The Gulf war perhaps gave us a second life. But in actual, it never hit me that we had cheated death and that we were lucky to survive. The time I really felt so, was in fact 4 years later - in 1994. When we bid farewell to Kuwait forever and boarded the aircraft of India’s national carrier. That was when I saw death lurk before me. I felt my life was at the mercy of the pilot and of course God.
We had returned to Kuwait soon after the war. Families were back. Schools had reopened. People had started to rebuilt their lives again.
Then, in June 1994, during our summer vacation, my parents decided to pack us three off to India. I had attended the first term of seventh standard. Unniettan was in 8th and Chechi (my sister) in 9th. (Yeah! I know what you are thinking right now!)
The plan was that we would fly ‘unaccompanied’ or without guardians. (We had done that before so). We were to stay with our aunt and enroll in a new school in Kerala. Mom was to resign her job and join us, by December. Dad would stay back in Kuwait.
We were not too happy to return to India. All the war memories had vanished and Kuwait had again become our country. We dint want to leave our school, our friends and social circle. We waited anxiously till the 27th, for some miracle to happen so that we could stay back. But destiny had other plans!
The next day morning by 7 am, the three of us sat inside the aircraft, glaring at anyone who’d look twice at the “Unaccompanied” badge pinned to our shirts. The beautiful lady who’d accompanied us till the craft made sure our tickets were safe with us, we were seated comfortably, our luggage was in place, and left.
The regular announcements followed.
The seat belts to be fastened.
The ear plugs to be worn.
And of course the aerobics session. (You may fasten your seat belts like this by pulling… the emergency exit is towards your right…. the oxygen mask should be held close to your mouth…)
What could be different about this three and half hour flight! As the plane moved, we waved at the airport hoping our parents would spot us through the window and signal us to get off the craft and come back. But the flight took off and our hopes faded. The more we flew up, the farther it took us from Kuwait. No one could stop it now.
Kuwait became smaller and soon vanished. We were soon flying above the sea. My brother was seated next to the window. That was when he felt he saw sparks from below the wing of the craft. I thought he was making up a story. But I knew he wasn’t when I saw them too. Soon, we felt the craft was making a turn. How could that be?
There was an announcement by the pilot to fasten our seat belts and that we were returning to Kuwait. I don’t remember his exact words, but from what we grabbed we knew there was some malfunction and we were going for an emergency landing.
Maybe I should have paid more attention to the aerobics session. Now, where did she say the emergency exit was?
We soon saw Kuwait appear before our eyes. The airport grew larger. Where were mom and dad? Had they headed back home? They should be here to witness this signal from God and let us stay back.
My thoughts came to an abrupt end as the flight landed. You couldn’t call that a landing. It rather crashed. It felt as if the plane had suddenly dropped to the ground. People were in shock. Everyone stopped breathing. What if that would cause an imbalance? Slowly the craft came to a stop.
Fellow passengers demanded to know what was going on. The pilot came out to calm us and said there was some fault which would be rectified soon. We were to wait at the lounge while the craft was off for inspection.
Meanwhile, mom and dad had known about the flight. They were at the airport but not allowed to see us, as our customs clearance and formalities had been done. They were assured that their children were in safe hands and that the flight would be ready for take off soon.
But little did the one who assured nor the one being assured know that the worst was yet to come!