The Day Dad was Almost Shot

I am dedicating this post to a person who has always supported, chastised, encouraged and loved me throughout my life – My DAD!

This is an incident that happened in my family during the infamous Gulf War in 1990. It was the year I started at my new school in the Third standard. The year we bought a new car – the Mitsubishi Colt.

On Aug 2nd 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and annexed it as their 19th province. Little did we know that a new chapter was about to begin in the lives of many, including our own.

Expatriates and citizens alike started storing up food in freezers and selling stuff on the black market. Iraqi soldiers had taken up plundering and looting apartments by holding their occupants at gunpoint. There were also quite a few ‘in’-opportunists who tried to make a quick buck posing as Iraqi soldiers and trying to loot apartments. There were bangs and gun-fires to be heard in the night. We had all taped up our windows (to prevent them from shattering due to huge noises) and there were talks of the possible use of nerve gas in Kuwait. Many were beginning to contemplate leaving the land that gave wings to their dreams.

One day, while Dad was returning home from a trip to Kuwait City, his car was suddenly flagged down by a couple of Iraqi officers. Conversing in Arabic, they communicated that they wanted Dad to take them someplace. There were several stories circulating about people being taken away by the Iraqi military to the desert and robbed and shot. Mindful of these stories, and seeing the guns in their hands, Dad agreed without a word.

They quickly got into the car, with one occupying the passenger seat next to Dad and the other one, right behind him. Dad started up the car, and they were on their way to God knew where. As the two soldiers struck up a conversation, Dad prayed silently to be kept safe. He had a wife and two kids waiting anxiously for him to return home.

As they rode on, the car suddenly began acting up. It started sputtering and stuttering and came to a complete halt. As the soldiers looked on at Dad, he was at a complete loss about what to do next. This could end in two ways – either they would leave Dad alone and be off someplace else; else, they may even shoot Dad for leaving them in the middle of nowhere with a broken down car.

With some trepidation, Dad offered to get out and check out what went wrong. Grudgingly, they agreed, but always had their eyes trained on Dad. They probably suspected that Dad purposely got the car to break down to inconvenience them. Dad opened up the bonnet and found that something was wrong and that the car wouldn’t budge an inch without someone else’s help. Trembling, Dad apprised the soldiers of the situation, and suggested that they hitch a ride in another car, since this one wasn’t very reliable.

They meditated on this solution for a few minutes and soon warmed to it. Luckily (for our family), a Mercedes-Benz came next on the road, and the soldiers flagged it down and took off. Dad gave thanks to the Lord for the rescue and prayed for the occupants of the Mercedes-Benz that rescued him from a dire fate.

Now, 21 years after the war, I heard this story from my husband. Apparently, Dad talked about it to him while narrating his experiences in Kuwait during the war. And here is Dad today with his grandson –

Dad and Grandson
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Gulf War – 20th Anniversary

2nd August – The date rings a distant bell in the minds of many who were in Kuwait during the year 1990. It was the day when many lives were altered, the start of a new era in the Gulf. This was the day when the historic Gulf War began, a war triggered by the annexation of the Kingdom of Kuwait to Iraq, as its 19th Province.

I remember that day very clearly. It was during my summer vacation. I woke up in the morning to find my Dad home, in front of the TV. I wondered why he was still there – usually, he left by around 6:30am every morning. And he says – “Kuwait has been invaded by Iraq.” To a 7 year old (i.e. the one and only me), those words meant nothing more than the disruption of the usual cartoons at 3pm in Channel 2 of Kuwait TV. Instead, the programmes were replaced by something being transmitted from Iraq.

Slowly, the gravity of the situation began to percolate into my mind. Dad had stopped going to work, Dad and Mom started storing up food in the freezer, and began to gather together stuff that could be sold in the black market. I also had cousins staying close-by, and if either families were to visit the other, they usually stayed the night if the visit went past a certain time in the night. We could hear gunshots sometimes, and sometimes a huge blast-like sound had us wondering if that was a bomb blast ( most of the time it was our imagination working overtime). We also began hearing news of a possible gas attack and had us all sealing up the window cracks with brown cellophane tapes.

Then, the elders started talking about fleeing Kuwait. Of course, there were no flights (or if at all there were any, it was next to impossible to get a seat on them). The only way to flee the country was via Iraq and that too by car. Thus started the exodus on 23rd August 1990 (I remember this date too as it was brother’s 2nd birthday). There were several families accompanying us – all relatives, distant and close ones. Clearly, we believed in the strength of numbers, and the more, the merrier. Our destination was Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, via Basra.

There were several checkposts on the way to Baghdad, where Iraqi soldiers stopped us, checked the vehicles and then let us through. Finally, we were in Baghdad. next came the search for a hotel and we found a beautiful hotel by the side of a river (atleast thats how I remember it). There was a white swing which attracted me to it and I was busy making plans to come and play on it everyday, when the elders decided that the hotel was not to their liking (I guess it was too expensive).

Then we came to another hotel. I think it was closer to the Indian Embassy and cheaper. So, it met the approval of everyone in the party (everyone that mattered, at any rate). I don’t remember how long we stayed there, but the one thing I recall with clarity is the distinctive scent of the Dining Hall and the breakfast they served there. Every morning, they had dry Nan, with honey and some other sauces to go with it.

We, the kids in the party ( i.e., me and my two cousins), spent the days playing, while the elders went around frantically trying to get the papers in order and flight tickets out of Iraq. And finally, we were there, in Baghdad airport, with flight tickets to Amman, Jordan. Once in Amman, we got flight tickets to Bombay (as Mumbai was called in those days). As soon as we reached Bombay, there were reporters standing by to take down the names of people returning from the Gulf, so that the names could be published in the local newspaper there.

Next stop, Bombay railway station. There we booked coupes for all the families and we were finally on our way home to Kerala. Thus ended our exodus from Kuwait.