Volume 14 - Issue 04
April 2016
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Posted on: Apr 15, 2016

Life with God is an endless hope:
life without God is a hopeless end

- The life experience of Mr. Hari Hara Krishnan Part 2

Part 01 || Part 03 || Part 04

 

Trouble brewing

As Hari Hara Krishnan was in an ascending career path, something else was also ascending in the Gulf region - tensions between Iraq and Kuwait.

 
  The decade long war between Iran and Iraq resulted in no gains for either side but heavy losses for both

Iraq had emerged demoralised and demolished in spite of a so called victory over Iran in decade long war. (The Iran-Iraq war has been considered as the longest conventional war of the 20th century and western analysts are convinced that over a million people perished in it and several millions were directly affected by it.) Fearing a threat to Islam monarchies the world over because of the export of the Iranian revolution, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait fully backed Iraq to conquer and crush Iran. By the time the war ended, Iraq was not in a financial position to repay the US$14 billion it borrowed from Kuwait to finance its war and requested that Kuwait forgive the debt. Kuwait's reluctance to pardon the debt created strains in the relationship between the two countries.

In the meanwhile, Kuwait also amped up its production of oil which, Iraq alleged, led to suppression of oil prices. According to former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, "Every US$1 drop in the price of a barrel of oil caused a US$1 billion drop in Iraq's annual revenues triggering an acute financial crisis in Baghdad.”

The increasingly tense relations between Iraq and Kuwait were further aggravated when Iraq alleged that Kuwait was slant-drilling across the international border into Iraq's Rumaila field.

On 25 July 1990, OPEC officials said that Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates had agreed to a proposal to limit daily oil output to 1.5 million barrels. However, by then, more than 100,000 Iraqi troops had been deployed along the Iraq–Kuwait border giving no indication of decline in tensions despite the OPEC settlement.

A meeting at night


It was an August night in every sense. The calendar read 1st August, 1990 and eminent personalities sat in a room, deep in discussion. It was Hari, his colleague, Mitri Mitri, his Managing Director from Cyprus, Chris Phylactou and, of course, Mustafa.

It was to be a meeting to dramatically increase NCR’s business in Kuwait. But that involved a corresponding increase in the changes Hari would have to make in his life. He would have to quit NCR and start working for a new company to be floated by Mustafa. Hari was contented with where he was and what he was doing. He didn’t want this change irrespective of how rich or powerful it would make him. The Managing Director from Cyprus had also arrived for the meeting. He had no problems with Hari making moves that helped him climb higher in the career ladder.

Before the meeting began, Hari told Chris that he was planning to resign from NCR citing family issues back home rather than working for a newly floated company. Coincidentally, Hari had dropped off his family in Madras for the annual vacation. This perfectly matched his excuse. Hari prepared to leave Kuwait for good if it came to that.

At NCR Office, Kuwait with colleagues 29 Oct 1989

During the meeting, it became clear that Mustafa was not happy to let go of Mr. Efficient who was also Mr. Clean. He told Hari to take time and carefully consider the offer and intimate him of the final decision. Just as the meeting was about to conclude, Hari boldly (and possibly innocently) asked Mustafa,

“We hear that the Iraqi soldiers have surrounded Kuwait. Will anything happen to Kuwait?”

Mustafa’s face grew red in rage. He felt that this was an audacious question which was also impertinent.

“Why do you nose around into things that don’t concern you?” he asked in a thundering voice, “Do you know that I am in touch with the US Secretary of State? Nothing is going to happen. Just go home now.”

Mustafa was the first to leave the meeting.

Mitri Mitri was looking at Hari in a kind of daze.

“How could you ask and speak to him like that? I have been offered 5% for a stake in that company. He is ready to offer you triple that amount. Why are you bothering about things beyond our ken? Take this job and everything will get sorted. Remember, you will be a multimillionaire...”

Hari replied with understanding, “I know what you are saying. But believe me, money's not everything. I came here for money no doubt. But that was needed to perform my sister’s wedding and clear my father’s debts. One’s finances should be like one’s shoes - neither small nor big. My finances are perfect for me and I wish to seek no more...”

