UAE Mourns Sad Demise of Pancholia, Veteran Indian,  Who Brought Electricity to Dubai 
| IOP Desk - 06 Sep 2019

Maghanmal Pancholia Was A Role Model of Indian Diaspora 

 

By Onkareshwar Pandey 

Dubai / Delhi, Sep 06, 2019: UAE is mourning the sad demise of Maghanmal Jethanand Pancholia or Maghaba, as he is referred to by much of his fellow Thathai Bhatia community members, a veteran businessman of Indian origin.

Pancholia was one of the UAE's earliest residents. He is remembered for his contribution to bringing electricity to Dubai in 1957.

The nonagenarian held many high positions and was looked upon as a role model by non-resident Indians. His sad demise is termed as a huge loss for the Indian community in the UAE and for the entire Indian Diaspora.

Pancholia was the founder and permanent trustee of Dubai’s India Club and chairman of the Indian Association Dubai for four terms. He was also elected chairman of Mercantile Hindu Community of Thatta (Sindh), Dubai, between 1978 and 2008.

He launched educational, social and medical institutions in India. His family businesses - Arabian Trading Agency and Maghanmal Jethanand Group - are involved in real estate, electronics, steel, luggage, watches and investments.

“Indian community leaders led tributes to the fondly remembered ‘dada’ or elder brother, whose funeral was held on Tuesday in Jebel Ali. The trading company owner first arrived in the Emirates in 1942 and his family has lived and worked in the Gulf since the 1860s, before many of the region's modern states were formed.

They expressed respect for Pancholia, who was known for setting up a company that supplied electricity to Dubai in 1957 and the first school for Indian families in the 1960s,” according to UAE based media The National.

Between 1957 and 1960, Pancholia supplied electricity to the emirate of Dubai. He was among four people who purchased generators to supply electricity to the creek and souk areas of Dubai in 1957. In 1961, he was appointed director of the Dubai Electric Company, founded by the late Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. Pancholia held this post until the organisation was nationalised around 1980.

Pancholia, aged 95 in 2019, was viewed as a patron for the Sindhi community in Dubai. He founded Dubai’s first Indian High School that started with a dozen classrooms on land donated by Sheikh Rashid in the 1960s, and served as its trustee and chairman until 1979, following which he was chairman emeritus of the school, according to Arabian Trading Agency's website.

Pancholia, founder of Maghanmal Jethanand Group, which was established in 1942, was also the founder chairman of Arabian Trading Agency, a Dubai outfit. The family business established its roots in Dubai as a trader of pearls and foodstuff, and today trades as a major retailer in the city.

 “He was respected by Indians and Emiratis as well. He was the first and last Indian to be a board member of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and was nominated by Sheikh Rashid,” said Ram Buxani, chairman of ITL Cosmos Group, a retail business.

Between 1965 and 1980, Pancholia was part of the board of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, after being nominated by Sheikh Rashid.

Maghanmal Pancholia had called Dubai home for almost eight decades. The UAE was still 29 years away from its historic union when he landed in Dubai in 1942 to join his father's business. The then 17-year-old had no clue that he was destined to be a part of the great success story of Dubai that swiftly transformed from a hamlet to a bustling metropolis.

In an interview with Khaleej Times, he had said: "My father and three elder brothers were already in business in Sharjah and Dubai when I joined DJ Sind College in Karachi for higher education in 1942.

"However, I could not pursue my degree due to protests and the closure of colleges in the wake of the Quit India Movement started by Mahatma Gandhi. I had to come to the Gulf (Trucial States), where our Thattai Bhatia community had a long-time presence."

Maghanmal arrived aboard a Chinese Cargo ship called 'Woo Sang'. The fare was Rs23 and the voyage took eight days after touching the ports of Gawadar, Muscat and Bander Abbas. "Life was very difficult without electricity, especially in summer. There were no roads and hardly any cars. Camels and donkeys were the modes of transport," he said.

