A long-time Indian expat walks down  memory lane in Dubai’s Karama



Now a bustling residential and commercial hub of Dubai where life speeds by, Karama was all about family, friends, and laidback vibes when I was growing up there in the 80s and 90s.

It was an idyllic small-town experience in many ways, where you knew almost every neighbour, and children played for hours in sandy patches, which back then were found in plenty in the vast residential colony.

It was a time when residents had yet to experience ‘mall culture’, and small shops and restaurants became beloved landmarks in themselves, sticking around for years.

Sind Punjab
Curry Dishes
AI-Madaen Restaurant

A food fiesta

Did you know that the Sind Punjab restaurant, in Karama Complex, dates back almost 40 years?

Or that Curry Dishes, first located near the ‘7000’ Flats, shifted now to the Al Mansoor Buildings, used to make deliciously authentic ‘dahi kadhi’ in the afternoons? If you wanted takeaway, the only way to order was via the landline.

A few restaurants, like AI-Madaen Restaurant (which served up a delicious fish biryani and ‘bareek set’) grew to recognise my parents’ voices and would immediately say “‘8 by 3’ right”? Reference:  Pioneer Buildings Block 8, Flat 3 — our home for almost 30 years.

Happy on the road

There were cars a-plenty plying Karama roads back then but the kind of traffic jams we see today rarely occurred. The school bus ride home was almost always smooth – we got from Oud Metha to our home in 15 minutes, despite a roundabout route and many stops on the way.

There was always something interesting to look at during the journey, like fancy sports cars – a novelty at the time. You also had every chance of seeing a camel. In fact, camels were often spotted around the city.

Sand in our shoes

As a motley crew of ‘Karama kids’, the outdoors exerted an irresistible pull; playing was life, even during the hottest months of July and August! We enjoyed games like hopscotch, Seven Tiles, football, badminton, and Kings – where you basically hit someone with a tennis ball to get them ‘out’.

When the ‘Sana’ building was being constructed in the mid 80s, the more adventurous of us would have a gala time scaling mounds of sand at the construction site, which in retrospect was definitely off limits!

If it got too hot, we would gather in some shaded area and pass time exchanging stickers, stamps and cards (remember Rock ‘n’ Bubble, that came with a packet of chewing gum?), got from Karama Store or other nearby groceries. No one was really interested in the gum, but Rock ‘n’ Bubble cards were prized treasures, especially that elusive rare one that would complete a pack.

In summers after play time, there was nothing like sipping a cold Areej or Sun Top drink to quench your thirst (I remember Sun Top sometimes came with free stickers). Other drinks like Dixi-Cola (now defunct), were popular as well.

When the shopping cart was our ‘car’

In the 80s, hypermarkets had not yet moved into Karama. Everyone patronised small groceries and supermarkets as well as the fruit and vegetable market that also sold mutton, fish, and other non-veg items.

My first recollection of a big supermarket is from when I was about 6 or 7; I remember being wheeled around in a shopping cart with my brother at Al Fatah supermarket located in Karama Complex, and how we would pester our parents whilst passing the attractive chocolate section, eyeing things like Fruit-Tella, Milk Chews, Mentos and other goodies.

My folks would always buy their groceries from the same shop in the fruit and vegetable market. By default, the seller was forever referred to as ‘uncle’, one who would recognise us even when we dropped in years later, as adults.

Al Mansoor Buildings
Pioneer Buildings

Stomping-grounds in old Karama

A teenage passion for hit parades had us tuning into FM 92 (the UAE’s first English radio station), and frequenting the Thomsun music store in Karama Complex. A soft-spoken salesman who to date remains the most knowledgeable person on music I’ve ever known, was a great guide on what to buy with princely sums of Dh10 or 15, our pocket money back then.

Needed a haircut or some other beauty treatment? Karama Complex housed ‘Honeymoon’ Salon, a favourite of my mother’s and choc-a-block with stylish Karama belles.

Among other popular Karama hangouts were the ‘Al Mansoor’ Buildings (nicknamed thus after a video store from which we rented dozens of Hindi and English films over the years). And when The Indian High School celebrated its Silver Jubilee in 1986 and I was part of a PE formation during a special programme on the grounds, it was ‘Al Mansoor’ Buildings’ Sofia Trading that stocked the exact shade of hair ribbons my mother wanted to tie up my ponytails with.

It’s funny how both kids and adults rarely knew or referred to the real names of buildings in Karama – even a cabbie preferred directions like ‘Caltex’ Building, ‘Pioneer’ Buildings, ‘Sana’ Building. All staples during our childhood, all mostly titled for an advertising billboard or shop or landmark in their surroundings.

Hazy shades of winter

While we were oddly oblivious to the heat as kids, the sight of a drizzle or a twinge of cooler weather did inspire a special joy. A Dubai winter unfurled beautifully from September, bringing with it the warmth of snug sweaters and cosy drawing rooms (no fans or ACs were required during this time).

It was fun playing outdoors in winter despite the nip in the air – and running a bit extra during hopscotch or other games to warm ourselves up, all in the huge sandpit between the two rows of Pioneer Buildings. Sometimes when the wind was too cold or if it began raining, we’d hear our mothers calling us back home. We took our time.

I remember a spell of torrential rainfall in the early 80s that flooded the neighbourhood behind Pioneer Buildings – it was one gigantic water body all the way up to the World Trade Centre, then the tallest building in Dubai. My father took a picture of me standing with the imposing skyscraper in the backdrop looking like it was built on water.

Today when I happen to stroll through the streets of Karama, I can’t help being struck by nostalgia. Despite many changes, my childhood neighbourhood still retains much of its old-world charm. It’s a charming part of old Dubai that newer residents and tourists should definitely experience. – Enid Parker is a freelance writer based in Dubai.


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