided in 1947. Kartarpur lying on the right bank of the river Ravi in Shakargarh tehsil was awarded to Pakistan, while Gurdaspur tehsil on the left bank of Ravi went to India. For many years (until 1965) Indian Sikhs could visit Kartarpur informally, till border control became more strict in regulations; the dialogue process was on for decades to create the “peace corridor” between the two nations but the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks gave a crushing blow to the nature of any progressive strategy. However, in 2018 things began to roll, when the foundation stones for the corridor were laid on the two sides of the border by India’s Vice President, Venkaiah Naidu and Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan.


Bubbles words were, ‘Everyone was charged with emotions.  Indians and Pakistanis chanted Bole So Nihaal – Sat Sri Akaal.’


‘It is a divine place to be seen.  In order to believe in our statement – one has to be there to experience it all.’  The sentiments of the couple were constantly stressing this point.


Matching the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji, a total of 550 people were a part of the first delegation – 500 from India and 50 from outside India. Prime Minister travelled looking a robust Sikh in his colourful turban; he was accompanied by top leaders: Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gurusharan Kaur, Chief Minister of Punjab – Amarinder Singh, the cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu – to name a few; 50 invitations were extended to people from outside of India.  Kandharis went in their capacity as Chairman and Vice-Chairperson of Guru Nanak Darbar in Dubai – which is the biggest gurudwara in the Gulf Region, opened in 2012 – thanks to the generosity of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE & Ruler of Dubai, for providing land in 2008. Today, the entire Sikh community and Indians feel overwhelmingly delighted by this development.


The first gurudwara was built in Kartarpur touching the banks of the river Ravi; the term ‘gurudwara’ coming from the Punjabi language (Gurumukhi) means: the guru’s gateway.  As time went along, from the establishment of the Kartarpur Darbar Sahib in 1521, then onwards, the second Sikh Guru and the rest of them made gurudwaras to spread the preaching of Guru Nanak Dev ji which are enshrined in the cherished Guru Granth Sahib.


Every gurudwara has a main hall (darbar), a community kitchen (langar), and other basic facilities for devotees.  Singing hymns from the sacred book (shabad kirtan) forms the essential kernel to convey the principles of love and brotherhood on which the foundation of Sikhism is strongly structured.  The substance of religious discourses (gurbani) has the quality to unburden mankind from the nitty-gritty affairs of the changing, inconsistent world.  According to the norms of Sikhism, gurudwaras have no idols or statues.


In the case of the gurudwara – Kartarpur Sahib, hundreds of acres of land has been developed – making it the largest Sikh shrine in the world.


Science. Faith.  Logic.  I am a believer of all of them.  Thereby, I believe that the world has to put aside the differences – differences that lead to hatred and violence.  Places of worship (I believe) contain: sensations, vibrations of solid good energy.  People who come to places of worship – think, sing and pray in the glory of God, Allah, Ishwara.  The entire aura in these places possesses manifold powers because these are zones which are miniature power houses of the Almighty.


After my interview, Rajdeep Singh – Manager-Hospitality, took me (on my request) to the museum section.  He said, ‘In our gurudwara – humanity prevails.  People of all faiths come here – Eid, Christmas, Easter, Diwali – we have crowds.’


The morning proved influential for several reasons, creating it into a sublime experience. When I got home, my mind was feeling great hearted; in no time with a pen in my hand, my thoughts were racing to write in what I believe, most:
Aad Sach (He is true in the beginning – before anything (Universe) existed.)
Jugaad Sach (He was true when the ages commenced and has ever been true.)
Hai Bhi Sach (He is also true now.)
Nanak Hosi Bhi Sach (Nanak ji says that He will be certainly true in the future.)


Left to my reflections, my eyes seemed like pin points focused on the marvelous verse... you know how sometimes you see so clearly the thoughts of the writer; I realized more than ever that the Almighty is willing to bear anything from mankind except hatred and violence.


Q 1. What are you looking for in an employee – whether in a corporate culture, or, in the space of Guru Nanak Darbar-Dubai?

A. Being honest, being committed and being a man of good character is what one expects of every human. Integrity is not an easy trait, one has to work hard to be understood as a man of character and integrity. We all want to do our best to prove ourselves but unless we have the will to be upfront and honest we cannot achieve our goals.


Strong teams are built on good ethics and integrity. Work ethics bring professionalism and foster a good culture within the office space. And, good work culture brings in better productivity and results. A leader must ensure good ethics and values are practiced within the organization. Open communication within the organisation is important for any team. Values and ethics are built upon it. The team needs to be clear about the values of work ethic and their aim moving forward. The team leader must ensure clear communication to impart those ethics and to live by them.


