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‘I was one among the Kuwait evacuees’

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Sohini Sengupta in front Kuwalit's landmark water tanks

Sohini Sengupta was one among the thousands evacuated from Kuwait when Saddam’s troops invaded the oil rich country in 1990. She felt bad about Airlift as the movie distorts facts to flare up jingoistic nationalism

“Movies are known to take liberties with the truth and artistic license for the sake of box office takings is understandable. However this film which claims to represent true life events sadly narrates a story that grossly distorts facts and denigrates the contributions of the many people genuinely involved in the evacuation process at the time.” —Dr Sohini Sengupta

Sohini Sengupta in front Kuwalit's landmark water tanks
Sohini Sengupta in front of Kuwalit’s landmark water tanks

When I first heard about ‘Airlift’, the movie that was to bring to the Indian audience the true story of the Kuwait war, I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing on silver screen a depiction of events that I had personally witnessed as a child. Yes, I was a young girl in Kuwait at the time and along with my mother and more than 100,000 other Indians, I was evacuated safely out of the country by the Indian government in an Indian Air Force plane.

My father, Ashok Sengupta, was left as the officer in charge of the Indian embassy in Kuwait after the removal of the top level diplomatic staff to Iraq. I witnessed first hand the immense effort, bravery and sacrifice that went into making this hugely complex diplomatic exercise and massive logistically challenging evacuation a success. The credit for this goes to numerous diplomatic staff spread across multiple Indian embassies in the region, local philanthropic Indians, Indian Air Force, Air India and the Ministry of External Affairs who successfully negotiated the safe passage with Saddam Hussein.

Parents of Sohini Sengupta in Kuwait
Parents of Sohini Sengupta in Kuwait

I also remember what it was like to live in Kuwait both before and during the occupation. I remember sleeping on the bedroom floor instead of the bed in order to avoid stray bullets that could potentially come through the floor length windows. I remember standing in queues at the supermarket to buy food. I remember storing water, food and other essential supplies in the basement in preparation for possible air raids.

Saddam TimeI remember the terrifying rumours of deliberate drinking water source poisoning by the Iraqi army to kill all the residents of the desert city. I remember waiting anxiously every night for my exhausted father to come back home and narrate interesting stories of the day. I remember the bus journey from Kuwait to Basra in Iraq, and the five hour flight to Bombay in an Indian Air Force carrier plane. I vividly recall the anguish of leaving behind my two pet turtles with a family friend prior to my departure to India. Even though my mother tried to comfort me by saying that they would be well looked after, my child’s heart knew that there was not going to be a happy ending for them.

IMG_0109Movies are known to take liberties with the truth and artistic license for the sake of box office takings is understandable. However this film which claims to represent true life events sadly narrates a story that grossly distorts facts and denigrates the contributions of the many people genuinely involved in the evacuation process at the time.

The real life heroism and camaraderie that went into making this largest civil evacuation in the world a success is something that all Indians should know about and can be justifiably proud of. This movie chose instead to whip up patriotic fervour based on a false premise and will be responsible for creating a lasting untrue version of the history of the Kuwait invasion in the minds of generations of Indians.

 

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