Stop grounding 'Airlift', it is only a film, not history

Bikram Vohra

Jan,30 2016 16:12:18 IST

Is everyone really serious about grounding Airlift?

It is just a flipping Bollywood movie, not a documentary for the record.

And now even the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) have their knickies in a twist about their being shown in a poor light. So they should be. No one fetched up from India for 12 full days after Iraq rammed into Kuwait. In fact, as the editor of Khaleej Times sitting in Dubai, I distinctly recall that there was much consternation about the slow reaction from New Delhi. This sense of hurt is entirely misplaced. Our official reaction was sluggish at best. Indeed, it was finally the Consulate and Embassy in Dubai that linked up with Air India and Indian Airlines and the Indian Association based in Dubai.

From my Emirati perch I can tell you how we saw the operation unfold, especially the Dubai leg of it.


A youtube screen grab from Airlift.

There was no one person who was heroic. On the contrary, there were several people who stepped forward and when the government finally moved it did so well that India recorded the biggest aerial rescue operation in history, evacuating 179,000 people.Even in WWII there was no such rescue.

Like refugees through history they left their homes as if they were going to the movies, never to come back. One family left dinner on the table, another an abandoned car, one lady her life’s work of paintings. Books, clothes, fully furnished houses...just walked away with the shirt on the back.

Since air traffic was not operational, people had to either go by ship or by road to Amman in Jordan. Huge camps were setup for the multi nationals. many of them walked, a river of humanity stretching across the desert like a scar.

Let me name you a few people who made the effort.

Under the guidance of the Ambassador Ranjit Sethi and his wife, Indu Sethi,the Indian community in Dubai rallied their might to support the fellow Indians coming out of Kuwait. Air India headed by  Michael Mascarenhas and Indian Air Lines headed by Durairaj created the air bridge as it was calledto carry passengers back to India.

The Dubai authorities made available the Hajj longue for the exclusive use of the transit passengers. It was Dubai immigration which facilitated the entry and exit both at the airport and sea port. The Consulate General of India validated the documents under the guidance of Late Narendra Kumar and JN Mahajan.

The Indian community provided food, refreshment and financial assistance and ensured the traumatic experience was made more bearable during the transit in Dubai over the weeks. Virtually the volunteers worked around the clock to prepare, pack and deliver hot food. In addition to looking after them during transit a team of volunteers made the trip to the camps in Amman to provide blankets, sweaters, clothing and food stuff. This team included social worker Ambika Vohra (she is my wife), advertising executive Babu Subramaniam, paediatrician Dr Raghu Menon and Indian Association president K Kumar. Foreign Minister IK Gujral trotted in on a flight at the fag end and stood in the doorway of an aircraft and made a lot of well intentioned noise but there was no risk.

Large sums of money were donated by educationist  Sunny Varkey and businessmen Kailash Agarwal and Firoz Merchant to name a few. The Indian High School Dubai and Our Own English High School provided the school buses available for transporting the passengers who came by ship to the airport. These vehicles were escorted by Dubai Police.

India brought her people home. And did it with minimum fuss. None of this is relevant to the movie. James Bond saves England singlehandedly. Bruce Willis does it all the time. Sly Stallone saved Afghanistan. Morgan freeman saves the world.

So Akshay Kumar took cinematic licence. What exactly is the big deal? It is a film, there are greater things in life to worry about than a movie inspired by a lot of common people doing uncommon things.

Since no one who is whingeing about the movie was there and did diddley squat to help and hardly anyone in India remembers those days if someone has had the conviction to set the operation to music why crib about this.

Get over it. Either enjoy it or don’t see it, but stop whining.

Updated Date: Jan 30, 2016 16:12 PM