He arrived in Dubai just as the UAE came into existence. He started working at the Dubai airport in a time where there were no computers and this town was nothing more than a stopover for flights on their way somewhere. In his 37 years as a Dubai resident, KJ Bhatia raised a family, developed a career, and enjoyed a front row seat to see a world of change in both the city and the region.As luck would have it, one day as I was shopping for postcards, we struck up a conversation in his shop which would eventually lead to this podcast. This is one man’s story, a rare voice of experience, that runs parallel to the story of a nation. One of my favorite voices from Dubai, Mr. KJ Bhatia.
Life wisdom comes from unexpected places at unexpected times. On one particular evening I was making my way from Abu Dhabi to Dubai and I found myself seated next to Mr. AJ from Nepal, a taxi driver-philosopher-extraordinaire. As I got into the car I asked how is life? and his immediate response was, “I am a bad man, I have wasted my life chasing money.” I knew right there, this was going to be an interesting ride.Making a life in Nepal has become more and more difficult over the past 20 years and as a result, hundreds of thousands of Nepalese are now working outside the country and sending money home to family members. They can be found in countries like Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, the UAE, and until recently Saudi Arabia. Mr. AJ has tried working in many of these countries but a combination ofhostile politics and racism would eventually land him in Abu Dhabi, a place he doesn’t love, but has come to understand. At the age of 36 he has arrived at a life altering realization, all these years spent “chasing money”, away from his family and the people he loves, have been wasted. The pursuit of material things has led him to the conclusion that he and many people like him have been focusing on the wrong things in life. What is needed to find true satisfaction and happiness, Mr. AJ explains, “is to either help someone or grow something.”During this long car ride we talked at length about what humans are doing with this planet and with their lives, and what could be done to improve things, and what we as individuals will do in the coming years in an effort to reach that happy place so many of us wish for. It’s an example of taxicab wisdom at its best and a great example of why I wanted to do this series in the first place.
Mr. A is a young man in his early twenties, but he refers to himself as an old driver. So it goes in a country where the average taxi driver has a contract of 3 or 5 years. Like many drivers he is a modest man and when I ask him about life, at first he says he leads an uninteresting life. But after a few minutes of talking about Dubai, we find just the opposite to be true. Unlike many people of the modern metropolis, Mr. A believes his life is just fine, especially after seeing the kinds of problems his passengers are carrying with them. Though respect is an issue and the stress is considerable, here is a man who’s number one matra is “I can’t complain, I have a good life.”As we drive along the famed Jumeira Beach Road, passing alongside the world famous Burj al Arab, we talk about how he got started as a taxi driver. What his life was like in his home country. And what its like to love a job that so many people, including his own family, label as no good or unacceptable.
“What do you do sir?” – I’m a journalist. “I’m a journalist!” -Yes, I am a journalist. “No, I’m telling you I am also a journalist sir and I have written three books in Urdu.” My driver is Mohammed, originally from Peshawar, Pakistan, making his…