Full Story: How Bhatkalis ferried hundreds of stranded locals from UAE to India on chartered flight

Source: S.O. News Service | Published on 20th June 2020, 8:54 PM | Special Report |

As the nightmare of Coronavirus unfolded across the globe and countries started shutting down transport and initiated a total lockdown, the whole world came to a standstill, something which has not happened in a hundred years or more. It was an unprecedented situation and no nation was prepared to tackle the challenges that started popping out one by one.

When this was happening, I was one of the many Indian residents living in Dubai, UAE and was worried about the well-being of my family. Hailing from Kumta, I am very close to Bhatkali people and have known them since a long time. I have always observed an important trait about them: in good times, in bad times, they never leave their people alone.

Dubai and UAE is one of those places that attract a lot of Bhatkalis who flock to the country in search of jobs and employment. Many visit the country on travel or visit visas and try to land a job. When Coronavirus struck the nation and the government halted all modes of transport, many of such people were stranded, with no way to returning home. As the lockdown got extended from days to weeks and weeks turned into months, people became more and more anxious. Funds were running out and their anxiety was increasing day by day. This is when a Bhatkali businessman by the name of Mr. Atiqur Rahman Muniri came into picture with a daring plan: to organize a chartered flight and ferry stranded his townsfolk back to India, their home. 

At a glance, Mr. Atiqur Rahman Muniri is bearded gentleman with down-to-earth nature. He is the Chairman of Nuha General Trading, Dubai, a thriving business which he runs efficiently. Although he is a great philanthropist and is always ready to help people in need, getting a chartered flight was not something he or for that matter any Bhatkali had done for his people before. 

When Mr. Atiqur Rahman Muniri came to know about the dire situation of the stranded people and learnt about the challenges faced by them, he took it onto himself to repatriate not only Bhatkali locals but also people from surrounding regions in the Uttara Kannada district and help them reach home safely. 

Decisions were made and through his swift actions, Mr. Atiqur Rahman Muniri assembled a team of other Bhatkalis who had volunteered to help him carry out this challenging task. For the first batch, a total of 184 people were selected, with preference given to women, children and those who were facing difficulties due their visa expiry etc. I was lucky to be among those who were chosen for the first batch.

As I reached the Ras Al Khaima airport, I saw the efficient organization through which Mr. Atiqur Rahman Muniri and Bhatkali volunteers were managing the passengers. Displaying the traditional Bhatkali hospitality, Mr. Atiqur Rahman Muniri and the volunteers had arranged a dinner nothing short of a feast in such challenging times. They made sure no one left for their motherland with a hungry stomach. Fed and watered, the passengers made their way to the airplane and fastened their seatbelts. 

The passengers were all smiles and were still in disbelief. While the whole world was still shut down, they were among the lucky ones who were finally departing for their nation, for their home. As they waved their final goodbyes and thanked the volunteers, including Jailani Mohtesham, Rahmatullahi Rahi, Abdul Badi Muniri, Afaque Naite, Noorulameen Ekkeri, Sheryar Khateeb and several others. The passengers gave a huge round of applause to Mr. Atiqur Rahman Muniri, whose service they thought, deserved a standing ovation. The time of departure arrived, and the plane finally took off at 11:20 (UAE time).

Exhausted by their excitement, the passengers fell asleep one by one and not before long, I also felt my eyelids closing. When I opened my eyes, it was evident that the plane was about to land. We were told to fasten our seatbelts again. With murmurs of prayers, we fastened our seatbelts and waited with abated breath as the plane began its decent and finally, at 4:20 AM IST, touched down safely at the Mangaluru International Airport. 

Numb with happiness, we all deboarded the plane and were welcomed by the beaming faces of the members of Bhatkali Jamatul Muslimeen, Mangaluru. We were received like royal guests and were ushered into luxury buses to transport us to Bhatkal with ease and comfort. They also provided us with hygienic packets of freshly prepared breakfast. Such was the hospitality and care of the Bhatkali Jamatul Muslimeen, Mangaluru, that they themselves carried our luggage and helped us settle down in the bus.  

Happy that we had finally landed in our country, we spent the next couple of hours in peace. At 10:30 AM, our buses reached the famous town of Bhatkal, whose people’s hospitality, camaraderie and helpfulness I had been witnessing since the first lap of our journey. The moment the buses entered the town, it seemed the whole town had come out to welcome us. People were standing on the roadside (while observing social distancing) and many were even witnessing our arrival from the balconies of their home. Never in my life had I felt more welcome upon my arrival to a place. 

As the buses braked to a halt and we deboarded, we were once again welcomed by the members of Bhatkal’s oldest and most famous NGO, Majlise-E-Islah Wa Tanzeem. If anyone would have seen the way Tanzeem’s members and volunteers were helping us deboard, they would have thought we all were family members with blood relations. After testing our temperatures through infrared thermometers, as per the government rules, we were taken into the quarantine centers where the Tanzeem volunteers and members stationed themselves 24/7 to ensure we were taken care of in each and every aspect. 

Although it was a ‘quarantine center’, the way Tanzeem looked after us made it feel like we were special guests or VIPs. The delicious and hygienic food, the extra care and the family-like treatment didn’t make us realize we were in a quarantine center. As we started spending days in the center, we got to know other passengers and soon it was like were part of a huge family, who were travelling and staying together. 

As the last night of the institutional quarantine arrived, everyone’s hearts were filled with emotions. We bid each other goodbye, exchanged phone numbers and promised to stay in touch. As I pen this down, the time of me finally returning home is very near. But since the time I was with the Bhatkali people, I never felt like I was away from home. 

The swift decisions and farsightedness of Mr. Atiqur Rahman Muniri, the camaraderie of Bhatkali volunteers at the Ras al Khaima Airport, the welcome of Bhatkali Jamatul Muslimeen, Mangaluru and the motherly care of Majlis-E-Islah Wa Tanzeem, I would never be able to forget all of these throughout my life. 

All I can say is: Bhatkal and its people are lucky to have such great organizations and personalities. I hope Bhatkali people realize their true potential expand their efforts with their leadership, so that more and more people could benefit from their service. 

(Mr. Sajjad Quazi s/o Muhammad Mohsin Quazi is a resident of Kumta and an engineer by profession. He is an English journalist at SahilOnline since 2015. He was one of the 184 Indians from Uttara Kannada who was aboard the chartered flight arranged by Bhatkali businessman Mr. Atiqur Rahman Muniri, to help stranded locals reach home. He could be contacted on +919945512220 or [email protected])

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