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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - "I have seen the best and worst of times," the 60-year-old said during his last day in office and year 2019.
Indian expat A.T. Ali, who started his life in the UAE doing menial jobs, is now retiring as the manager of an Abu Dhabi-based bank. In the past 40 years, he has taken roads less travelled to realise his dreams in this land of opportunities.
"I have seen the best and worst of times," the 60-year-old said during his last day in office and year 2019. "I am third of the eight children back home in the Malappuram district of Kerala. My mother was a homemaker and father taught in a school for 35 years. Ironically, I failed Class 10 exams as I was consumed by politics. I learnt typewriting, shorthand and tailoring. I had to support my family and the Gulf region was our only hope. In 1978, I left for Bombay, where I learnt Hindi.
By 1979, I managed to get a visa to land in Sharjah. Job hunt took me to Ajman and Abu Dhabi. As a 19-year-old jobless, I was fascinated by the evening chats of my employed roommates. I used to wonder when I would have such stories to share."
It didn't take long as Ali would end up dabbling three jobs a day.
"I was open to any job. I joined my roommate as a street vendor, then a delivery boy at a supermarket and a part-time helper at a shop. Later, I worked at an electrical shop. I cleared an interview to become a messenger at a public firm. In 1982, I lost that job and returned to Kerala where I started a business, which did well. However, smitten by the UAE, I was back here in 1985 and joined a school as a helper. In 1987, I lost that job and worked as a hospital receptionist. Next year, the public school rehired me as an office assistant. Things happened as I tried and kept looking for opportunities."
In 1989, he got married. As expenses grew, Ali again looked for part-time jobs.
"After school hours, I worked at a courier firm. In 1995, a friend referred me for a bank job as a messenger and I cleared the interview. When I quit my school job, I was offered the post of a watchman. So I worked at the bank from 8am to 4pm then at the courier firm and from 8pm till morning as the school watchman."
By the end of 1995, his family back home was well-settled. Then Ali became mindful of his health and focused only on the bank job. "At the bank, I was an office boy, store keeper and more. I was eager to work and occupy any empty chair."
But Ali was pained by the fact that he couldn't bring his family on a visit visa because of his job status and low salary. He was denied driving licence because of his position. And once a security guard pulled him out of office lift meant only for customers and VIPs - an incident which was harbinger of change.
"It was humiliating but motivated me to work harder and change my job title. In 2009, I got promotion as a support service executive. I had a chair and computer for myself. It was a blissful moment and made me understand the importance of education. I took a three-month English course at the British Council."
In 2010, Ali was able to bring his family to Abu Dhabi and got a driving licence, too. His long-cherished dreams were fulfilled but challenges remained.
"Since I had no educational qualifications, I was asked to write a bank test, which I passed. I became a senior officer. In 2015, I was made assistant manager and two years later, the manager. I received an achievement award and the same security man who had shooed me away once, kept the door of the lift open for me."
Ali has handled a dozen different jobs. The UAE, he said, is a land of opportunities for those who are willing to take risk and turn mistakes into life-altering experiences. "I draw inspiration from the founding father of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. His life is a lesson for us to take risks and face challenges."
Ali will return to India to live with his wife Shahida, daughters Kamiliya and Vaniya and son Ashiq. "My son works here, rest of the family are in Kerala. They will be here to take me home. After 40 years, I will return to India a happy man."
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