As I have always said, if you do not grow, you begin to die, each one from the organization should support other team members in contributing to the growth of the company. Supporting each other is divine as you never know when you’ll need their support in return.


Warren Buffet, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway said it best: “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.”


Q 2. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in his working career, what would it be?
 A. “You have to be dedicated and sincere to yourself. If you don’t cheat others and if you are true to yourself, you will be successful. It’s painful to see how people kill and hurt others.


Always respect your Elders and learn from them. Every day is a day of learning. Knowledge and wisdom comes from the teachings of our Elders and we should take advantage of their Age, experience and knowledge so that we can grow and pass it on to our future generation.


Q 3. Describe a time where you managed a specific challenge and were proud of how you acted and reacted?
A. The idea of the Gurudwara germinated 13 years ago with the growing need of a proper place of worship for the Sikhs, who until January 2012 shared space in the temple premises in Bur Dubai.


“In the Sikh culture and religion, a Gurudwara is central to the community as that’s where we gather and hold our weddings, celebrate births and festivals, mourn deaths, meet each other, eat at the Langar (free community kitchen) and bond as a people to show our care and concern for another.”


“A Gurudwara is not just the house of God for us, it is the life force that ties the whole Sikh community together and our lives revolve around it.  That was missing here, I decided to do something about it and along with other prominent members of the Sikh & Sindhi community in the UAE spearheaded the community’s efforts to build a Gurudwara in Dubai.”


Recalling those days of struggle when we would petition the rulers of Dubai to grant us permission to open a Gurudwara, Kandhari, “It was a long drawn-out process”. We had to explain the concept of the Sikh religion and convince them that it was a basic need of the community.


“It was hard to explain to the officials even the idea of Sangat (community worship) and Langar. I had to translate excerpts from the Sikh holy book the Guru Granth Sahib, and read them out to the officials. I had to tell them that just like followers of Christ and in Islam, Sikhs also believe in one God and everyone is equal in the community.


“In 2008, after six long years of petitioning the rulers, who I must point out always gave us a very patient hearing, we finally had cause to celebrate when His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, very generously gave us the permission not only to build the Gurudwara but he also gave us 25,000 square feet of land absolutely free in Jebel Ali Gardens.”


“His only condition was that the Gurudwara should be number one in the world in keeping with Dubai’s image of being the best at everything with its superlative architecture.”


“I assured His Highness that while I could not give him the number one Gurudwara in the world as that privilege is reserved for the Golden Temple in India, I could certainly ensure that it would be the second best in the world and it would have a wow factor that would have the world talking,” Once we got the land, there was no stopping the 50,000 strong Sikh community and 40,000 Sindhis in the UAE who hail from India and other parts of the world.”


The best engineers, architects, interior designers and construction firms were commissioned and the work began on building an iconic piece of the UAE’s history.The internationally-reputed Dubai-based architect firm Holford Associates, that has built over 20 churches, four mosques and one temple, was entrusted with the task of designing the Guru Nanak Darbar. “Before awarding the contract we asked the architects to visit Gurudwaras around the world, find each one's imperfection and make a perfect Gurudwara in the UAE that would be an iconic landmark serving the needs of the community here,” It took two years for Holford Associates and Paul Bishop Design Associates to give shape to the three storey masterpiece built over 125,000 square feet with three basements, a community kitchen and assembly halls.


In fact, so vital to the project was precision and detail that Paul Bishop and designer Arafeh Bashir visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar to study the frescoes and wall paintings of the Harmandir Sahib.


Five years and Dh 65 million later, mine and my wife’s biggest dream, the most talked about Gurudwara in the world was commissioned on January 17, 2012 with funds raised almost entirely from within the 50,000-strong Sikh and Sindhi community in the UAE.


Q4. How have your efforts and involvement to spread the spirit of ‘Acceptance and Tolerance’ been effective?  Kindly share your experience.

A. It seems only yesterday that I arrived in Dubai. Thirty nine years later I am still here and still count Dubai as my home. 


Dubai has been very good to us and God has allowed us to build a global tyre and battery business based here in Dubai.  We started with the tyre business in Dubai and today sitting in the UAE we are in over 65 countries. In 2011 we have set up the most modern industrial battery plant in the world based in RAK.  The Rulers of this country have provided us tremendous opportunities and we are always genuinely grateful to them.


