Indian film ‘Airlift’ based on a true story from the 1990 Iraq invasion of Kuwait is sure to revive some old memories of those who were there in Kuwait during the time.
According to media, the film released on 26th Jan 2016 is completely short in its research; incidentally it has been banned from cinemas in Kuwait for undisclosed reasons.
The film starring Akshay Kumar follows RanjitKatyal (Akshay Kumar), a Kuwait-based businessman, who carries out the biggest civil operation of evacuation of Indians based in Kuwait.
For many Indians in Kuwait who survived the ordeal, this is almost like a trip down memory lane…
BUT TRUTH, AS THEY SAY, CAN BE STRANGER THAN FICTION. DRAMATIC TOO.
Agnello Fernandes, now a Vice-President of one of Kuwait’s reputed stock markets company recalled how the invasion was a very unfortunate incident in Kuwait’s history.
Carmo Santos, a Goan businessman in Kuwait, sheltered and fed families that, after having sold their household goods to fund their trip out of Kuwait, were stranded at the Iraq-Turkish border and had to return to Kuwait penniless.
“I distributed hundreds of kilos of basmati rice and flour that were in my godown, and even gave money to those who had little or none,” says Santos in one of his interviews to the online Kolkatta Mirror. “Many, including Kuwaiti locals, sought me out to return the money after the war ended, and are still very grateful.”
For many Indians, it was an escape all right, but not always to victory. Santos, who stayed back in Kuwait, got advertisements placed in Goan newspapers like OHerald and Navhind Times, asking those who had returned to Goa to send him copies of their passports, sponsorship and employment details, so that he could help them get their jobs back in Kuwait. “Their families were in turmoil over loss of money and income, marriages were breaking down,” Santos says.
WITNESS OF THE INVASION & AIRLIFT
Recalling the days, Santos further adds, “Atleast 10,000 to 15,000 Indians were left behind in Kuwait long after the invasion until Kuwait was liberated on 26th February 1991. I witnessed kidnappings, rapes, murders, hangings, loot, fires, bombs, etc. During the invasion I travelled to Iraq 16 times, 10 times to Baghdad and 6 times to Basra with friends in my 1983 model Caprice car. I used to contact my sponsors in Switzerland over the phone from Baghdad hotels and my family in Goa giving them updates on the developments time to time.”
“I fought with late Mathew Kurivilla and Indira Sharma because the Indian Red Cross Society’s food and medicines including baby-milk distribution was not done properly. I also had tussles with Indian Embassy officials who forced poor laborers from Chennai, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab to leave the country against their will. I pleaded with the officials to issue passports to those who wished to stay back, and issue travel documents to those who wanted go to India.”
Carmo Santos also helped arrange travel of some Bangladeshis to India, and issue documents to one German and a Portuguese national to travel to India as Indians so that they could save their lives. “The Portuguese guy is in USA now with his wife and two sons and still thanks me for his safe passage,” recalls Santos adding, “I helped many Indians, locals, Eygptians and Palestinians who were in need of financial, travel or food support, medical assistance, burials of human remains, etc.”
Carmo Santos was involved in helping thousands of homeless Indians regardless of their religion alongwith Bishop Francis Micallef (Malta), Fr. Dominic Santa Maria (Goa/UK), Fr. John Pinto (Mangalore) and Fr.Wendell of Philliphines.
Late Mr. H.S. Vedi was there till Kuwait was liberated and worked tirelessly with late Mathew Kurivilla, Mrs. Indira Sharma and Sunny Mathews, helping many people leave safely.
CREDITS IN ‘AIRLIFT’ MOVIE
Talking about the ‘Airlift’ movie and media reviews about it, Carmo Santos says, “Sunny Mathews is portrayed in the film credits as a hero for ‘airlifting’ 170,000 Indians which is a big bluff and blunder on the part of film makers.”
“Sunny Mathews must have helped his Keralites close aides and family, definitely not other Indians. Infact, some people were involved in confiscating food items, medicines and baby-food meant for Indians to the Palestinans and Iraqis. I was surprised when I found the baby-milk in one of the pharmacies in Abbasiya-Kuwait owned by a Palestinian for sale. Also, I was shocked to see Indian baby milk and MOH-Kuwait baby milk being sold in Baghdad Pharmacies.”
“The whole evacuation of 170,000 stranded Indians was arranged ‘Free of Charge’ by our Indian Government under the leadership of late Prime Minister Shri Chandra Shekhar. The credit goes to our Indian Government, Air-India for the record number of flights to evacuate people, Indian Air Force, Indian Embassy in Baghdad, and Indian Embassy in Kuwait.”
“Some people, in the name of repatriation, collected Iraqi Dinars 250/- per head as bus fare for Salmiya-Kuwait to Baghdad camps and pocketed the money alongwith their henchmen. Later, they travelled as big-bosses on the same ship which the Indian Government had sent to Kuwait.”
At a Red Cross camp in Jordan, Goa-based photographer Alex Fernandes’ cab was stopped at the camp’s main gate by Iraqi troops who, on finding Scotch whiskey in his possession, demanded a bribe in dollars or Kuwaiti dinars.
“That’s when I realized that the cabbie who had dropped us there was hand in glove with the cops,” says Fernandes.
VERONICA DECIDES TO SPEAK
On August 2, 1990, Anthony Veronica Fernandes, a retired social activist and writer, was on his way to the bakala (Arabic for grocery store), to get the morning papers, when he was held at gunpoint by Iraqi soldiers carrying ‘World War II style’ battered helmets and wireless sets. Traffic had come to a standstill, so he assumed some senior sheikh was passing by. “It was only when I heard engines running with no driver behind the wheel, that I sensed trouble,” he says.
“But as luck would have it, the soldier who was holding me at gunpoint got distracted by a Palestinian woman asking why the bus service had been stopped, and I bolted into my apartment building to inform my flatmate about the invasion,” says Fernandes, who founded the Goa-Kuwait Solidarity Centre and whose book on the Kuwait invasion will be released soon.
Veronica Fernandes and many others live today to tell the tales.
Recalling the ‘Airlift’, Esparansa Barretto, in her short story, ‘Nightmare of the Invasion’ writes, “We reached India after 9 long days of staying in camps, a journey from Kuwait through Iraq to Jordan. There were heavy showers as our plane landed Mumbai airport. My brother, who was little then, yelled with joy to be heard by everyone, “Look! Our motherland is crying happy tears today to see us back, safe and alive…”