The Covid-induced lockdown is giving Ajay Kumar, a native of Kottayam district, a sense of deja vu.
Ajay was among nearly 1.7 lakh Indian expatriates who were stranded (and later evacuated by the Indian government) in Kuwait following the invasion of Iraq in 1990.
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Now, nearly three decades later, Ajay is stranded again.
This time at his home in Changanassery for over a month after India barred all international commercial passenger flights from March 22 following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I came to Kerala on March 2 to see my ailing mother-in-law. She passed away on March 5. My tickets were for March 22, but the sudden stoppage of international flights has left me stranded here,” Ajay, who works as a financial controller in a food supplier firm in the hospitality sector in Bahrain.
Though the national carriers Air India and Air India Express have announced an evacuation plan (the second phase from Saturday will see return flights to West Asia), Ajay said he would wait till Gulf Air begins operations. “I had some important works to complete and now I am doing them from here in Kerala,” he said.
Back in August 1990, Ajay had booked tickets to Kerala for his marriage, scheduled for August 16 at Mavelikkara Sri Krishna Swamy temple. “The Iraqi invasion happened suddenly and Kuwait International Hotel (Hilton) where I was working was converted into a military office,” he said. The Iraq Bank governor, military general and other top officers were based at the hotel post the invasion, he said. “We were completely in the dark on when and where our evacuation to India will happen,” Ajay said.
That was when Kuwait resident and Keralite Toyota Sunny (Mathunny Mathews) offered to help in the evacuation process. “We were taken to the Iraq-Kuwait border. A sea of people had gathered at the ‘no man’s land’ between Iraq and Jordan. We got into a vehicle to the base camp some 10-15 km away by paying something like 4,000 dinars,” he reminisced.
From there, they were shifted to the next camp at Jordan, where Indians were asked to form groups of 42 persons each. “Back home, my family had no information if we were alive or not. There was no information about us, whatsoever,” he said.
To cut a long story short, Ajay finally got into the evacuation flight long after the marriage date of August 16. “Though the marriage was postponed, I married the same girl later in December the same year,” he said. The couple has two daughters – one married and doing her higher studies in Germany, while the younger one has completed her medicine.
As Ajay gets ready to fly off to Bahrain when the international commercial passenger flights’ services begin, is he worried about the reported fast spread of coronavirus in West Asia? “I don’t have any worries about the COVID spread in the Gulf. I think, we have to learn to live with the virus,” he said.
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