But the most important opportunity that they have given us is to allow mine and my wife's dream to come true.  On the 17th of January 2012 we opened the first Official Sikh Temple (Gurudwara) in the Middle East in Jebel Ali Village.  It took us 5 years to build and has turned out to be the most modern Gurudwara in the world. Today we are proud at the same time humbled that His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice president and Prime minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai has donated land and encouraged us to make the Gurudwara – which is the greatest symbol of the inter-faith-respect and regard for another. This gesture has been appreciated not only by the Sikhs of Dubai but by Sikhs all over the world. This magnanimous gesture has put a firm seal on a relationship which goes back hundreds of years.

As per our traditions we serve free food from 6am to 9pm everyday to all who come to the Temple.  Everybody, whatever their faith, is welcome to the Temple and enjoy a spiritual experience along with a tasty vegetarian meal.


Dubai has been a place loved by one and all. There are about 200 nationalities living in harmony and enjoying the fruits of good living. The UAE has accepted all castes, nationalities and religions to make it an International and Inter cultural place where all are welcome and can practice their own religion, their own culture and in this way learn to respect one another.


Serving Iftar is not new for Gurudwara Guru Nanak Darbar Dubai as it has always been hosting Iftar every year since 2012 but this year 2019 being the “Year of Tolerance”, Gurudwara Guru Nanak Darbar Dubai decided to host Iftar every single day during the holy month of Ramadan. The year 2019 also marks the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism and the first of the ten Sikh Gurus. Among his many teachings are humility and respect to all of humanity. Sitting and eating together regardless of social status or religious belief is a tradition that emphasizes equality and acceptance. There are a lot of Muslim workers in the Jebel area where the Gurudwara is situated and there are not many places where they can break their fast so the Gurudwara, this year had announced that it will offer Iftar meals to workers in the area everyday during this year’s Ramadan, but the response was so overwhelming and welcoming that people from all walks of life visited the Gurudwara to enjoy the Iftar. Gurudwara is not only a place of worship for the Sikhs but a community centre where people of all caste, creed and religion feel welcomed here at the Gurudwara, any day. We are excited that during Ramadan, the Gurudwara becomes a place of tolerance wherein Muslims and non-Muslims are able to practice their faith – in this way we embrace the value of tolerance by sharing a meal not only with people from our congregation but with people from different faiths as well.


We are indeed most fortunate that we are in the UAE that not only values harmonious coexistence but also upholds these values to be sustained and echoed to the rest of the world. Guru Nanak Darbar Gurudwara will be spreading Guru Nanak’s message of universal brotherhood, peace and service to humanity through such initiatives every year.


The Iftar served at the Gurudwara is termed as “Interfaith Iftar” and is described as a perfect metaphor for the UAE’s melting pot of religions.


Q5. Where do you see yourself after 5 years?

A. Helping society to be tolerant to each other. Serving the community to make a better and happier world.


Keep working – I am not going to retire. I enjoy working, serving and meeting people. If we can make one person smile or happy in one day, we have achieved our mission of serving the society.




One morning of January 2017, I sat in the main sanctum of Guru Nanak Darbar-Dubai sharing the most tranquil moments with my inner being. Out of respect for my ardent faith, I wondered why I didn’t come more often here. The question persisted even after I departed from the holy place. This can be considered either a state of rediscovery or repentance. Either way, my visit gifted me a sense of deep contentment.


Later, the same morning, my interview with Surender Singh Kandhari was complete with the question and answer session of nearly an hour. Not only that, I also requested Bubbles (Surender Kandhari’s spouse) for a separate interview at the same venue –the conference room of the Gurudwara.


When I complimented on the piping hot tea arriving with a paratha and mango pickle, I knew that the best prashad is here to taste. Surender Kandhari joined my comments and said, ‘Bubbles is in charge of the administration.  She works here with passion.’  It was true.  She is an enormous success – be it for the day to day running of the temple, or with the various commemorative programmes taking place throughout the year.


‘You missed the event – we celebrated the 5th anniversary of Guru Nanak Darbar, and we also celebrated the 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh ji,’ I am told by the Kandharis.  I learnt from them that local dignitaries were here, Baba Seva Singh – educationalist, environmentalist came to Dubai for the events.  To share the spirit of the occasions, there is a bunch of photographs shown to me.  As a staunch advocate for peace, I am floored (one more time) to see the Emirati guests participating in those celebrations.  


