He arrived in Oman at a time when the only mode of travel to the country from India was through water, water was supplied in goatskin on donkey backs; when there were no air-conditioners, and electricity was supplied through generators. Verapulli Keshavan Madhavanunni, an engineer from Kerala in India, boarded the ship from Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay) and after spending two and a half days on the sea, reached Muscat on the 10th of February, 1974.
It came as a culture shock for Madhavan. Before coming to Muscat he had worked in Mumbai for 6 years, the highly developed well flourished business hub of India; vibrant and one of the busiest in the world- and suddenly, here he was in a vast desertland, with folds of mountains, and unforgiving hot sands, for as far as could meet the eye. Life seemed to come to a complete standstill!
"There were absolutely no buildings. While driving to Muttrah from Muscat we could see sea on one side and hills on the other. The only asphalt road was there from Al Hamariyah to Seeb lined with date palms. It was only the second year of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said's rule, and development was begining to unfold.
Day by day, the country ushered into an era of unprecedented prosperity and modernity, and now it all seems to have happened in the flash of an eye," says Madhavan, having witnessed the transition of the country very closely, and from the very beginning.
Having lived a major part of his life in the country, rendering his services to the ever expanding construction sector, the veteran engineer braces himself to bid goodbye to the Sultanate, as he retires in coming months, and leaves his native country India. "Life would never be the same again. I lived the prime of my life here. All my memories associated with the place- this is my true home. It would all have to start again now," he says with a hint of gloom in his tone.
Starting with a small construction company as site engineer, life was quite tough in the beginning, all alone in a foreign country, recounts Madhavan. "The place was completely different from where I had come. Quite primitive in lifestyle, we were provided with tented accomodations made of canvas with table fans. There were no Acs, and the scorching heat made it quite difficult to survive. Water used to be supplied in goatskin on donkey back. Electricity was available only in the capital area, feeded through generators. The city had only 6 kms of asphalt road, and the only inhabited areas were old Muscat, Ruwi, and partially Wadi Kabir. It felt like I had travelled back in time to the medieval age".
For even the most basic of chores like banking and shopping, it meant taking a half day leave, board the company bus, and leave and come back on fixed specific times.
"We used to go shopping weekly in the company assigned bus, from our campsite in Risail, near Seeb, to Muttrah Souq or Ruwi. Before lunch we had to return. For banking we had to apply for half day leave, as it had to be done on working days. All the businesses were based in only the Muttrah and Ruwi areas. The only multi-story structure in the city was the Talib Building in Muttrah, which accomodated the primary business hubs, like banks, and automobile showrooms".
The most difficult part however, recollects Madhavan, was to make calls back home to India. The call had to be booked days in advance, and then there was a wait for hours, for the call to be finally connected; sometimes for than 5 hours. "They had to get the international line. Often the operator used to ask where I had to make the call and when I would say Mumbai, he would say dejectingly, Oh the line was just now connected. We will have to try again. If I was lucky it got connected within half an hour, else it took hours," said Madhavan adding, more often he used to resort to corresponding through letters over phone calls. "Although it used to take 10 days to send the letter, and another 10 to get its reply, but it was far too convenient and saved a great deal