A country’s leader put his country first and my family and thousands more like us lost everything they had built in the years leading up to that date. He not only destroyed his own coutry and people but ruined millions of innocent lives. When Saddam Hussain decided to invade Kuwait.
We lived an idyllic life. My small family thriving. Dad doing two jobs. My brother just born and me a ten-year-old busy in excelling in school, dance classes and playing with friends.
Till the morning of August 2nd 1990.
When people hear I was in Kuwait when the Gulf war happened, they want to know what it was like. It has taken me years to be able to put it down on paper. But now somehow the time seems right.
Here is my experience of the war in Kuwait –
10 year old me wakes up groggy. Into an alternate universe. I see my mom filling up bottle after bottle with water. The kitchen is lined up with bottles. Soda bottles, milk bottles. Every container empty or available. I look right, in the bathroom the tub is full of water. The windows have been blacked out with black garbage bags taped to them. There is a weird haze around the house.
“What happened mama?”
“Iraq attacked Kuwait. The county is full of Iraqis,” my mother replies in the midst of filling up bottle after bottle.
I know at the age of 10 life is never going to be the same.
My father comes home from the bank with all the money he can withdraw and his passport. He doesn’t seem worried but is saying,”The streets are of full of dancing Iraqis. They waved to me calling me Hindi. Kuwaiti soldiers are nowhere to be seen. Poor boys. 18,19 years-old. What do they know about war?”
Mom packs up everything one thing at a time. Within a week most things we own are in bags around the house, to make for easy escape. (In retrospect that was just an easy way to make sure all our things got stolen, which they did!)
We are holed up in our home with a bachelor friend of dad’s. Dad and that man go out once or twice to stock up on food. Day after day is spent indoors, bored with a sense of urgency sprinkled over every moment.
Bombs keep going off in the city. The scariest was on the mosque right behind our apartment building. It was so close. We hide under our dining table wondering where the next one will fall.
We live near the Kuwait airport so my dad is worried that soon soldiers will come scavenging. Mom and dad decided to move into a house into the city where four other families were living. Before we leave, my dad writes on the wall, “Please don’t take family photographs. ” (They took them all)
For a ten-year-old being in a house with 13 adults and a baby, it is like being at a long, boring party. I keep myself busy exploring the house, missing my own.
One day, the news comes that there is a flight in which I.K.Gujral will take as many Indians as possible. This is probably one of the first rescue missions there is. We go tagging along with the families we were living with.
We reach the airport only to find to our immense disappointment that the plane was already full. As with all things in life, the people with the most ‘influential friend’ were on board.
When my father finds out, he loses it completely. He grabs the man in charge by the collar, raises him off his feet and threatens to make pulp out of his face.
“What are men doing on the flight? They can take care of themselves. Put in more women and children,” he bellows. More men desperate to their wives and children on the plane join in and soon my mom and I are sitting on the floor of a fighter plane with a 7 month baby and a only one bag full of diapers.
The plane is now full of women and children.
My mom gives me a paper to go take autograph of the foreign minister, I.K.Gujral. He does so kindly, patting me on the head. I remember everything about that flight. The pensive faces, the restless kids and the constant hum of the engine, louder than usual planes.
We enter India with cameras flashing. We reach my father’s paternal home to be given a room on the roof. We live that way for a day with nothing but the clothes on our back.
A day later my mother’s relatives come with clothes and basic necessities. My uncle takes me out to have a non-vegetarian meal as a treat! I understand that is a big deal for a vegetarian to do. He buys me some toys, too. The sun hasn’t shone so bright in weeks! I take in the streets in Gwalior, a city in the center of India, for the first time.
I hate the tin roof and the freezing floor of the bathroom. That and lagging behind in studies. My mom understands I’m worried when my Dad would join us in India but gets me back on track saying, “You have to excel.”
I stop eating. My cousins are fun but I miss my home and all my friends terribly. My dad finally joins us. He and many other fathers had to drive for weeks through Iraq and Jordan and then taking a flight from there to India. Within a few months we move to a different city, into a new home! One that has everything.
All through the next decade I lamented to people first in sincerity and then in jest that, “Saddam Hussain took away everything. Even my toys. My dollhouse, seven Barbies and one Ken. ” But I didn’t just lose my home and toys, but my childhood. Childhood is not toys and luxury, but the security of believing you are safe and loved by everyone around you.
We went back to Kuwait in 1993 but our home was gone. Every thing and person had changed.
We had it MUCH easier than others who had to go to India on a ship with no food for weeks or others who had to live in camps waiting in distress for transport to India. We were probably one of the luckiest of those affected, all thanks to my Dad who took a stand where others wouldn’t. I still remember him towering over me, manhandling the man fighting or every woman and child at that airport.
To this day he says, ” With you and your mom and brother gone and safe, that night is the first night I slept peacefully.
“With great power comes great responsibility,” is not just a line for superhero movies. Each of us has the power to affect the life of another. Bad things happen only when good people stand by and do nothing.
Today, I am a parent. I have built a home with my husband and two children, and often shudder to the core to think what my parents went through each and every minute of those months. To have nothing to show for the home they built in the period of 12 years.
Please always choose to take a stand for what’s right!