Mathukutty Varughese first joined GEMS Our Own English High School in 1982 as teacher
Dubai: A long-time expat will be moving back home to India later this year after staying 36 years in Dubai — all spent working at the same school.
Mathukutty Varughese, who is from India’s Kerala state, joined GEMS Our Own English High School (OOEHS) in 1982 as a grade one teacher.
The school, established in 1968, is one of Dubai’s oldest; it is celebrating 50 years of service this year.
Varughese, 65, who is the Indian school’s longest-serving employee, is now a systems administrator in the school’s accounts department.
Varughese said he will be taking back many fond memories of Dubai as he prepares to settle down with his wife and son back home. His daughter currently lives in Sweden. After landing in Dubai from Bombay (now Mumbai), he joined the school on his second day in the city, which was much quieter those days.
“When I started teaching, the school was a ‘villa school’ in Bastakiya area, behind the Ruler’s Office. At our branch, the 800 students would study in two shifts — morning and evening,” Varughese said.
“I had 50 first-graders in my class, it was a little difficult at that time,” he said.
The school had another branch in Bastakiya and one in Karama as well.
Varughese lived in Satwa back then, sharing an accommodation with two friends. “I used to take the school bus to work and back. But if I wanted a taxi, the trip would cost me only Dh1. And there was no traffic.”
As the school, then known as Our Own English School, was close to the Ruler’s Office, Varughese would often catch a glimpse of the late Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the then Ruler of Dubai.
A main highlight of this stay here, Varughese said, was when he moved to the school’s large, purpose-built campus in Oud Metha in late 1982. That is where he also started his decades-long career in administration, in 1984.
“Oud Metha was an isolated area those days. But our school was nice, and our students would come from as far away as Ajman and Sharjah.”
In 1988, his wife and children joined him in Dubai. After six years, Varughese sent his children back to India to continue their education “and take care of our land there”.
In Dubai, “life was slow paced. All the developments in Dubai would happen slowly, we wouldn’t even notice change was happening. Also, I feel there was more honesty between people. If you gave back coins in change, people would put it straight in the pocket — they wouldn’t even count,” he said.
For fun, people would go to Al Nasr Leisureland or watch a film at the cinema, he said, adding there was no “mall culture” in Dubai then as “there was only a mall or two here”.
Varughese said life was not any harder back then, but air-conditioners were “more costly; they would cost more then, compared to today”.
Reflecting on another change, Varughese said “in those days, people knew and interacted with each other more. The community was smaller and there was more time to socialise.”
One of Varughese’s students from grade one, Abdul Nasser, is still in touch with him. In fact, he is a parent of two students at the same school, which is now located in Al Warqa’a.
“I remember well his nature — clam and down to earth. He never got angry at us [students]. I still see him when I visit the school. We joke a lot and share memories of people who used to be with the school,” Abdul Nasser, now 42, said.
“Whenever I see him, I joke ‘when will you retire?’ He laughs. My children are amazed that he is my teacher. They say he looks younger than me — he does. He’s very presentable, charming and looking good all the time,” added Nasser, a textile businessman.
Varughese also has “wonderful memories of moments of working and interacting with the lovable Varkey family members”.
Sunny Varkey is the founder of GEMS Education — OOEHS is the first school of GEMS. Varughese said he “still remembers with amazement how Mr Sunny Varkey himself went about purchasing all the furniture for the Oud Metha campus. Even today the school has some of that furniture”.
He also remembers how “Mariamma Varkey [the mother of Sunny Varkey] used to visit the school every day. They were accessible to one and all. All of us at the school were treated equally and with warmth and affection”.