Dubai philanthropist aims to build 101 Hindu shrines across the world to spread message of peace

Vasu Shroff founded one of the UAE’s oldest companies and still has lofty ambitions for the future

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Dubai's textile king Vashu Shroff is still dreaming big at the age of 81.

Mr Shroff, chairman of the Regal Group, built his business empire after arriving in the UAE as a hopeful 19-year-old in 1960.

He went on to establish one of the longest-standing businesses in the country with interests in garments, technology and property.

His work is far from finished as he continues a remarkable mission to build 101 temples across the world.

The entrepreneur has shared memories and recipes for success in a biography A Regal Man.

"I started with a salary of 100 rupees in my brother's textile shop," Mr Shroff said in an interview with The National.

"I didn't think I would become a textile magnate or earn multi-millions.

“[But] Dubai is about hard work, knowing you want to become something.”

Minister pays tribute to man of 'humanitarian spirit'

The book captures the entrepreneurial spirit that powered the growth of the Emirates from the days before the Union.

Vasu Shroff, seated, chairman of the Regal Group, in a family photo during the Diwali festival in 2015. His grandson Krish, left, convinced him to write a book about his life in Dubai. Courtesy: Shroff family

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Tolerance and Co-existence, in a foreword said he admired Mr Shroff’s service to the UAE and business ventures.

“In you, Vasu we recognise the important contributions that people from India have made to our country,” Sheikh Nahyan wrote.

“It is through the efforts of dedicated individuals like you, Vasu, that we will continue to advance and strengthen the ties between our two countries. We are thankful for your outstanding record of achievement in business and in public serve. We appreciate your humanitarian spirit.”

Mr Shroff recalls one of the turning points in his life when a watch dealer from Switzerland hired him as an agent in 1962 offering him a commission for every piece sold.

He sold the entire consignment in a single day, a sale roughly equivalent to $13million today.

“People immediately want what Dubai had to offer. This was true even then. It gave me great confidence that I could create a market and I could sell,” Mr Shroff said.

Places of worship bring people together

“I tell people start a business, be a creator but also let your life have meaning. You need to have a big heart, helping others will help you.”

UAE businessman Vasu Shroff sought to grow the garment business across the world. He is seen with a supplier in Japan in 1971. Courtesy: Shroff family

He tells of the spirit of optimism that filled a small Hindu temple in Bur Dubai where he spent his evenings praying and keeping the shrine clean.

Mr Shroff has since built 40 temples around the world, mainly in India, with 16 more in progress.

The project to build a new shrine in Dubai's Jebel Ali neighbourhood is led by his eldest son Raju Shroff, and will be ready by Diwali in October next year.

“It is my dream to make 101 temples. I like it because it sends a message of peace,” he said.

“It’s good to start and end your day with thanks and hope. I respect all religions and places of worship.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Ramola Talwar. News. Vasu Shroff, the founder of the Regal Group, the Indian High School, India Club, temple in Bur Dubai has written a book about life in the Emirates before the Union in the 1960s and why and how he set up education, recreation and religious organisations for residents in the early days. Pictured with grandson Krish. Wednesday, April 7th, 2021. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“The new temple in Dubai will be very unique. People will come to pray and all tourists will want to come and see it.”

He also taught PE, art and the Hindi language to a class of nine students in one-room in 1961 when the Indian High School in Dubai started. It has since grown to take in more than 13,000 pupils across three campuses in the UAE.

“Education is in my blood. There was no electricity, no proper roads then but people had plans, dreams and ambition for their children,” he said.

He continues to help at the temple in Bur Dubai and the schools.

Mr Shroff also helped establish the Indian Association in 1960 with a group of friends to help people with passport and visa-related issues.

The group opened the India Club in a small house in Dubai's Bastakiya in 1964 with a billiards table, a radiogram and screened movies every Friday.

It grew in popularity since there was only one other cinema hall in which people gathered.

The club now has more than 7,000 members.

He has helped in building homes for the elderly in India, cremation grounds including one in Dubai, a hospital and a school for the speech and hearing impaired in India.

The book is rich with anecdotes that make the early years come alive.

Mr Shroff was a census volunteer and set out in the early 1960s on foot and in a jeep to enumerate Dubai residents.

“This was before Dubai Municipality [was formed]. I was given the Jumeirah side. We visited houses for many days asking how many people and how many children lived there,” he said

Mr Shroff continues to come into the Regal office to assist people who seek his advice on careers, settling financial debt and legal issues.

He remains the signing authority for Hindu marriages conducted in the emirate.

It was his grandson Krish Shroff who came up with the idea of a memoir.

The 28-year-old wanted others to hear the stories his grandfather told over family meals.

"I realised that I'm fortunate as the grandson of a living legend. The advice I receive is so on point, relevant and insightful," the junior Shroff said.

"Dada's story is deeply personal for me and our family. It is also a legacy to be shared with future generations.

“The messages in the book are even more powerful during the pandemic when people need to reset and establish what is important in their lives.”

Renderings of the Hindu Temple under construction in Jebel Ali