JournalismPakistan.com December 2, 2016
It's like yesterday once more. Except that 31 years have slipped under the bridge and we didn't notice. I remember arriving at a small airport, being taken to the Ramada in Bur Dubai and having dinner that first night at Al Ghurair Center, which I was informed was the happening place. For residences you opted for one of the "sands' and if you couldn't afford Jumeirah there was always Karama.
If you drove back from Abu Dhabi you saw the Trade Center somewhere after passing Jebel Ali and you knew you were nearing home. On a clear day you could see forever.
The Defence Roundabout which is now Interchange one had the Toyota Building, the Hilton Apartments and, later, the Dadabhai toy store and nothing else but desert where you could have filmed Lawrence of Arabia.
Life was simple yet stylish and very comfortable, we all had our groups and everyone knew everyone else. There was a wonderful sense of togetherness and it has probably been handed over to the next generation in a more hi-tech fashion but a smaller place in the old days had certain warmth to its intimacy.
And we celebrated every earning of a driving license.
I recall so vividly my kids jumping up and down and pointing at an SUV on Al Wasl Road and the spot where there is now a Life pharmacy and yes, it was Shaikh Mohammed driving his vehicle and waving back. A bunch of young wives once 'accosted' him at a restaurant at the Intercon on the Corniche and he obligingly posed for photographs with all of them. Once we had Shaikh Ahmed as the chief guest at an international aviation conference at the Airport Meridien and we were 400 delegates and the committee at the door waiting for him to arrive and no one realized he had parked his car in the public parking area and walked in unannounced and sans any fanfare.
And then there was the business of newspapering. Two kinds of people. Those who read Khaleej Times and those who did not, the first way ahead of the others as the paper slipped the world under their doors every morning.
We had no computers, no mobile phones, no search engines. The library had obit and edit files, the tele printers clacked all day, telex machines chattered, running perforated ribbons of paper and bells rang for news alerts as senior subs spiked stories on sharp copper spears.
News stories came in single lines or maybe two sentences known as takes and the takes were pinned together and 'subbed' (means corrected) with special markings, a language all its own. Color pictures had to be separated and each one took hours to complete. The printers sent us copy known as 'galleys' and then the final strip came and paste up artists stuck them up on huge easels till the page was made. The newsroom was redolent with the smell of ink and wet paper, intoxicating in its own wonderful way.
"Hot off the Press' had real meaning and we had very good writers. Maroof Khwaja, Maher Ali, Tahir Mirza, Almas Alam, Joan Van de Merwe, Marian Benham. The indomitable Joe Senior was the walking cricket almanac, Roger Tuck wrote the finest Monday night squash league column and everyone in journalism (we had no idea what media meant) was a pioneer in a young country, a foreigner weighted with the responsibility of adding solid bricks to the architecture of the Dubai you see today.
Gradually and with the support of the authorities we walked as a profession closer to the water while trying not to get our feet wet. It was by trial and error that we learnt our role in the business of sharing news and dispensing information.
Every now and then Shaikh Hasher, our Minister for Information and the untiring and always accessible Director General Ibrahim Al Abed would invite us for discussions and gently guide us on sensitive issues. It was a truly learning experience and, contrary to speculation, not once do I recall being censored or prevented from giving the news so far as it was not divisive or sensational. The operative word was responsibility.
Mapping that route was an adventure in itself. We had many a victory. Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan gradually opened the windows to carrying police and crime reports and the newspaper industry swiftly became competitive and mature. The sheer pleasure of watching Shaikha Lubna Al Qassimi showing the way and bringing the power of women into the spotlight, her career a beacon and an encouragement to other women to reach for the sky was a staple.
We must have done something right in those early days because it has spawned a thriving multi-media industry. A far cry from Richard Coram and the famous icon of an eagle of Channel 33.
There were many firsts and brought with them great excitement. The throb of the first air show and pride of place as the local press vied on a par with the big boys from Boeing and Airbus and Bombardier. The grandeur of the first shopping festival under the supervision of Mohammed Al Gergawi. The madness of Sharjah cricket and Abdul Rahman super successful Bukhatir's CBFS experiment.
The first Emirates flight in a borrowed 737 with the erudite Maurice Flanagan. And look where it is now. The several meetings with Colm Mclaughin, giving Dubai Duty Free a surge that has never been matched. He is a sport on the squash court and off it. These gentlemen brought the best of tennis and golf to the emirates and we got ringside seats to the PGA and the ATP big events.
Exchanging pleasantries with Mohammed Al Abbar as he did his pushups at the Aviation Club while simultaneously pushing up the rising skyline of Dubai in no uncertain fashion.
There was the Formula 1 power boat racing which started gentle and made a global splash. Who would have thought that we were playing squash regularly at the Chicago Beach Hotel with the young and ever so friendly Shaikh Ahmed who would become the first Emirati to win an Olympic gold.
Our first Dubai Cup race and the thrill of watching US Hall of Fame thoroughbred Cigar gallop home in 1996.
So many grand people, so many wonderful milestones, so little space.
On a day like this, above all things, a salute to the youth of this country, to the intense affection for a broad-based education and a honing of skills that are an investment already paying off. Men and women taking over the reins of their country with zeal and a sense of national pride. What better legacy?
When you look back to look forward you realize that you may one day go out of the emirates but the emirates will never go out of you.
(The writer is a Senior Editorial Advisor of Khaleej Times and the paper’s former Editor. He has also been the Editor of Gulf News, Gulf Today, Emirates Today and Bahrain Tribune)
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