The Burj Khalifa was non-existent. It would begin construction only in 2004.
Neither was the Burj Al Arab open. That would throw open its doors in 1999.
Floating Bridge and Business Bay Crossing were yet to materialise (both would open only in 2007).
But at the Gulf News office near Safa Park, green and full of trees at the time, a product was beginning to take shape in 1997 – a brand new magazine. Few, apart from the then magazine editor knew the title – Friday.
Fresh from working on a national newspaper in Bengaluru, India, I remember arriving at the Gulf News office – a much smaller one compared to the present – and quickly getting to work. Pages for the first edition had already gone to press to be distributed with the Gulf News newspaper on May 16, 1997.
Meetings for scheduling, planning, and commissioning features were the order of the day but the weekly brainstorming get-togethers were the most fun, and not just because of the delicious samosas and hot coffee that was par for course, but for the often vociferous debates and discussions that ensued when conceptualising a feature.
Post-work was fun too, listening to tales shared by senior colleagues about Dubai. ‘Some days after work we used to walk across [the much smaller] Shaikh Zayed Road to the Metropolitan Hotel to grab a cuppa,’ one colleague told me, although I’m sure it was not a cup of tea he was referring to.
I didn’t have such adventures, though. The magazine being new, a bank of features had to be created and churning them out was the priority. From writing about a man who quit Microsoft to set up libraries in Nepal to interviewing Pakistani national Namira Salim who was preparing to travel to space, to travelling to Cairo to do a travel feature, life was busy but interesting. A literal high point in my career was doing a feature about a team of RJs giving live traffic updates to listeners. Was I ever happy when we touched ground after an hour in the sky in a small plane!
So, which is my most memorable feature? I guess it’s the one on a school in Kerala, India, because it fetched me my first international award.
But the feature that truly moved me – and hundreds of readers as well, going by the response – was the one about a man named Karibeeran Parmeswaran, who after losing three children in the 2005 tsunami, decided to be a father to orphans left behind by the killer wave.
‘You know,’ he told me during the interview, ‘there are moments when I stand on the balcony of my house and look out to the sea and softly call out to my children. I remember the sweet memories I had with them. Then I look at the 34 children I now have and feel this is what I suppose I was born to do.’ Truly humbling.