Back then, there were no formal procedures or permissions required to start any business. "When we started our electricity supply company (Indo-Arab Electricity Company) in 1957 in Dubai, we did not require any permission from the authorities. The business licensing system started only in 1961 and licence fees for any business was Rs100."

After the formal launch of the Dubai Electricity Company in 1961, things started improving. More Indian expats started moving to Dubai. Even foreigners were allowed shareholding in the company until 1980 when the company was nationalised.

Pancholia was one of the founding shareholders and was elected director of the Dubai Electricity Company from 1961 to 1980. Formal supply of electricity changed things in Dubai rapidly. "I could never imagine that Dubai and the UAE would change for the better so much and so fast thanks to the vision and open-door business policy of the past and present Rulers," he said.

He once said, "The best advice I received from my father was, to be honest, helpful and friendly to others in life. I try to live up to my motto of 'simple living and high thinking'."

Pancholia's wife passed away at the age of 92 in May last year. He leaves behind four children, 11 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, and an unforgettable legacy.

Dr Lalchand Maghanmal Pancholia, son of Maghanmal Pancholia, said: "The demise of my father is not only a personal loss but also a loss for the Indian community. We pray the values he instilled in us will continue to keep the rich legacy in our family and our community."

Dr. Ram Buxani, chairman of ITL Cosmos Group, said: "I have had a friendship with Pancholia for six decades, and it is indeed a personal loss for me. He fell ill while he was preparing to have lunch last Monday at noon. The memories we shared are indeed profound as we worked together for uplifting Indian businesses in the UAE."

Paras Shahdadpuri, Chairman of Nikai Group of Companies, said: "Maghanmal Pancholia was a true patriarch to the Indian community and set an example of simple living with rich principles that we count on."

"Maghanmal actually passed away with his shoes on when he was returning from work at 1 pm," Shahdadpuri added.

Nimish Makvana, president of IBPC Dubai, said: "The loss of Maghanmal is indeed heavy for the businesses to bear as his business model led many to start their enterprises here."

Maghanmal Pancholia passed away in Dubai on 2nd September 2019. He is survived by two sons and two daughters.

MAGHANMAL PANCHOLIA’S JOURNEY IN HIS OWN WORDS

I've had a fulfilling and challenging life with experiences that have chiselled me to what I am today. I arrived in Dubai in 1942, a fresh matriculate from Karachi and on the threshold of a college career at the DJ Sind College. Those were the days of the Indian freedom struggle and Mahatma Gandhi had given the famous 'Quit India' call. Our colleges were closed. I was betrothed then and, for want of anything better to do, came to Dubai to help my father with the family business. At the time, we were handling the Sharjah Customs which we had been doing for over 20 years.

We belong to the Thattai Bhatia community from India, which is the oldest expatriate community to have moved to the then Trucial States. It is a close-knit and closed community with about 10,000 members worldwide.

Our ancestors were pearl traders. In the early days, traders from the Gulf would come to Thatta, a small hamlet near Karachi, to barter pearls and dates for spices and clothes. Along the way, they invited our community elders to set up business in Dubai to facilitate better trading. Our forefathers who came here for pearl trading, gradually diversified into other commodities after the pearl market was badly hit owing to the recession of 1930s. In effect, our family had been here for a good 200 years when I arrived on the scene.

Those days, Dubai was like a small hamlet. There was no electricity, no tap water, no roads, and none of the modern means of transport. Hurricane lamps were in vogue, people travelled on donkeys and drinking water was sold on donkeys - four cans, for one Indian rupee. These wells were normally seven feet deep and would have sweet water for about eight days, after which the water would turn sour. Then another would be dug...we kept digging one well after another. One could pay a labourer Rs3 to dig a well. Despite filtering the water with white muslin cloth, we could still find a small residue of sand at the bottom of the pot.

