Though it’s a Hindu festival, for Hussian bhai, it’s an integral part of his culture. From the early days, he arranged a feast for his friends among Indian expatriates on the last day of the festival.
18th January Pongal feast of Hussain Bhai at Al Majmaah, Saudi Arabia
Long before the arrival of the COVID-19 & social distancing happened outside China, this took place in the days when back home witnessed nationwide protest on the newly introduced act, Citizenship amendment act.
It was around twenty-five years before Sayed Hussian came to Saudi Arabia in search of Job as a mechanic. Finally, his destiny took him to Al-Majmmah, an oasis town located two hundred kilometers North-West of Saudi capital city, Riyadh. Hailed from Pudukkottai, aka Pudhugai (coastal district of Tamil Nadu in India), he work here as a supervisor of the automobile service center.
In the early days, Hussian & his family members missed Tamil culture & festivities. Pongal, a three days harvest festival of Tamils is one of the foremost that has been celebrated all across the globe among the Tamil diaspora. The name itself is derived from the ritual sweet dish prepared on this day with boiled rice, milk & jaggery.
Though it’s a Hindu festival, for Hussian bhai, it’s an integral part of his culture. From the early days, he arranged a feast for his friends among Indian expatriates on the last day of the festival. In the previous ten years, the working city of Hussain also witnessed substantial growth with the establishment of a University. Many multi-ethnic professionals that included doctors, engineers, & doctorates from diverse specialties from different countries joined University. The representation of the South India community was also increased. By the time, the size of Hussain Bhai home arranged Pongal feast also swelled. On 18th January, this year also a feast was arranged by him. The guest belonged to the diverse faith & regions of India. You can find a North Indian, & South Indian guests coming from the diverse regions & religions (Muslims & Hindus). This was the diverse mosaic sitting on the oriental dining sheet (Dastarkhwan) spread inside the Arabic style Khyma (tent).
In a traditional south Indian attire, the host was attired in a white shirt & white lungi. The Banana leaves were not available far away from their country, but thanks to the cosmetic Banana shaped leaves that were used for serving the food. The guests were served with Rasam, Sambar, & traditional dessert “Pongal.” The Hussain’s story is the strength, solace, harmony that existed in the deep roots of Indian culture. It is the strength of this syncretic culture that always stood over the work done by the hate mongers to divide the social fabric on the lines of caste, creed, gender & religion.
The year 2018 has been passed with amalgamate of positive & negative feelings that includes happiness, joy, compassion, serenity, sadness, & disgust. Here is a reflection from our social microsystem where we work as an Indian expatriates academicians in one of the Saudi University. Such feeling of sadness clings for the long time with our memories especially when one of the members from our cohort passes away in an unexpected manner. Ours is a multi-ethnic work setting where employees came from diverse ethnic, linguistic & national background. It was around 8.30 pm on Saturday of 27th October 2018 when Dr. Prashant called me to inform that Dr. Vinoth Kumar suffered with a massive heart attack. An hour back, he was completely fine sharing his moments with family at his apartment& in morning of same day went to his kids school for parents meeting. It was close to 8.00 pm that he felt breathless at his home & on the way to the hospital, he started to gasp. By the time he reached the emergency, there was a delay of more than twenty-five minutes. Though resuscitated but unfortunately, his brain suffered massive injuries. From this moment he was not able to regain his consciousness till his sad demise that took place almost a week later. On 29 October, he was shifted to an apex hospital located in capital city of Saudi Arabia. After seven days on ventilator, he was declared dead on 04th November/2018. At the age of twenty four he was diagnosed as diabetic. Unfortunately, he was suffering from a denial of chronic disease & it appeared fatal for him.
A doctorate in computer sciences, he was working as lecturer in the Computer Sciences department at Majmaah University for the last nine years. He came from a Tamil speaking family of Village Govathanagiri (Avadi) located in close vicinity of Chennai. Other than his professional affiliation, he was also nominated as the member of Management committee of Indian International School, Al Majmaah from 2015-18. His appreciation certificate was received by a colleague Dr. Radhakrishnan from Principal & new committee members on the republic day celebration of 2019.
