In an exclusive interview, George Mathews, son of Sunny Mathews, who Akshay Kumar's character in 'Airlift' is based on, recounts his dad's heroic involvement in saving the lives of lakhs of Indians
In 1990, Saddam Hussein-led Iraq's invasion of Kuwait rendered over a lakh Indians residing there homeless and scurrying for cover. Thanks to a handful of Indian businessmen and their swift thinking, each of them was safely evacuated from the war zone and brought back to India.
Akshay Kumar and Nimrat Kaur
This story of heroism and true grit inspired 'Airlift', which hit theatres yesterday. hitlist managed to get in touch with George Mathews, son of Sunny Mathews, who led the evacuation drive and on whom Akshay Kumar's character in the film is based.
George was in Mumbai to watch the film that pays tribute to his dad — an emotional moment for him as he recalls his dad's heroic involvement in saving the lives of lakhs of Indians.
Sunny Mathews and his wife
"I don't want to sound vain, but what my dad and his team did is a lot. They sacrificed a lot, but it just was not talked about much. Air India, which flew the people back, ended up getting most of the credit. And people who were evacuated could come back in a year or two, and people chose to forget the entire episode. My dad is not the kind who would even want credit for what he did. He helped people when he thought he should and that's about it," he says.
Sunny Mathews was a successful businessman, who had connections with Iraq through his business. Those contacts came in handy when faced with this crisis and he took it upon himself to make sure that the Indians stranded in Kuwait were safe.
George Mathews (right) with his wife and director Raja Krishna Menon. Pic/Satej Shinde
He, with the help of few of his business friends, pooled in resources to keep all Indians under one roof and also looked after their food and other needs. He and his friends continued pressurising the Indian government to take immediate action to evacuate the stranded Indians.
George says though most of their actions went undocumented, his father is still revered and remembered in Kerala since 75 per cent of the evacuees hailed from that state.
George, who himself was witness to the whole movement, says it was a humungous task that his father had taken up: "My dad stayed on till the last ship went out. He made sure that he stayed on till every Indian was evacuated. Even when we were sent to Baghdad from Kuwait, he came with us, but then went back to Kuwait to make sure that the rest of the Indians back there were safe. He was away for two months then with no communication. He had left a note with my mother saying that she should open it only if he never comes back."
Even in the panic-stricken situation, George says his dad kept a cool mind and went about doing whatever he could, meticulously. Apart from saving a lakh lives, he made sure that some of their belongings were left untouched too. "There was this family in our neighbourhood which had kept its gold ornaments in a bucket for safety. Dad went to their house after they were evacuated, took the bucket and buried it behind our house. When that family came back, he returned it to them," he says.
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