Prakash Utsav of Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708) is celebrated on January 2017 – he is the 10th Sikh Guru who baptized the Sikhs and created the Khalsa, signifying: The ‘Pure’.


It was Guru Gobind Singh ji, who instructed the Sikhs to follow Granth Sahib as the Guru after him. The Guru Granth Sahibjioffers the broad guidelines on how to live peacefully and harmoniously in society. The holy book contains a total of 5867 hymns in 1430 pages. The 10th Guru was a philosopher, warrior and a spiritual master.


I learnt from Surender and Bubbles Kandhari about the opening of the Museum. ‘The Sikh history of valor can be known to the public through the touch of a button.The Museum sources out precious information for people of all nationalities.  We get people from diverse backgroundsand they are bound to like the facts provided by the Museum,’ Surender Kandhari states with a sense of pride.


My previous interview had taken place in the same conference room in the year 2015.  I wanted to know how Guru Nanak Darbar had progressed because there were many people who have been all praise for the way the place is functioning to serve society.  Surender Kandhari explains with satisfaction, ‘Now, with the grace of God, we have sufficient funds, the first three years required monetary support. But now, marriage anniversaries, naming ceremonies, birthdays take place here.  We’ve had families coming from the UK and India to have functions at the Gurudwara.  People want to be blessed, and they have generous hearts.  For instance, every Monday, we have fresh vegetables sent to us by the Sikh Afghan community who had to leave Afghanistan due to the turmoil there.  They never miss out in sending the vegetables.  There are so many other examples I can give you where people will offer flour, sugar, oil right round the year – of course, we are extremely particular to see the quality of offerings.  We are fully certified with the latest certifications on quality and performance – I am proud to say that our certificationsare the highest among all the existing Gurudwaras of the world.’


He continues, ‘The year of 2017 has been declared as the Year of Giving by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The Tolerance Day will be also celebrated, under the guidance of H.E. Sheikha Lubna Khalid Bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Minister of State of Tolerance, and Guru Nanak Darbar will be an active participant for both the days.We have already pledged to Dr. Hamad Al Shibani – Head of Religious Affairs Committee of Dubai (which works directly under the guidance of the Ruler of Dubai) – AED 1 million.  The leaders of UAE are dynamic, the best part is that the leadership of UAE practices what it preaches.’


I am on the same page as Surender Kandhari. Indeed, UAE is a shining star, a true illustrationtranslating the actual meaning of Islam.


When I ask Bubbles to tell me more about her role, Surender Kandhari is quick to respond on her behalf. ‘As I told you, Bubbles is heading the administration of Guru Nanak Darbar. She spends, on an average, 5 hours per day to supervise that every department runs well. She works harder than me. I am here to welcome dignitaries, or, to see to any specific matter.’ 

‘Do you get many dignitaries?’is my next question.


‘Yes, all the time from near and distant lands – recently the Mayor from Brampton, Ontario-Canada was here. We get delegations and I am here to welcome them. I believe, seva – service can be done in many forms and we have to do it with our open hearts.’


For all the valid reasons, the UAE government has ranked Guru Nanak Darbar on its popular listing of tourism. It is placed number 12 – as a-must-see place of attraction in UAE!


The labour community – the blue coloured workers are the most frequent visitors who come to Guru Nanak Darbar. The spacious chambers provides them the whole world of many things – they can pray, heal, dine and even escape from the grim reality that they are away from their dear ones. The hymns of the Gurus are soothing, their words allow you to believe in yourself and that’s the unique thing about paying respect to holy places… it’s the same with a church, mosque, temple… isn’t it?


I have been thinking – sometimes, we dream and dream… and when we realize our dream, we find ourselves.


Surely, that’s the story of Surender and Bubbles Kandhari. Both must have savoured every type of grape – sweet, sour, ripe, raw… the taste was pointless. The couple simply drinks from the chalice of life… the wine of devotion. I consider that to be a shower of blessings. Others would call it the power of destiny.


Interview with Extended & Enlarged Interviews of Surender Singh Kandhari Founder & Chairman of Al Dobowi Group, Dubai (UAE).


Everyday, people converge at the Guru Nanak Darbar – the Sikh Temple in Dubai-UAE.  Men, women, children come regularly to pray to the Almighty.  Some of the people are visitors who with the thrill of anticipation want to know why the place is considered as an enchanting gem on the map of UAE.  I can imagine travelers standing motionless, knowing they have made a worth-it-trip to understand the meaning of peace and sublime grace after they have arrived at this divine place.


