x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

27. A 1973 labour card issued by the Government of Abu Dhabi

To mark the nation's 40th anniversary, we feature 40 historic objects.

In November 1972, a young Indian engineering graduate arrived at the old international airport in Bateen on a flight from Mumbai.
Vattappilly Unnikrishnan was 23 years old and, like so many new arrivals, had abandoned his mother country with hopes of a brighter future in the UAE.
This small, battered booklet, no bigger than a credit card, was his passport to a better life.
The card was issued on January 17, 1973, by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs on behalf of the Government of Abu Dhabi. Mr Unnikrishnan was worker number 23163.
The card states that it is valid until December 5 of that year, but is renewable. It carries a revenue stamp of one Bahraini dinar, the old pre-union currency of the emirate that would be replaced by the UAE dirham on May 19 that year.
Mr Unnikrishnan had graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from Kerala University three years earlier. After working in Mumbai, he spotted an advertisement looking for telecommunications engineers to work in Abu Dhabi. The lure was the monthly salary of Dh800 a month. In India he was making the equivalent of Dh550.
"I went for the interview at a Mumbai hotel and was accepted," Mr Unnikrishnan recalls. "People who came here were making good money. Of course, I thought I would be here for five years, maybe 10."
In fact, 38 years later, the fresh-faced, slightly earnest young man shown in his official photographs still lives in Abu Dhabi. There are a few grey hairs and some lines, but also a wife and two children.
The company that brought him here, Abu Dhabi Telegraph and Telephone Company, became part of Etisalat in 1973. As a government worker, Mr Unnikrishnan no longer needed a labour card. He kept the original because that is in his nature.
Looking back, he recalls arriving in a city only recently risen from the desert. Many of the major roads had been laid, but the highest buildings were only five storeys tall and there were occasional power cuts. "But the one thing I noticed as an expatriate, was that we had a lot of freedom here."