Then and now

Arab Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Anant Ka­padiya En­gi­neer-Busi­ness­man

Anant Ka­padiya, an en­gi­neer and busi­ness­man, talks about how Kuwait has slowly and steadily trans­formed it­self and will re­gain its lost glory of be­ing “Paris of the Gulf”.

Equipped with a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing de­gree and a few years of work ex­pe­ri­ence in In­dia, I ar­rived in Kuwait over 41 years ago. To­day, I feel an in­te­gral part of the coun­try hav­ing wit­nessed Kuwait’s growth and progress. In the mid-1970s Kuwait was de­vel­op­ing at a fast pace due to the rise in oil prices. With a to­tal pop­u­la­tion of 1.1 mil­lion it had am­bi­tious projects in its plans but was never in a hurry to speed its de­vel­op­ment and growth. Life was sim­ple and re­laxed. It was a large fam­ily of peo­ple liv­ing to­gether drawn from var­i­ous na­tion­al­i­ties. There were no ring roads and high­ways. Salmiya was the most ac­tive and glam­orous sub­urb. It would take an hour or longer to reach Salmiya from Sief Palace. Trav­el­ling to Fa­ha­heel was a long jour­ney. Al­though des­ig­nated taxi and bus ser­vices ex­isted they were very ba­sic and by no means very con­ve­nient. De­cent restau­rants for fam­i­lies were rare. For ex­pa­tri­ates en­ter­tain­ment con­sisted of watch­ing one or at most two hours of English se­ri­als aired on Kuwait TV on Fri­days. There was only one TV chan­nel that broad­cast from 4 pm un­til 11pm mostly show­ing Ara­bic pro­grams and news. Pic­nics in Ah­madi gar­dens or the re­named Al Sha­heed Park in the city or out­ings at the sea front were the main spots for fam­ily get-to­geth­ers. Al Hamra cin­ema oc­ca­sion­ally played Hindi and English movies on the week-ends. Ara­bic plays and mu­si­cal con­certs were held but rarely.

Mu­sic was played at home and restau­rants on record­play­ers and LPs, EPs or cas­settes. The ad­vent of videos and video play­ers brought a rev­o­lu­tion in the en­ter­tain­ment arena. Video record play­ers were very pricey and un­af­ford­able for the ma­jor­ity. Rental shops sprouted all over Kuwait and it be­came a lu­cra­tive busi­ness. One could rent a video record player and one video for overnight use for a sum of six to seven di­nars. A day more would dou­ble the charges. Then emerged the famed Sony Walk­man which rev­o­lu­tion­ized the mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence as it be­came por­tal.

Fa­had Al Salem Street was the Champs El­y­sees of Kuwait and had three-star ho­tels lo­cated on it. These were pop­u­lar with busi­ness vis­i­tors to Kuwait from Iraq and it was rather dif­fi­cult to get a room with­out us­ing the in­flu­ence of a Kuwait busi­ness house. KAC cor­po­rate head of­fice on Fa­had Al Salem Street was the tallest build­ing in town with a restau­rant on the top floor which was con­sid­ered an elite place for the well to do. Salem Al Mubarak in Salmiya was another street known for its shops and a cou­ple of fast food restau­rants. Strolling on this street on the week-ends and hav­ing a meal in one of these places was another form of out­ing and en­ter­tain­ment. It is amaz­ing to note that a falafel sand­wich then and now costs 100 fils and Le­banese khu­boos the same at 10 fils each. Bot­tled wa­ter was not com­monly used.

Mubarakiya souk was the main mar­ket­place for fresh veg­eta­bles, fruits, dry fruits, gro­ceries, gar­ments, foot wear and of course the well known and glit­ter­ing gold souk and a num­ber of ca­sual open air restau­rants serv­ing fish and bar­be­cued meats. Many of us would drive from the sub­urbs to Mubarakiya for a week-end of shop­ping and ca­sual din­ing.

Each area had co­op­er­a­tive stores but they were rather ba­sic and va­ri­ety was lim­ited. Kuwaitis and ex­pa­tri­ates held ra­tion cards and one could buy ba­sic items like rice, oil, su­gar, flour at sub­si­dized rates from govern­ment con­trolled out­lets.

In later years, two multi-story car parks, Souk Al Kuwait and Souk Al Kabeer were built. These had shops on the lower lev­els and were the first of their kind in Kuwait. This was the first step to a mod­ern park­ing and shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence — all un­der one roof. With the con­struc­tion of Sal­hiya Com­plex and the at­tached 5-star Le Meri­dien Ho­tel, Kuwait had ac­quired the mall con­cept, the first of its kind in the city. Vis­i­tors to Kuwait were given the rounds of Sal­hiya to ap­pre­ci­ate Kuwait’s mod­ern and rich shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence. Fol­low­ing Sal­hiya, the Muthanna shop­ping and res­i­den­tial com­plex was built and soon be­came a pres­ti­gious place in which to live.

In the 1970s and mid-1980s Kuwait Air­ways was con­sid­ered the best air­line and Kuwait the most mod­ern, pro­gres­sive and gen­er­ous state in the Ara­bian Gulf. To other GCC res­i­dents Kuwait was the “Paris of the Gulf” with an ex­cel­lent life­style and safety. Iraq’s bru­tal in­va­sion in 1990 was a shock to the world and Kuwait suf­fered heavy ca­su­al­ties. The de­struc­tion of oil wells, dam­age to govern­ment and com­mer­cial build­ings, in­fra­struc­ture and pri­vate prop­erty was a very painful ex­pe­ri­ence for Kuwaitis and ex­pa­tri­ates alike. Upon lib­er­a­tion and un­der the able lead­er­ship of the rul­ing fam­ily, re­con­struc­tion and re­pairs were planned on a war-foot­ing and at an un­prece­dented scale which con­tin­ued for years. Post lib­er­a­tion Kuwait wit­nessed rapid growth and there was an abun­dance of work for ev­ery­one with more job op­por­tu­ni­ties in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try. Traders and busi­ness­men from over­seas flocked to Kuwait. The over­all pop­u­la­tion soared. A de­cline in oil prices prompted other GCC coun­tries to stop or post­pone their ex­ist­ing de­vel­op­men­tal plans but Kuwait con­tin­ues with its projects for de­vel­op­ment of in­fra­struc­ture, hos­pi­tals, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, mod­ern shop­ping malls. It can boast of hav­ing the best in each cat­e­gory in­clud­ing live en­ter­tain­ment with the in­au­gu­ra­tion of the state of the art Opera Com­plex, per­haps the best in the GCC. Kuwait has slowly and steadily trans­formed it­self and will re­gain its lost glory of be­ing the “Paris of the Gulf.” Surely, slow and steady wins the race.

Anant Ka­padiya

Anant Ka­padiya

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