The Managing Director got up to shake hands with Hari. “I am not ready to let you go Hari. If you are uncomfortable with your new role in Kuwait, let me know. I will get you shifted elsewhere. But please do not leave NCR.”

The colleague shook his head in disbelief. Chris left for Cyprus while Hari and Mitri returned home.

Early morning alarm

Hari was woken up by an alien alarm in the unearthly hours of the morning - gunshots and explosions! He glanced at the wall clock and saw that it was about 2:30. He moved to the window of his second storey home. What he saw filled him with instant dread. The streets were having traffic even at that early hour. But the vehicles plying were battle tanks instead of the usual cars. Frenzied youngsters wielding machine guns were shouting slogans and wreaking havoc to whatever they could see. There was random firing going on and it appeared like a scene out of a violent videogame. The only difference was that death here was real with no restart button available!

Iraqi T72 tanks -These are definitely not the kind of vehicles you wish to see in your city roads in the morning

Hari closed the window and understood immediately that Iraq had actually invaded - and that too, just six hours after Mustafa had confidently stated that nothing would happen! Once the understanding dawned, Hari’s heart immediately sought Swami.

“Swami, You came into my life and everything changed. You were the one to select my wife. You blessed me with children. You ensured that I was selected to work in the Middle East from among thousands of applicants. You made me grow and you have given all this to me. Now, I am in a situation where I don’t know how long I will be alive...”

His prayers were cut short by the ringing telephone. Ah! The phone lines were still active. (Remember that mobile phones started to get popular only after the 1990s.)

“Sairam. Hello...”

“Hari, Ribhi here...”

Ribhi Al Shaer was a Palestinian Muslim who worked as the Administrative Manager with NCR.

“Ribhi, Iraqi tanks are everywhere on the road...”

“Yes. We have been invaded. I called to advise you to save as much water as you can. Fill every tank, drum, bucket, bottle - any vessel you find. Check the rations you have at home. Take stock. Then, go to the ATM and withdraw as much cash permissible. Stock up your larder. I shall call you again, later...”

Hari knew that Ribhi was well-experienced in living in war situations. His home was in the Gaza Strip which was in a state of constant war. He decided to follow whatever he had heard and placed the phone back on the receiver.

Instinctively, Hari dialled an Indian telephone number. The call went through! It was his cousin.

“Sairam! This is Hari speaking. Listen to me carefully. When today’s newspapers arrive, they will carry news of an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. But don’t worry about me. I am safe and I shall come to India as soon as I finish my tasks here. I will be in India within a couple of months...”

He requested the cousin to inform everyone concerned, especially his wife Uma. Then Hari rushed to store water. This was especially important because the chief of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, Ali Hassan who had been given responsibility of governing Kuwait was notorious for his use of chemical warfare. In fact, he had been given the epithet, ‘Chemical Ali’.

 
  Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah - The Emir of Kuwait when
the invasion happened

As Hari went about the tasks, he also put on the television and tuned into the local news channels. That was when the flurry of phone calls began. The directive from NCR was -

“Get out of the country ASAP. Everything that the company owns is insured.”

Nice directive indeed! But how was one to follow it when the television news announced the imposition of a 2-day curfew by Iraqi forces? The news then announced that the soldiers were getting into homes at random and committing random acts of violence and looting. Hari looked out of the window at the military tents pitched nearby. The soldiers could decide to give up staying in their frugal tents for the luxury of the Salmiya residences at any moment! Who was there to help him now?

Hari wondered what Mustafa might be doing at the moment. He flicked to another channel, an Arabic one this time. It announced that the Emir of Kuwait, Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah and Mustafa had run away like cowards to Saudi Arabia. It also pronounced a death sentence to them and anyone associated with them. Finally, a hefty reward was also announced on their heads! Hari realised that he was in deep soup now. President Saddam Hussein of Iraq had insisted that, even if not killed, the Emir and his ruling family should never set foot in Kuwait again.

Sole refuge - soul refuge

The next call was from Mitri. He was distraught and he told Hari how he had dreamed of a life of luxury and comfort. Now, nothing mattered and he was doubtful whether he would even live to see another day! Hari consoled him as best as he could.