But all these things did not matter much. Despite the lack of basic comforts, life was very simple and there was so much love and affection in our interpersonal relationships as well as in our ties with the local people. We were all like a big family. The Bedus are very gentle people and our relationship was based largely on trust. Major cash and jewellery transactions were made without the exchange of a single receipt. Trust was the very foundation of our bonds for so many years. We had and still continue to maintain very strong ties with the leading local business families.

All Indians, basically traders, resided in Souk Baniyan (bania, in Hindi, means traders) close to the Creek in Bur Dubai. The shops were on the ground floor and residential premises, mostly bachelor's quarters, on the first floor. By the time I was 18, I married the woman I was betrothed to, but she had to reside in Thatta with other women and children. None of us had our families here as we lacked some basic comforts. Also, there were no schools. I lived in one of these houses, first as a bachelor and then with my family, for nearly 20 years.

I remember, the souk had a large entrance door. We would function largely in and around the souk and always kept together. Nobody ventured out after sunset. A few feet away was the prison, which is now the Dubai Museum. In the evening, the souk door would be shut, and a lone watchman, hurricane lamp in one hand and a long stick in the other, would go around the place. The very sight of him made us feel safe and secure.

Our routine was fairly simple. Everyone would get up in the morning and do their daily ablution with a little water. Very few eatables were available in the market. It was basically the local seemuch (fish), dates, rice, wheat, sugar and spices from India. There were a few locally-grown vegetables, such as gourds and brinjals, but they were available only during the cooler months. Breakfast was nourishing but frugal – milk (all of us had at least one cow) and hurriedly-rolled out wheat chapattis. This was a staple meal for all traders in the morning.

Nobody really missed any comforts. Those were times of optimism and change, and our family business too changed from pearl, to textile to foodstuff trading, until my elder brother who was my idol, had the idea of starting a currency exchange business. In those days, besides the Rupee, the other currency in vogue was the Iranian riyals and tumans. Dubai trade was largely dependent on Iran and directly affected by changes taking place there. One tuman was roughly one Indian rupee and I remember it falling until Rs60 would fetch us 100 tumans.

People might like to think of us as enterprising individuals, but very often, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. We were staying away from our families and life was tough. We had to make ends meet. The rent for our homes was Rs50 per annum while that of our shops was around Rs100. If we paid Rs8, we could get a proper Indian lunch and dinner for a month.

(As told to Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary of Gulf News on May 25, 2001)

 (With courtesy inputs from Report by Sandhya D'Mello and Dhanusha Gokulan, Courtesy Khaleej Times/ constructionweekonline.com / Ramola Talwar Badam of The National / Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary of Gulf News

Photo Caption - Maghanmal Pancholia, chairman of Arabian Trading Agency, pictured at his office in Bur Dubai in 2017.  

Image credit - constructionweekonline.com / The National / Khaleej Times

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INDIAN OBSERVER POST (IOP) is a Class, Creative, and Constructive News platform which publishes ONLY exclusive and Special News / Views / Interviews / Research Articles / Analysis / Columns / Features and Opinions on the national and international issues, politics, security, energy, innovation, infrastructure, rural, health, education, women, and entertainment. www.indianobserverpost.com 

(Onkareshwar Pandey is Founder, Editor in Chief & CEO, Indian Observer Post and former Senior Group Editor- Rashtriya Sahara (Hindi & Urdu) and also former Editor, (News), ANIhttp://bit.ly/2mh7hih)

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INDIAN OBSERVER POST (IOP) is a Class, Creative, and Constructive News platform which publishes ONLY exclusive and Special News / Views / Interviews / Research Articles / Analysis / Columns / Features and Opinions on the national and international issues, politics, security, energy, innovation, infrastructure, rural, health, education, women, and entertainment. Email – editor@indianobserverpost.com


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IOP ON FACEBOOK - https://bit.ly/2SlmpLA

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(Onkareshwar Pandey is Founder, Editor in Chief & CEO, Indian Observer Post and former Senior Group Editor- Rashtriya Sahara (Hindi & Urdu) and also former Editor, (News), ANI. http://bit.ly/2mh7hih Email - SMS- 9910150119)


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