Dubai: Ramesh Shukla’s eyes light up as he reminisces about the day the UAE was born. A photographer and artist, Shukla is the visual chronicler of the evolution of the UAE after reaching here on board the Dwarka ship from India in 1965.
“I was in my early 20s and as an avid photographer with the Indian broadsheet Times of India, I had travelled the length and breadth of India capturing so many images in my camera. When I heard of Dubai, I decided this was the place I wanted to be in. With barely Rs50 in my pocket, seven rolls of films, my precious Rolleicord camera and two bananas for a meal, I took the boat that dropped anchor at Sharjah port after four days,” he recalls.
Shukla, 79, who instantly took to the people and culture of the UAE and set up his home in Al Nasr Square, is credited with recording the birth of the nation on December 2, 1971. “It was an unforgettable day in the history of this country and (late) Shaikh Zayed (Bin Sultan Al Nahyan) and Shaikh Rashid (Bin Saeed Al Maktoum) were the main architects of the plan,” he recalls.
“I was not the official photographer that day. But I had this absolute passion for photographing anything and everything, taking thousands of pictures and spending all my money in developing films, preserving the negatives, building the archives, even when I would fall behind on rent payments.”
Being friendly and affable, Shukla made friends with Emiratis and was an integral part of the inner circles in the six years before the UAE was formed.
“I will never forget that day. In those days, there were border patrols between emirates and people required permission to visit Abu Dhabi. My good friend Abdul Illahi, called me in the night saying I need to be at the Union House at the crack of dawn as all the Rulers would congregate for the formation of one country. There had been a lot of talk among the Rulers who discussed one country, one currency, one flag to empower the people of the emirates,” he said.
With adrenalin throbbing through his veins of being able to witness history, Shukla got up at the crack of dawn and cycled his way to the Union House from his home in Al Nasr Square by 7am.
“I used to cycle all the way to Sharjah so this was a short distance which took me half an hour. There were people milling outside the Union Guest House and the excitement and thrill was palpable. Until the dignitaries arrived, I captured plenty of pictures.
“At 8am, Shaikh Zayed arrived followed by Shaikh Rashid. After that by 10.30am, the Rulers of Sharjah, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain arrived. Ras Al Khaimah joined the union at a later date. So when all representatives of the six emirates had arrived, Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum stood up and gave an inspiring speech stating that the coming together of all brothers would empower the people and one nation would mean so much more. He talked about the common currency and its economic significance, the flag and the sense of loyalty and allegiance people would feel towards it.
“The political observers of the Trucial States were present. All in all, in that little room, all the Rulers stood by a round table and the accord was signed at noon,” Shukla recalls the historic moment.
Shukla who had a knack of taking pictures effortlessly, almost invisible to the subjects, managed to capture candid expressions in each frame. “It was a challenge as there was very little space in the room. I was barely three feet away from the Rulers standing around a round table. The analog camera was manual, and I had to have a good idea of lighting, whether it was hard or soft, the exposure, the focus in the bifocal camera. I took over a hundred pictures that day and the most significant was that of the Rulers standing next to the hoisted flag of the UAE. To this day, this has become the official picture of the formation of the UAE and I feel humbled that I witnessed such an important milestone in the history of the country.”
Shukla recalls the joy that erupted at the signing of the important document. “All of a sudden, the Rulers hugged and kissed each other on the forehead, rubbed noses and there was excitement in the room. Outside, the moment the UAE came into existence, hundreds of people shouted in joy.
“Some Emiratis had brought in the first ever flag of the UAE and I quickly called them to pose with it. Then the larger UAE flag was hoisted atop the Union House. I quickly asked them to stand below it and that is how the picture was composed in that instant. That picture now is symbolic of the strength and history of the nation,” concluded Shukla.