A news stand called Kalpaka Stationary in Rolla, Sharjah, run by a Kerala native from Kanhangad has downed shutters after four decades of good business selling newspapers and magazines from all over the world.
Athinan Ashokan, 67, said he was calling it quits and returning to his hometown because business had slumped in the era of online media. The pandemic dealt the final blow.
The shop was located in Ghurair, opposite the Rolla Bus Terminal. His family, including his wife, a son and daughter, had been living in the same building in which the shop was functioning for nearly 25 years.
He originally began the shop as a readymade garments shop, but since there weren’t many newsstands in the 1970s, he decided to open one in 1980.
Ashokan arrived in the UAE in August 1974 on a ship. He was only 20 years old then. He spent some years working in a hotel, a readymade shop, and a supermarket. He saved money from his salary and opened a shop of his own.
The shop was named after the well-known Kalpaka Tourist Home in Kozhikode, Kerala. In its heydays, the shop would sell at least 30 magazines and over 50 newspapers in various languages from 6am to 12 midnight. Since Rolla is a bustling, commercial neighbourhood, people would pick up their favourite newspaper or magazine from the stall on their way to work.
The shop sold everything from women’s magazines, tabloids, romance novels as well as newspapers from India, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Indonesia. It also stocked greeting cards, and the shop was always very crowded during festival seasons. Calendars, stamps, belts, purses, gift and other novelty items were also available.
Strategically located near the Rolla Park, which was once the landing point for thousands of expatriates who arrived in the UAE in search of opportunities, the shop and its proprietor served as a tourist and career guide for new visitors. People sought advice on jobs, affordable accommodation, and good restaurants.
Ashokan ran the newsstand along with his older brother Gangadharan. They also acted as source for journalists, or when reporters needed to confirm news about an incident in the Rolla area.
Ashokan and his wife Reeja will return to Kerala in August. Though they are sad about leaving the UAE, which has given them such a memorable life, they hope to return to visit their children who will continue living here.