From the day of his cardiac attack up to the moment when his mortal remains were shifted back home to India, we witnessed the compassion, empathy, care & assistance build on the ramparts of human virtues. Dr. Muhammad (Arab speaking Palestinian physician) of family health services himself drove the ambulance. A voluntary effort in an anticipation to save the crucial time as hospital ambulance took the time to reach the distantly located venue, the university staff member’s accommodation. A Muslim car mechanic (Hussain bhai) who belonged to his hometown offered support to the family members of Vinoth like an elder brother. The wife of Dr. Vinoth was waiting for miraculous news with hope in her heart for the recovery of her husband from ventilatory support. Their centrally air-conditioned lavish apartment became a trigger of traumatic memories for her in absence of Vinoth. It was Hussain’s bhai small apartment that gave a soothing relief to the broken heart of Vinoth’s wife in all these days. Our Indian colleague’s relentless efforts were much stronger than the support that received back home by extended family members. Each day & night was like an endless wait for the Vinoth’s wife when she was expecting for a divine miracle to happen. Her husband was lying on ventilatory support at apex hospital in Riyadh around two hundred kilometers away from her residential town. It was again many known & unknown families that appeared as a counselor & helper for the sustenance of poor lady when doom fell on her. Then one day she received a call from a hospital to show up at the apex center. Her mind was weaving positive thoughts regarding the recovery of her husband but the reality was equally worst & devastating. She was a Pakistani Doctor, a fellow colleague who drove Vinoth’s wife two hundred kilometers for a visit to the Intensive care Unit of treating hospital. The doctors called her to provide the consent for the weaning the ventilator support as all signs of brain death were explicit. Receiving devastating news, she made herself resilient to face the outcomes of the doom that came up on her family. The time came multiple administrative clearances were required from the hospital, University authorities, Indian embassy & Saudi authorities for shifting the mortal remains to his hometown back in India.
Our colleague Dr. Radhakrishnan along with two volunteers (Mr. Sidhikh Ibrahim & Mr. Rafeeque Mecheri) of Kerala Muslim culture center, Riyadh branch did relentless job for the timely completion of official formalities needed for shifting of Vinoth’s mortal remains from Saudi Arabia to his hometown in Tamil Nadu, India. His wife & kids reached India on 14th November. The mortal remains of Vinoth were taken India on 15th November, & the next day, it reached his home village in Chennai. The last rites took place at his home village on 16th November at 6.00 PM Indian time. All the expenses such as family travel, body transfer charges, embalming charges and coffin charges were completely borne by the university.
The event centered on the sad demise of Vinoth’s reflected the lessons of love, compassion, empathy & tolerance. The prominent lines of caste, creed, language, religion, region & nationalities were erased in this microsystem. Indian, Pakistani, & Arabs were praying for his recovery. The loss for Vinoth’s wife & his kids was immense but the collective support seems to alleviate her pain during most traumatic days of her life. May his soul rest in peace. At the age of forty-two, his departure was early but death is an inevitable truth of our mortal life. In the days when divided lines of caste, creed, region & religion tarnishing the virtues of human values. Back home lynchings & mass killings by Islamist extremist in neighboring Middle Eastern countries are the worst example of these hate crimes. These small unsung stories of hope & solidarity needs loud articulation in such testing times. Such events do give a ray of hope. A thirteenth-century poet & dervish Rumi’s quote seems to be contextual here “Do good to the people for the sake of God or for the peace of your own soul that you may always see what is pure and save your heart from the darkness of hate”.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Dr. Radhakrishnan & Dr. Prashant Kashyap for providing Dr. Vinoth Kumar hometown details along with photographs of 26th January/2019 award reception at Indian International School, Al Majmaah.