One early morning, in the warm month of September 2015, I was in my car – taking a trip to Jebel Ali where Guru Nanak Darbar is situated.  I was meeting Surender Kandhari – the chairman of Guru Nanak Darbar to catch up with him to learn and understand more about the iconic organization. 


My mind reeled with thoughts of our previous dialogue when we had discussed the making of the temple.  I was returning for another interview after a gap of 19 months.


As I entered the grand building, its towering presence profusely offered me a renewed tranquility.  Once inside, I took off my foot-wear, washed my hands and went towards the grand altar. The sacred Granth Sahib – the holy book rests in radiance over there.  I sunk to my knees, bowed my head on the carpeted floor for blessings that I should come here again and again. 


Such is the charisma of Guru Nanak Darbar!


Within a few minutes after my prayer, I was ushered upstairs by a staff member to the conference room – where I awaited Surender Kandhari’s arrival.  Within no time he was present to greet me with his perennial smile, and we immediately began our interview.


Of course, at the start of our conversation, I hitchhiked back to the earlier interview so that both of us could follow and continue the story-line with a sense of greater clarity.


Surender Kandhari’s opening lines were: ‘Guru Nanak Darbar’s doors are always open to one and all.  Everyone can come – regardless of creed or religion’.  He pauses and begins again: ‘Let’s get together and do something.  Let us promote peace.  This is the need of the hour.  There is One God, only One God.  We must bring peace through religion’.


Over the years, I have discovered that the seed of spiritual inclination is rapidly increasing in Surender Kandhari.  His zest to do more and more for society is very obvious.  No doubt, though he is immersed in large businesses and enjoys a solid standing – the charitable inclination in his nature remains priority.  He is a man who wants to stand solidly for actions which can cement relationships with: harmony and better understanding amongst people of different cultures and communities. 


He is also stout in his belief that peace and greater understanding amongst nations is the most important part of universal life – and more so, today.  I have seen him appreciating with deep gratitude the kind gesture of Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum who gave permission for the erection of Guru Nanak Darbar.   I absorb what Surender Kandhari is saying and re-endorse his thinking.  Indeed, the leaders of UAE are visionaries. They certainly want to do their best to promote peace and progress by building bridges from the spirit of pure positivity.


As an Indian, I also know that the Indian community cherishes the bond between India and UAE. 


Coming back to the subject of strife and turmoil, yes, it is a fact that almost all of us are torn,

disappointed and agonized by the present situation where divisions by hatred and imbalances are causing large scale devastations, universally.  It has become a fact of living that moral values are declining and we need to fix things… and to fix things… each of us has a role to play.  We can make our world a better place, provided, we open the windows of our hearts and conscience. 


Surender Kandhari elaborates on this subject and says, ‘Religions are supposed to bind mankind together.  Is it happening?’ He continues, ‘We must all do our best to bring harmony around us.  We must also change our mindset.  Our slogan should be: Peace and Acceptance, rather, than Peace and Tolerance’.


While we are conversing, a plate of snacks (prepared in the Gurudwara’s kitchen) and tea is served to us.  Without blinking, I go for the hot tea and it is delicious!


With a gaze of thanks, I continue to ask Surender Kandhari several questions – on various topics.  I ask him, ‘How do you balance your business affairs with your goals of self-realization?’


He replies, ‘Modern business trends are very complex.  We are totally professionalizing our business.  My family and me will be on board as directors and advisors’.


I learn about his company’s latest development: The Battery Plant which has been set up most recently in UAE. It is one of its kind! Kays Trading FZCO is a state-of-the-art Automotive Battery Plan with a capacity of: 1.0 million batteries per year.  It is the most modern plant in GCC in collaboration & a joint venture with Exide, U.S.A.


Surender Kandhari has enjoyed additional laurels. In the year 2014, he went as a representative of UAE government to attend G20 Inter-Faith Summit held in the Gold Coast, Australia. In 2015, he was in Malaysia, as a delegate of the UAE government to promote Inter-Faith Harmony and Tolerance.


He draws me back to the topic of peace and harmony.  He shares his thoughts and says, ‘We all have good intentions but few follow up with actions’.


I agree wholly with his statement.  Yes, at the end of the day – who wants strife and war and hatred to reign over us and our families?  Everyone wants to live in a state of harmony. However, wishing alone is not going to bring results.  It is our efforts… individual efforts and team-work that can bring tremendous results. I tell him so, reaffirming my own belief.


Surender Kandhari spoke at length about a peace-program with which he is connected – to achieve success… and success he will achieve, I truly feel!


