Separated by Saddam, reunited by Facebook

Sep 24, 2013, 00:20 IST | Waleed Hussain

Over two decades after battle tanks barged into Kuwait and uprooted over a million Indians, a motley group of displaced students rediscovered their long-lost friends and teachers -- all thanks to Facebook

August 2, 1990 is a date etched in the memories of a million Indians. It was a day that ruined many lives, uprooted many families and destroyed many households. It was the day that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded the tiny country of Kuwait.

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Over a million affluent Indians, working as expatriates in the oil-rich country, were rendered refugees overnight. With no homes, no jobs and no security, their well-established lives were turned upside down in a matter of hours.

“It was the most horrible period of my life,” says Faisal Kazi, who was only 12 years old when the invasion took place. “The airport was shut, phone lines were dead, the electricity was gone, bank accounts were frozen and civilians were left stranded,” he adds.

Memory lane: All those memories of rehearsals for annual day and sports day were relived at the get-together

“It took us nearly three months to reach India by road. I can never forget that horrifying experience,” shared Kazi. And like him, many more from Kuwait had to leave the country without knowing the whereabouts of their friends or relatives.

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“When we reached India, we still had no clue as to who among my friends had made it back and who were still stranded behind. It was only many years later that I was able to connect with some of them through the Internet,” added Kazi.

Faisal Kazi was in Mumbai, to reunite with his classmates at a hotel in Colaba, last month. And the reunion was made possible by connecting through Facebook.

In fact most of the separated students managed to find each other through social media networks and reunite. Val D’Souza, who was in Std X when the invasion took place, says that it took her nearly two decades to reconnect with her classmates from the Indian School Kuwait.

“The invasion and the subsequent Gulf war came as a shock to all of us. No one was expecting such a calamity. We had the contact numbers and addresses of most of our friends in Kuwait, but once they left the country there was no way to know where they went. Many years later, when Facebook became popular, people started surfacing and we began to connect once again.”

However, the idea of organising a reunion struck Val when she met her ISK classmates Ruby Mary Raju and Meenakshi in 2009. “I was so excited to see my friends with whom I had grown up and shared my childhood. It almost felt like being a child again,” shared an excited Ruby, who is based in Washington.

Let’s ‘Face’ it
Ruby and Val then set out to organise the Indian School Kuwait (ISK) reunion. It took them over three years to find their classmates, teachers and even juniors from their school branch through Facebook. Then began the most difficult part of the reunion -- the venue. “The students were scattered all over the world, and getting them all to one venue at one time was a near impossible task,” said Val.

“We had students in every continent, and holidays and visa issues kept popping up hurdles each time we thought of finalising a venue. We were on Facebook chat simultaneously across various time zones trying to agree on a date and venue, but it just wasn’t working out,” added Ruby.

Finally, the duo decided to plan a group holiday, zeroed down on a time frame and began working backwards. “We made an ISK reunion page on Facebook and sent out invites to all of the students and teachers. I even offered to arrange accommodation and do the tickets etc to facilitate the reunion,” said Ruby.

“Thank heavens for perseverance and technology. Else we could never have found our friends,” said Ruby, who spent hours on Facebook hunting for all her lost friends.

The first reunion took place at a banquet hall in Andheri and was attended by students and four teachers. The students flew in from the US, UAE, UK and parts of India. The second reunion took place in Alleppey, Kerala and the third in a hotel in Colaba last month.

Excited lot
Abu Dhabi-based Dilip Ganesh said, “It was extremely nostalgic, especially to see my teachers after 20 years. We had changed so much but after spending a few minutes with the group at the reunion it felt like we had travelled back in time, back to our classroom in Kuwait. The many memories, the fondest incidents, rehearsals for the annual day, sports day and so on were all relived in the span of one evening. It was thanks purely to social media that we were able to find each other and share this nostalgic moment.”

Sandhya Viswan, a teacher based in Kerala, said, “I don’t know what I felt, really. Excitement would be an understatement. We had lost touch so suddenly due to the invasion and we had no means to contact each other. Imagine meeting each other after 20-odd years. I can’t explain the joy.”

Moving on from Saddam
The one man that most of the students blame for their ill fate is Saddam Hussein. His rash act had uprooted so many people and changed their future. Even though it has been 20 years since the incident and seven since the death of the tyrant, not many have been able to forgive the tyrant.

Ruby says, “I don’t think I will ever be able to forgive Saddam. He took away my childhood. If it weren’t for him, I would not have lost my friends for such a long time. Who knows what turn my life would have taken.”

“I guess now that Saddam is dead after enduring a shameful end, I can forgive him and move on,” said Dilip.

Sandhya echoed Dilip’s opinion. “For many years, I couldn’t bring myself to forgive and forget. But I guess after the reunion, I’ve been able to put it in the past. But I still can’t say I would forgive him. Thanks to Facebook, we could all get back in touch again.” 

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