You know it's going to be a good one when the driver starts with, "Yesterday I walked into Boutique 1 and saw a shirt priced at Dh500." For that price, he continues, "I can buy six shirts, order two parathas and chicken curry, and send home some extra money that will make my wife very happy." He was helping a client pick up clothes for a photoshoot, so he helpfully went along, checked the first price tag, chuckled to himself and has been relaying the joke since.
What I find an outrage, he finds humorous. Arriving in Abu Dhabi in 1976, he worked his way up from a mechanic at his brother's garage to construction foreman, got his licence, started driving, went back to Bangladesh, married a nice girl and returned. After his second son was born in 1988, he said he could not bear "the anxiety of separation" so he bundled his family and they came to live with him in Abu Dhabi.
"In those days, life was cheap, life was good," he said. "And there were certainly no places that sold a shirt for Dh500." He made investments in land, built a house and sent his children to school. "They are expensive," he says. "Especially when children reach high school." His two sons are now grown and, having graduated from schools in Abu Dhabi, have taken higher studies in Germany and England.
In 2007, he was forced to send back his wife and daughter to Bangladesh because of spiralling costs. His daughter is completing her MBA in a private college in Dhaka, he says proudly. He could retire but he continues to drive. He is 53, must retire by 60 but is waiting to hear from his sons that they have made it before he heads back. "If you live with your family once, you get used to it," he says. "Now it has become lonely. But I enjoy doing something with my life."
He says when he first arrived, he wanted to work for two or three years, save enough and head back to the village to start his own business. But then came marriage, and then the baby carriage. Or in his case, as he likes to point, they just kept on coming. His pride and joy, like thousands of Indian expatriates, are his children. And like them, every day he works at whatever he has climbed through the ranks to do so that his children will have a better life.
"They are more educated than me," he says beaming with pride. "So much more educated that I don't know what to say when my German-educated doctor son says he wants to return to the village and practise medicine there."