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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

UAE Portrait of a Nation: Once accused of murder, caring Keralite is now a pillar of the community   

False accusation set Puthur Rahman off on a philanthropic path in Fujairah

Dr Puthur Rahman said it was his 'destiny' to embark on a life of giving in the UAE. Anna Nielsen for the National
Dr Puthur Rahman said it was his 'destiny' to embark on a life of giving in the UAE. Anna Nielsen for the National

Out of his darkest hour, Puthur Rahman has helped to build a brighter future.

It was when he was falsely accused of murder in 1981 that Dr Rahman left his native India and set off on a philanthropic path in Fujairah that continues to this day.

Nearly 40 years on, Dr Rahman is an author and head of many charitable organisations and provided vital assistance when floods caused devastation in his home state of Kerala last month.

His long and winding UAE journey started as a mechanic - but the seeds of leadership were sown many years before, as a schoolboy in the town of Kottakkal.

At the age of nine, his headmaster, appreciating his sharp dress sense, gave him the opportunity to be a school leader.

The role involved reading the headlines from the newspaper at each morning's school assembly - but little did he know it would prove to be an early test to his fledgling leadership credentials.

"I used to stammer and soon the entire school was laughing at me," said Dr Rahman, 60.

"I ran to the headmaster and told him I can’t do it but he did not let me quit. He pushed me to read but avoid the difficult words. By the time I came to high school, I knew I wanted to be a leader."

Mr Rahman was born and grew up in Kerala, the son of an Imam, who married twice and had many family members to support.

His father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and learn Quranic studies and Hadith.

"I told him I wanted to make money too and at that time an Imam earned less than Dh11 a month. I saw my father struggle to take care of two families.”

With the help of a community leader, Rahman was sent to an Arabic college which provided a combination of professional education and Islamic studies. The leader paid for the college and hostel fees.

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After completing his degree, he wanted to pursue higher education, but could not afford it. He ended up teaching Arabic at a tuition center.

Involved in student politics, Dr Rahman was soon elected as the district secretary of a local party. At a protest, a police officer started hitting students and opened fire, with Dr Rahman injured by a bullet.

The dice with death proved a turning point in his life.

When he was released from the hospital after three months, the police falsely accused him of murdering a policeman during the protest, though it was later discovered that the official had died due to a heart attack.

"I wanted to leave and I had a friend working in Fujairah. He sent me a visa and the job was that of a mechanic. I took that job of cleaning engines and spare parts for a salary of Dh600. I had no option.

"I worked there for a year but I cried every day. When I relate my story to children of the new generation, they laugh and ask why would you go work as a mechanic when you had a degree.

"Fujairah was very different when I came here 38 years ago. There were few buildings there at the time and not many hotels.”

He recalled being surprised when he was dropped off in front of a supermarket, where there stood a herd of donkeys.

Dr Rahman enjoyed another twist of fate when he met the brother of the ruler of Fujairah at a football match.

"I went to watch the match and meet the sheikh. One of his players was absent and I played instead."

The sheikh later helped him by introducing him to someone who gave him the job of a secretary.

Though his job involved making coffee and working as an office boy, such was his enthusiasm for the task he was soon promote to the role of bookkeeper and then accountant.

"Maybe my boss loved my coffee,” he said.

Another chance encounter, this time with the ruler of Fujairah, came in 1983 when the ruler heard Mr Rahman speak Arabic.

“He asked me how I knew Arabic. He was looking for someone to translate from Arabic to English on his private farm and he chose me as the manager of the farm.”

Dr Rahman started the commercial activity at the Fujairah farm and started a factory to sell fruits grown at the farm.

In 1992, he became the manager of the ruler's private department, and now looks after several entities in Fujairah.

Educated through the help of others, he has not forgotten their kindness to him and has won several awards for his social work in India.

"Social work is my passion because when I was young, someone took care of my educational needs. I was brought up with the help of people. As a child, when I didn’t have good clothes, I would exchange clothes with my friends."

The Keralite is the president of the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre, an organisation which lends a helping hand through initiatives such as arranging for blood donations and free cardiovascular surgeries, dialysis and medication.

"Our focus is to help poor people who are seeking education back home in Kerala. We donate part of our salaries to help these people,” he said.

The organisation also contacts companies and helps people looking for employment. More than 600 people have got interviews through this process in the last year.

Dr Rahman is also the president of the Indian Association in Fujairah, which is an umbrella body for Indian residents in the emirate.

The association came to the aid of those affected by the recent floods in Kerala. They sent a container to India with the help of Emirates Red Crescent and also donated more than Dh25,000 to the chief minister's fund.

Members also donated a month’s salary to support embattled compatriots back home in the aftermath of the floods.

Dr Rahman still lives in Fujairah with his wife and family 38 years on.

"I never planned to come to UAE. This was in my destiny.”