He spoke about: World Peace linked with HWPL in South Korea.  Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL) is a non-governmental, non-profit organization registered under the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs that transcends differences in culture, beliefs and regions to engage leaders and youth in sustainable and comprehensive solutions for peace.


Moreover, HWPL is committed to community development through volunteer outreach, women advocacy, and cultural and religious exchange through International Women’s Peace Group (IWPG) and youth engagement through International Peace Youth Group (IPYG).


Surender Kandhari beamed and said, ‘You know, as a pledge towards humanity and community development, Guru Nanak Darbar in partnership is linked with HWPL. Speakers from different religious backgrounds come and speak and we have scholars in discussions.


I reflected and said, ‘That is what the Sikh Gurus believed in – the doctrine of Sikhism promotes universal harmony’.


In 2012, in London, Surender Kandhari received an award of “Sikhs in Seva”.  Seva means: Selfless Voluntary Service.  The award came from: The World Sikh Awards, UK.


In the year 2014, the British Sikh Association honoured him by presenting “Sikh Jewel Award”, for his exceptional service, dedication and commitment to the Sikh Community.


On 22nd June 2015, Guru Nanak Darbar invited Al Manar Centre for the second time to continue and promote the Inter-Faith-Dialogue and Iftar.


My interview must include the name of Bubbles Kandhari, spouse of Surender Kandhari.  The lady dedicates long hours for the social activities of Guru Nanak Darbar by handling the administration of the Gurudwara.  Bubbles Kandhari organizes the community-meals, social events, such as, Anand Karaj.   Free food is served daily to approximately 1000 visitors, and on Fridays around 10,000 visitors dine.  During festivals and public holidays the number of diners can soar up to 30,000. People of all religions are welcomed.


Later, long after the interview, I reflected on Surender Kandhari’s statement.  It was a profound one; yes, we must learn to ‘accept’ other faiths. 


If people were to ask me the significant question on: How can we bring the environment of congenial acceptance, where we can respect and understand the value of Inter-Faith-Acceptance?  I would tell the people to keenly follow the remarkable example and efforts of Surender Kandhari!

Yes, it makes complete sense to follow him because he is someone who is outstanding in contributing excellently to society in different wonderful ways! 


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.


Q1. 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.


Q2. 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.


Q3. 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.


Extended & Enlarged Version of Mr. Surender Singh Kandhari’s Interview - 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.


Q1. In your view, what is most important in life?  Accordingly, name three aspects, important in life.

A. 1. Simple living – high thinking.

2. Serving humanity.
3. Keep up your good name – at the end only your name remains; rest all disappears.


Q2. If you were not doing what you are doing now, what would you be doing?

A. I would be a priest – teaching people the good side of life. 

Asking people to be grateful to God Almighty for all what they have.


Q3. What motivates you to achieve your goal?

A. Self-satisfaction & gratitude to God, these two things are most important in my life to achieve my goal.


Q4. How do you handle stress and pressure?

A. I leave it to God.  Whenever I am stressed I say a prayer (Mool Mantar) and I get solace and peace.


Q5. Which of your qualities would you want to pass down to your child / children?

A. Sincerity and dedication to whatever you do.


Q6. Who is your favourite author? Which book of your favourite author have you enjoyed the best?

A. Dale Carnegie.  My favourite book by Dale Carnegie is: How To Win Friends And Influence People.


Q7. What are you pursuing currently, by the way of a light hobby, or by the way of a serious goal?

A. My hobby and passion is Golf.
My goal is to do ‘Sewa’ – service for the under privileged by way of education.


Q8. In the last 1 year, is your particular goal advancing? Which is that goal / dream?

A. My aim in life is to serve the community, serve mankind.  I started a charity in Delhi for orphan kids in 1984 by helping out a few Sikh families.  The charity has grown big and we now educate 30-35 students.  We take care of all their needs – education etc. Some of them are even employed here in Dubai.


We sponsored several students for an Engineering course in Bidar.


We now plan to serve the masses by giving them vocational/technocrat training to the below average level students.


To know more about Guru Nanak Darbar-Dubai-UAE, kindly click on: http://gurudwaradubai.com
To know more about HWPL, kindly click on: http://hwpl.kr


Surender Singh Kandhari, the Chairman of Al Dobowi Group is the author of his autobiography: The Temple of My Dreams.


The diarist, Geeta Chhabra, took the interviews earlier in 2014, 2015, 2017 for www.geetachhabra.com