Since the time I understood the concept of guest posts, I wanted only 1 person to begin that trend here & that is my high-school friend Suzaan. Her blog - Colors of My Thoughts. She was my first reader & the first person to comment on my posts. For one whole year, this blog got comments only from her (& rare appearances by 1 or 2 other readers mostly my students!)
We read each other's minds through our blogs. She lives in Kuwait & I havent seen her or even heard her voice, after we passed out of 12th Std. Yet I feel close to her. Thanks to blogging.
Read on for her first hand account of the Gulf War.
A War & A Family
We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases & toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain & kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, & trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.
- Erma Bombeck
When the war broke out in August 1991, I was back in India on a vacation with my mom & siblings for 20 days. We were at my grandma's house when a neighbor walked in & told my mom," Kuwait has just been invaded." My mom didn’t understand. She was blinking as if "WTF" & ran & watched the news. I heard this panic filled scream & watched her run towards the nearest telephone booth. The phone lines didn’t work & then all hell broke loose. In a couple of days, she turned into this bitter, angry woman who didn’t eat & got crazy when any of us laughed & played. I was going to turn 12 & had no idea what was happening. How am I supposed to know what war is? I knew the British had invaded India but wasn’t that through some company?
Every time we fought amongst ourselves, my mom would beat me up. She was frustrated; she had 3 kids here & the love of her life, maybe dead out there or God alone knew what had happened! Days passed into weeks & she made me watch every piece of English news & translate it 10 times a day. I was sick & tired of watching bombs go off, refineries on fire, tanks running down the streets & armies moving in the country. I wanted to play, to have fun.
People around started wondering if our good times had come to an end. Our relatives shied away from us fearing they’d be approached for money or help. Some would laugh at us coz now we weren’t NRIs anymore & we kids were constantly told by others," you guys will have to learn to live life like us...no more expensive chocolates & nakhras okay." Some form of indifference was being formed & that’s when my mom decided she had to move to Mumbai with her sister. The news channels were informing that every country was sending their planes to Kuwait to pick up their citizens from the war zone. Camps were being organized for every nationality & people were moving out of Kuwait into camps at Iran, Jordan, & Saudi.
Once we came to Mumbai, things got a little better. My aunt calmed my mom. My mom would catch me by my shoulders & ask," can you even imagine what must have happened to your dad out there? I’m worried here & all you can think of is food & play. What kind of a daughter are you?" My immediate response to that was," Mom, you worry too much. Dad is fine & so are our aunties. They are doing well & will be coming home on my birthday. Who else would bring me my cake huh?" And my mom would scream, "Ohhh" & ask me to get lost.
End of August we received a phone call from Tehran. It was my dad. While my mom couldn’t utter a single syllable, my dad explained to her that he was doing well & the sisters were great. They were taken care of & will be coming to India in the next available flight. When my mom hung up, she had this serenity written all over & the first thing she did was hug & kiss me nonstop. She asked me how was I so sure & I told her, from the very first day an angel told me that everything was okay & my dad was going to be home for my 13th birthday.
She relaxed after that. She cooked meals with my aunt & never shouted at us. On 4th September morning, I woke up & saw my aunt preparing breakfast. She asked me, “I thought you said your daddy would be here” to which I replied," He will be”. I walked into the sitting room & I felt this tingling feeling. I ran outside & there my dad & his sisters were coming out of a taxi. I ran out, straight into his arms screaming daddy. It was a reunion to remember. I kept screaming," I knew you’d never miss my birthday, I love you daddy." I ran in & told my mom dad was here. She dropped the pan on the floor & ran into the living room. She stood by the door, shocked. She didn’t say anything while my brother & sister were hugging him. She stood by the door, tears flowing & said nothing. I thought about all that screaming & beating & for what! To stand glued to the door without a word to utter!
I now know the hell she went through & how difficult it had all been. We were shunned by some relatives & experienced poverty even. I remember pining for a piece of chocolate toffee but couldn’t afford it. I remember wearing hand me downs of neighbors’ & living off people's generosity for a few years. I remember not being able to celebrate Christmas coz even buying a kg of meat was a big deal. I remember not putting up Christmas trees & decorations coz we didn’t have any. I remember my parents crying over how thin we kids had become. My dad felt awful each time my brother asked him, “Can’t we even buy a small cake for a birthday.” Mom would make us sweet rice balls instead to have as sweets. Life was difficult. For someone who hadn’t used the stone to wash clothes for over 15 years had to wash on those granite slabs. To use detergent soaps as less as possible coz we couldn’t buy soap cakes every now & then. How we had to switch to lifebuoy soap for body & hair.
When my parents came back to Gulf, they promised themselves & us, they’d make a good saving & make life better for us & that none of us would experience poverty again. It made us the people we are today. It made us realize the value of everything - not taking things for granted, being respectful, honest, hard working & helpful. Money isn’t everything & relationships between family & friends are just as important. No matter what happens, family unites in times of grief, poverty & happiness. Gulf war has been one of the most humbling experiences for me. It taught us many things & now since we all are married; we know more than ever, what an epic struggle it had been for our parents to rebuild a future for both of them & for us.
In truth a family is what you make it. It is made strong, not by number of heads counted at the dinner table, but by the rituals you help family members create, by the memories you share, by the commitment of time, caring, & love you show to one another, & by the hopes for the future you have as individuals & as a unit.
- Marge Kennedy