Early days of Dubai through Uttamchand Bhatia’s eyes

Uttamchand Tuslidas Bhatia witnessed Dubai’s rapid growth from a sleepy village to a thriving city. Here are some entries about life in the 1920s and 1930s from his diaries.


The barter system was in place before the Indian rupee became the currency in Dubai following the First World War. Pearl and camels used to be bartered for business transactions.

Although the India rupee was widely used in Dubai, traders preferred silver coins. When the merchants (javeris) from India brought currency notes, a 100 rupee note would only fetch silver coins worth 95 rupees

Gulf rupee (pronounced rubiya), printed by India, replaced the Indian currency in 1959.

On June 6, 1966, India devalued the Gulf rupee against the Indian rupee. And Dubai adopted what was called the Qatar and Dubai Riyal (QDR) as the legal tender.

Dirham became the UAE currency in 1973.

The early days
of Dubai Customs

The origins of Customs in Dubai can be traced to the 1930s. Abdul Karim Bashi, an Iranian, was the first customs officer. He used to tax Indians 2 rupees and 8.75 anas. Out of that 2 rupees would go towards his salary, 8 anas as labour charges and 3 paise was paid to the officials/government. The customs duty on textile rolls used to be Rs 2.75 per carton.

Dubai Ruler His Highness Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum put Thani Bin Abdulla (left) in charge of Dubai Customs. Thani Bin Abdulla in February 1972 became the first Speaker of Federal National Council.

Food imports and prices

Onion and garlic were imported from Kutch in India. The boats arrived in Dubai in 15 days.

Wheat was imported from Bushehr, a city in Iran

Donkeys from Iran would cost 30 – 100 rupees

Cows from Iran: 12-14 rupees.

Goats from Iran: 1.8 rupees

Rice per bag: 6.50 rupees

Chinese silks: 2.50 to 4 rupees per roll (taka)

Living expenses

House Rent: 300 rupees per year

Meals for a month: 5 rupees

Electricity & lighting

Oil lamps and kerosene lamps (fanoos) brought light at night. Later the bright lights of petromax became popular.

Electricity first came to Dubai Ruler His Highness Sheikh Saeed Bin Maktoum Al Maktoum’s palace, where a dynamo was used to generate power in 1950.


Silver jewellery was imported from Italy. Gold ornaments came from India, and old jewellery was melted and sent back to India.

Trade in Deira

In the early days, traders in Bur Dubai were not allowed to trade in Deira, and attempts to sell goods there used to attract a fine of 50 rupees. Only two Iranians were licensed to sell their wares in Deira.

Trading hours

The business was mostly conducted during daylight hours. When Adhan is called, all shops were shuttered.

On Fridays, shops opened only after 1pm after prayers.