I sat on my trunk and cried… 50 years ago: expat

By DG Staff

ABU DHABI 21 June 2020: On 14th March 1970, a taxi driver dropped him in front of a small building in Abu Dhabi just after 1 pm, but he was shocked to find that his prospective workplace was closed.

Godfrey D’Costa, a 22-year-old Indian university graduate, found out from a nearby tailoring shop called Freddy Tailors that most offices and shops would close for midday break between 1 pm and 4 pm, “which was strange”.

“When I realised I would be working in a shop in a small building besides an unpaved road in a vast desert area, I sat on my steel trunk and cried. I had only one thought–how to escape from that desert town,” says D’Costa who’s 72 now, while sharing his half-century long life experiences with Wam.

“I lived with that thought for the first two weeks; fortunately it was not easy to go back immediately. Otherwise, I would have missed a wonderful opportunity to witness the transformation of that desert land into a modern state in the next 50 years,” he adds.

Bombay to Abu Dhabi

D’Costa was frustrated at his first glimpse of the desert town as he was born and brought up in Bombay (now Mumbai), which was already a huge metropolitan city.

“One of the prestigious golf courses [established in 1927] in India was near my home in Chembur. I used to see Bollywood stars, as there were film studios in the vicinity,” D’Costa, a holder of Bachelor of Arts in History and Psychology from St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, reminisces.

“I remember, once helping Prithviraj Kapoor [patriarch of the Kapoor family of Hindi films, with two generations still active in Bollywood] along with my friends in the neighbourhood, to jumpstart his car that had a breakdown.

“That’s why I thought why I should live in a desert town that did not have even basic amenities. I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would continue living here for so long.”

He vividly remembers the items he had packed in his baggage when he went back home on his first vacation in 1972, which indicated “everything about the situation in 1970s”.

He took five kilograms of Basmati rice and two kilograms of sugar, as there was severe shortage of food in India those days.

“I bought it from a small supermarket in Abu Dhabi; there was only one or two small supermarkets those days. Can you count the number of supermarkets and hypermarkets that opened in Abu Dhabi later?” D’Costa wonders.

He witnessed all the world-class facilities from his Bombay neighbourhood, such as golf courses and film studios, coming up in Abu Dhabi in later years, and big Bollywood stars flying to shoot their blockbuster movies here.

“I have immense respect for Abu Dhabi’s wise leadership for this wonderful transformation,” he says. “Likewise, India also prospered. Nobody has taken basic food items to India from here in later years.”

India as a young country, just after attaining independence from the British in 1947, had its own major challenges during the first few decades and food was rationed those days, he recalls.

As a child, he used to wake up early in the morning to collect the ration for the family. “Still my father never deprived us [children] of anything. He used to say that he would give us all the necessities but not luxuries,” he says.

Those experiences taught him good lessons in life. “I never allowed my children to waste food. You need hardships to open your eyes.”

He was happy with his first job where he took care of the sales of an Emirati-owned business selling hardware, building materials and auto parts in Abu Dhabi.

“I was happy with the initial salary of 55 Bahraini dinars [Abu Dhabi had used Bahraini dinar as currency between 1966 and 1973],” he says.

“But a fellow Indian expat with a better job boasted that BD55 [equal to around Dh550 then] was not enough even for his breakfast expenses for a month! “I was so frugal and saved BD30 a month.”

D’Costa got an increment of BD20 within two weeks. “It was all due to hard work. One day, I told my boss the warehouse was in a miserable condition. I myself bought two gallons of paint and painted the entire warehouse.”

He was able to carry out the basic works of an electrician, plumber, carpenter and painter. “My dad taught me to do everything by myself. I used to paint my home. We were hands-on people!”

After two years with the first job, he got a better job with salary almost doubled. He continued working with that Emirati-owned firm selling paints and coating for 21 years until he started his own business in 1993 – a firm supplying specialised construction materials.

In 1970s and 1980s, although a small laidback city, Abu Dhabi had a wonderful social life, he says. He was a member of The Club [popularly known as British Club] that later offered him an honorary membership for being a continuous member for 30 years.

As a member of the British Business Group as well, he had enough opportunities for networking in business circles. “There was a St. Joseph Club at St. Joseph Church in Abu Dhabi in 1970s, where we used to celebrate Christmas, Easter and other festivities.”

He used to play football and hockey in Mumbai, which he was able to continue in Abu Dhabi. “We had a hockey team until the British, who ran the defence forces, left after the formation of the UAE. I was also part of the British team and trained some of the players. We continued playing hockey until late 1980s.”

Commemorating UAE Formation The UAE’s formation on 2nd December 1971 is a living memory for him. His Emirati boss gifted him a commemorative gold coin on the Federation’s second anniversary on 2nd December 1973.

“I have been keeping that coin as a treasure and recently handed it over to my son. He will pass it on to the next generation as our family’s tribute to this great country,” he says.

D’Costa lives with his wife Jescy Philomena D’Costa in Abu Dhabi as a happy and contended man. His business is doing very well; his three children got good education and settled well in life.

The son is a director at a government organisation, while his daughter is a vice president at an investment-banking company in London and another daughter is doing her second Master’s Degree in Medical Economics in Norway.

Hope for future The fifty years’ experiences make him confident that the UAE would overcome the challenge posed by the current health situation very soon.

“The current situation is something beyond man’s control anywhere in the world. However, the UAE with its oil wealth and sovereign funds will come out of this situation soon in flying colours,” he says confidently.

“I have seen this country overcoming many formidable challenges during the past 50 years. We shall overcome this, too.”



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