Dubai's 'oldest' businessman Maghanmal Pancholia dies at 95

The Indian trader worked in the UAE from 1942 until his death on Monday

Maghanmal Pancholia, chairman of Arabian Trading Agency, pictured at his office in Bur Dubai in 2017. Reem Mohammed / The National
Maghanmal Pancholia, chairman of Arabian Trading Agency, pictured at his office in Bur Dubai in 2017. Reem Mohammed / The National

Tributes have been paid to one of the UAE's longest standing businessmen and oldest residents after his death at the age of 95.

Maghanmal Pancholia passed away on Monday at City Hospital, hours after arriving at his Bur Dubai office for work.

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.

What we learnt from him was to be humble, stick to your principles and lead a simple life. One of the mottos my father lived by was to treat people with love

Dr Lalchand Pancholia

Until his death he embarked on a daily a three-kilometre morning walk before heading to the Arabian Trading Agency office that he diversified from a family pearl, gold and money exchange business into textiles, wholesale food and electronics.

“He was called ‘dada’ because people looked up to him, he was so well respected,” said Sudesh Aggarwal, chairman of the India Trade and Exhibition Centre.

“He followed the rules and led a principled life. You cannot find many people who have been in business for so long without any blemish or controversy. He was well-known as a philanthropist and many institutions will miss his legacy and guidance.”

Pancholia arrived in Sharjah 77 years ago following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather who had made the UAE their home from 1860.

He was among four people who purchased generators to supply electricity to the creek and souk areas of Dubai in 1957 and was later appointed director of the Dubai Electric Company, formed by then Ruler Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.

Pancholia helped establish the first Indian High School that started with a dozen classrooms on land donated by Sheikh Rashid.

“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.

“Discipline was the key word one learnt from him and that you should not shy away from challenges.”

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JULY 10, 2018. Maganmal Pancholia, the 94-year-old chairman of Arabian Trading Agency, looks through his archive of books on Dubai. Entrepreneur Maghanmal Pancholia, one of the oldest Indian residents of the UAE, keeps a rich treasury of national history in his stories of life, enterprise and the sheer grit of Arabian Gulf people in the years before Union. For the 94-year-old chairman of Arabian Trading Agency, who still takes his seat in his Bur Dubai office every morning when others of his generation may favour relaxed retirement, his early struggles contrast greatly with modern life. Mr Pancholia recalls the thriving pearl business of the early and mid-20th century, how the shockwaves of the Great Depression rippled their way across the Atlantic from the US, into Europe and on to the Middle East, and how the trade in Japanese imitation pearls dealt a crippling blow to skilled and brave Emirati fishermen. Adversity, he says, forced residents to work together and create other opportunities. This was the environment he encountered on arrival in Sharjah in 1942. That was a time without electricity or roads, when donkeys carried water on dusty paths. (Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National) Reporter: RAMOLA TALWAR Section: NA NEIGHBORHOOD SERIES
The city that Maganmal Pancholia arrived in seven decades ago was very different to the one today. Reem Mohammed / The National

Pancholia was also known for his philanthropy contributing to causes in the UAE and India.

“He was a father figure and a role model both in terms of his professional work and social activity. His death is a big loss because he has played an important role both for the Indian community and for the UAE,” said Vipul, the Indian consul general in Dubai.

“Just last year, he came to the consulate to hand over a cheque for the Indian government’s Swachh Bharat (Clean India) programme. He will be missed but not forgotten.”

Pancholia was an inspiration to the next generation of Indian entrepreneurs such as Surender Kandhari, who runs an automotive business and set up a Sikh gurdwara or shrine in Jebel Ali.

“He stood for community spirit. There are many lessons he taught us with the straightforward life he led,” Mr Kandhari said.

“He is an example for people to emulate particularly because he worked until his last day.”

In his biography – Footprints: Memoirs of an Indian patriarch, Mr Pancholia dwelt on trust as the base of any business and emphasised that mutual respect and understanding were key to taking forward any initiative.

His son Lalchand described his father as alert to the end.

“What we learnt from him was to be humble, stick to your principles and lead a simple life,” he said.

“One of the mottos my father lived by was to treat people with love. He would say that there may be differences of opinion but any dispute should be resolved amicably.”

Pancholia’s wife passed away at the age of 92 in May last year.

He leaves behind four children, 11 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

A condolence meeting will be held at 5pm at the Ameera ballroom at the Grand Hyatt hotel on Thursday, where a moment of silence will be observed.

Updated: September 3, 2019 05:17 PM


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