Life began in Kuwait in 1981 in a little town named Abbassiya. Back then, towering concrete buildings and clunky American cars were about all there was to see amidst the arid desert landscape. The only sights that stood out were the iconic Kuwait Towers and Sharq’s fish market – the latter for its smell. Of course, no story of Kuwait is ever complete without a mention of the Gulf War and neither is mine. However, unlike most people, who woke up to the sound of gun battles along the beach and the churn of armored tanks down the city’s highways, we were fortunate enough to have heard about the invasion while on holiday in India.
I don’t remember hearing much about what happened in Kuwait after the initial commotion. There were a few stories of people who had managed to escape making the rounds, but just as with every other ten year old at Clarence High back then, most of my time was spent figuring ways to escape Kannada. Yes, change didn’t come easy, but my years in Bangalore were by far the best of my childhood. In fact, it’s the Diwali celebrations that I miss the most.
Although the city is known more for its technology industry these days, Bangalore in the early nineties was easy going, famous for its lush green gardens, and had a colonial charm that had somehow survived four decades of independence.
We returned to Kuwait just a little over a year after the war had ended. The country’s gleaming business districts were now dotted with burnt buildings and plundered cars, but you’d be hard-pressed to see these in most residential areas. In fact, we were only ever made aware that there had been a war by the deafening siren drills and TV warnings about unexploded ordnance. Back in high school, it turned out that I disliked studying Hindi and Arabic far more than I ever did Kannada. However, if given a chance to go back in time, I’d love to learn them all over again.
My parents moved to Dubai in the late nineties. The city’s extravagant shopping festivals and western appeal were a breath of fresh air after twenty years of humdrum monotone. I spent two senior years at Our Own English High School before graduating from the American University of Sharjah. My father never did come to terms with the high school’s peculiar name, but my gripe was the jellybean colored sports uniforms. I secured my first job as a Technical Strategist at Wunderman in September 2003, but left just six months later to join BBDO/Proximity. Over the span of four years there, I delivered meticulously crafted digital user experiences for brands such as Adidas, Emirates, Hilton, Mercedes-Benz and Showtime.
The world of advertising will give you the kind of opportunity to take ownership that few other industries can, but seventy-two hour deadlines tend to take their toll after four years on the track.
2008 was a turning point in my life. I was faced with the choice of continuing down the path that I’d pursued for three decades or learning from the school of hard knocks. I chose the latter and quit my job to co-found one of the Middle East’s first online travel agencies with two friends from college. We chose the name Musafir for our venture because the word means traveller in Arabic. The idea began on a paper napkin at a Starbucks and grew into a $100mn company at its peak.