Sidin Vadukut’s life in Abu Dhabi began with an explosion or, to be more precise, with an accident. The London resident’s first memory is of a birthday party where someone dropped a plate. And any party involving kids with a sugar rush and a broken plate is unlikely to end well. “I stepped on the plate and cut my foot,” Sidin says when we chat. “He must have been about three years old. “I still have that scar.”
Born in 1979 in India, Sidin was about six months old when his parents first took him to Abu Dhabi, where they had settled in a cozy corner of the emirate for their growing family. “I remember running around our flat in Al Bateen. “It was the early 80s, so it was a flat landscape with no big buildings.” They later moved to Old Airport Road.
Early memories are expected to be fragmentary, but Sidin recounts decades-old incidents with an ease fueled partly by nostalgia and partly by his prodigious memory. He remembers his first day at St Joseph’s School, where he excelled and made lifelong friends. “Most of us are still in touch,” he says. Later, he attended the Abu Dhabi Indian School.
There are also other memories, the kind that stay in the mind for some inexplicable reason. Like the phone number of his residence, how content he felt while wandering around the Abu Dhabi Cooperative Society, the excitement of traveling from the old airport, his teeth sinking into the juicy shawarma at Lebanese Flower Bakery, tuning into Capital Radio and watching Blockbusters on TV (by the way, Sidin took third place when the popular quiz show came to Dubai).
The UAE raised him to be cosmopolitan. “I feel at home anywhere in the world. I didn’t even know there were different religions until I was six because my school was very diverse (I had Ethiopian and Eritrean kids in my class) and I grew up with friends from Pakistan and Afghanistan. We had a very open mentality,” adds Sidin, who will visit the country this month after 16 years because he misses it too much.
It takes a village to raise a child, and in the United Arab Emirates in the 1980s and early 1990s, it was the neighborhood stores that rose to the task. “Mohammed Hanifa grocery store was my happy place,” says the former engineer and management consultant. “When my mother went into labor, my father had to rush to the Corniche Hospital. So when the school bus dropped me off, the shopkeeper told me I had to wait with him. So I sat there and helped him run the store until my dad came back.” Years later, when he was 11, a nearby restaurant provided him some comfort on a tragic day. “We were about to leave for the airport for our vacation when my mom had a heart attack. My dad took her to the hospital, so I waited inside Abdul Aziz restaurant all day (the staff used to treat me like a son) until they came back with the news that my mom had passed away. I know it is traumatic, but for me these are very strong memories of home.”
Sidin is now an entrepreneur and leads growth initiatives for Enmasse World. Before that, he had a flourishing career as a journalist, author and blogger. “My interest in reading, general knowledge and the world in general came from Gulf newspapers, Channel 33, Abu Dhabi TV and Saudi TV Channel 2. They had wonderful documentaries and children’s programs… There was also the All Prints bookstore and sometimes when we went When I went to Dubai, I used to lose my mind at Magrudy’s house.”
“There is a certain sense of camaraderie among immigrants in the UAE that is not found anywhere else,” he continues. “There is a feeling that we are all making our lives here and it is very difficult, but we are all in this together and we must put aside our small differences to stand up for each other. And I miss that.”