— By Sindhu J Mansukhani | Apr 13, 2015 12:15 am
‘Went for a job, found a bloody war instead’
Mumbai : Often there are times when luck just does not favour a person, and all things go wrong in every possible way. For 23-year-old S K Karim Mandal, luck seems to have left his side more than once – changing his life in one moment and throwing him in the middle of a bloody war in the next. Mandal, a resident of Kolkata in West Bengal was one of the many Indians who had gone to Yemen to try and make some money using the skills that he knew, but instead he found himself in the middle of gunfire, AK-47s, and a desperate attempt to return to safety.
FPJ spoke to the evacuee from Yemen who was in the first batch of people that came back to India from the strife-torn country. Excerpts:
How long back did you go to Yemen, and why?
I had gone to Yemen a little over a month ago, when an agent in Kolkata had arranged for my job there. I had got in touch with the agent through a friend who was also going to Saudi Arabia to work. The plan was to go and work for a newly established gear casting manufacturing company, and contribute for the household. My two elder brothers are married and live separately with their families, and so are my sisters. I am the youngest in the family and live in Kolkata with my parents. After getting in touch with the agent, I had paid Rs 41,000 for the Visa, air-travel and other such expenses for my transit to the other country. But the deal was I was cheated. I was never supposed to be in Yemen.
If not in Yemen, where else were you supposed to be then?
The deal with the agent was to send me to Oman for work and not Yemen. It was only after I reached Mumbai and saw my ticket that I realised that I am being sent to Yemen for work and not Oman. Since I had already paid for the ticket and the Visa, there was no option for me but to go ahead and work in Yemen itself. I had been there only for two weeks when the war started.
How did things change there when the war struck?
There was suddenly a curfew everywhere. I was living with eight other young men in a room provided to us within the premises of the factory itself. As soon as the war struck, the owner of the company fled and all work in the factory stopped. We were stuck inside the room, unable to go anywhere. Before the war started, we used to go out regularly, but later amidst the constant gunfire and battle we did not dare go out of the room or even open the door.
How did you manage to survive for so long without going out? How did you get food or fulfilled other daily needs?
The room was well-stocked with food to last several days. The fear was mostly due to being stuck in an unknown land with unknown people amidst so much violence. Our company’s owner used to visit us some times. But he used to say very odd things. When I told him I am scared, he told me that I feel so because I have always lived in peace in India. For them, such violence is common, that they are used to it and that it doesn’t scare them. How can one not be scared in such conditions?
He also gave me a gun, an AK-47, for protection. It was huge and meant for my protection. My boss even taught me how to use it. I used to carry it around when I used to go for namaaz at the mosque.
Were things that bad that even someone who was praying was not safe? Did you ever actually fire with the gun?
Oh no, they didn’t hurt me. Indians are well-liked and loved there. No one harms them. Nevertheless, the fighting was so reckless and intense that every time I went to read namaaz (which was the only time I used to get out of the room), every moment seemed like an apt one to use the gun.
How did you manage to contact the Indian authorities?
One day a few of us got out of the room and contacted the Indian Embassy in Sana’a. We told them that we need help and want to get out. Through the embassy we also came to know that there are more people like us who want to get out. The Embassy told us that we need to present our passport or its photocopy as proof of our nationality to get out, so we requested our boss to return our passports so that we can go home. We kept in touch with the Embassy through phone and were informed that a ship will be leaving from the Aden harbour on the evening of March 31. We promptly left for the harbour and embarked on INS Sumitra. A little over 12 hours after that we reached Djibouti in Africa. We stayed there for a while and flew back to India.
How was the atmosphere on the ship and in the aircraft? How did the other evacuees behave?
Everyone was very quiet and sombre. They did not talk much. Sure they were happy about being safe. But as we sat on the deck of INS Sumitra while sailing to Djibouti and later boarded the aircraft, no one talked much throughout the long trip. We were just thankful that our own people had finally come to rescue us from that unknown land.
And how was your homecoming in Kolkata?
My parents are very old. When my family came to know of my state, everyone had become tense. As their tension changed into relief they just took comfort in the fact that I was back and safe.
What are you planning to do now? You will have to plan something all over again to start earning money.
Yes. I have heard there’s a company in gear casting manufacturing company in Sewree, Mumbai. I have been told by some friends that there might be a job available there. If that doesn’t work out, I am trying to save up money again and maybe work in Riyadh. Manufacturing gear casting is all that I know.
Sindhu J Mansukhani