“The past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time,” said Virginia Woolf famously.
On the eve of the 47th National Day we went through some archives and spoke to people who were able to relate with the nostalgia of Oman’s transformative decades.
“We’re at an important point in the history of the sultanate, especially with regards to development,” remarks Najeeb Ahmed, an old-time Ruwi resident, who saw the landscape change from ’80s onwards.
Today, Oman is gaining popularity as a tourist destination. It can be said that the sultanate’s progressive evolution has been swift since His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said’s ascension to power in 1970.
As is noted by most historians: “Before Him there was nothing.”
Change has been inevitable. “After the Gonu Cyclone of 2007, there was a massive infrastructural change,” says Meena Thomas, who has been in the sultanate, “long enough to see the country transform from huge stretches of barren land to what it is today”.
Milind Kelkar arrived in Oman in 1993 and recalls his first experience of the sultanate when he stepped out of the plane.
“It was the hottest recorded day in the past 20 years then - I read about it in the newspaper the next day. The airport was a primitive stretch of land.”
The old airport, Bait al Falaj, is an element of nostalgia for the older generation even as the new Muscat International airport is nears its inaugural date.
Before the Seeb International Airport opened its doors in the 1970s, the airport zone stretched between CBD and MBD, “where small planes would land between two stretches of mountains”.
Even after the operations of the Seeb airport had begun, it was an adventure getting there, recalls an Omani media mogul.
“Getting to Seeb airport from Ruwi would take a good three hours back then.
“And then of course, the vehicles would get stuck in the sand along Muscat’s coastal road causing further delay.”
The bright side he says was that people used it as an excuse to take a break and relax by the coast before finally reaching Seeb. “And today, it takes only around half an hour,” he says, pointing to the flyovers in the city.
Over the past decade, Oman has many times featured among the world’s top ten countries with the best infrastructure.
For most residents who have lived in Oman through the past four decades, infrastructural change has been a notable element in the country’s transformation.
“There were hardly any buildings in CBD then,” recalls Madhav Pillai, who arrived here in 1979.
“The Central Bank of Oman and Stars Cinema were the only buildings in the area. There were no shopping malls, and business was more around Muttrah Souq and Ruwi High Street.”
Another long-time resident points out, “When I came in 1998, there weren’t many high-rise buildings. But look at the pace of growth today - the Al Mouj, the City Centres, the malls - Muscat has transformed into a modern city.”
But something that has remained unchanged over the years is the National Day celebration.
“It has been the same for as long as I can remember,” says a senior Omani banker.
“The lights, the fireworks, the flags…it somehow bridges the sweetness of the past with the constantly changing world of today.”
VIEW OF THE RUWI-CBD SKYLINE OVER THE DECADES