“Don’t worry! God will take care of us.”

Death is often seen in a negative light. Thoughts of death are considered negative. However, for the wise, thoughts of death help in prioritising life. That is what happened with the king Parikshit in the Mahabharatha. When he came to know of his impending death, he suspended all activities and engaged himself only in listening to the stories of Lord Krishna. That is how the Bhagawatha Purana has come into existence - as a narrative of sage Suka to king Parikshit. Thoughts of death lead the wise to live their lives in a more fruitful and fulfilling manner.

Hari hoped that the curfew would help him remain safe from the marauding soldiers who would be busy enforcing the same on the streets of Kuwait. He knew that his passport with Mustafa’s stamp which was his key to glory so far would now lead to his death! Ah! How powerful time is! In a moment, it can change your biggest asset into your most dangerous liability.

The only refuge now was his Lord. (Actually, the Lord is the sole refuge at all the times. It is in moments like this that the realisation of the Truth hits hard. At other times, the illusion of power, wealth, health and influence can make one think that he/she is in control.) Hari went to the altar and began to chant the Vishnu Sahasranama, the thousand names of Lord Hari (Vishnu). He had only one prayer in his heart, “Swami, if I have to die, please let me die in India... Maybe that is not possible now. Please allow me to complete the chanting of the Vishnu Sahasranama at least... And when the soldiers come in, let it be a quick and painless death...”

 
Tanks rolling through Kuwait City Boulevard  

The two days of curfew were spent thus in constant contemplation of Swami. Hari had literally no sleep for the two days. He could not afford to sleep when death could come at any time from any place! Though the international telephone lines had been disconnected, the local lines were still active. Hari diligently discussed and actively arranged for safety-planning of all NCR employees and contractors. Saddam Hussein seemed to be keen on taking Europeans and Americans as prisoners, possibly to use them as a shield against future US bombing.

(It is a different story altogether that USA might have also been responsible for the mess because of its economic and policy war against Saddam who was later bold enough to sell Iraqi oil in currencies other than the dollar.)

Hari ensured that all identity records of these people in the company and various hotels were destroyed. Different evacuation plans were made and, by the end of the 5th of August, it was each one to himself.

Saddam announced that the Emirate of Kuwait was now the 19th province of Iraq. He also ordered that things must return to normalcy. The first step towards that, according to him, was the opening of all banks and resumption of financial transactions. (Normalcy never happened as many brave Kuwaitis founded a local armed resistance movement following the Iraqi occupation. The resistance predominantly consisted of ordinary citizens who lacked any form of training and supervision. Most of these Kuwaitis were arrested, tortured, and executed during the occupation.)

This, Hari knew, would be like the final nail in his coffin. He was heading the operations of NCR in Kuwait and NCR had nearly 100% market share of ATM machines. Since all these ATMs had to start functioning, it was now only a matter of time before Saddam’s men came searching for him. Once again, the biggest asset became the biggest liability. If only there were ATMs of other companies, Hari would not have been the single-pointed focus for Iraq! Time is powerful indeed.

Hari decided that he would leave his home and go into hiding. He called his cousin, Ananta Padmanabhan, to come and take him away to his place. Hari did not want to use his car and arouse suspicions in the Iraqi soldiers that he had fled. As he waited for his cousin, he exited the house with a small bag which contained a couple of shirts, pants, his wife’s wedding saree and, the most important - a picture of Swami. Turning around and facing his home, he prayed, “None of this belongs to me. I have only been a trustee of these for so long. Dear Swami, may whosoever that comes here after these tumultuous times live in peace without memories of the war. Swami, You are the only treasure. You are the only strength.”

 

He understood the great wisdom of Mirabai when she sang,

‘Payoji Maine Naam Ratan Dhan Payo
Kharachai na khutai chor na lute
Din din badhat savaayo...’


(I have received the valuable treasure of the Lord’s name. This is a treasure that multiplies, how much ever I spend. It is the only treasure that can never be stolen.)

The beginning of a journey

Hari spent the 6th, 7th and 8th of August at his cousin’s place. All those days too were spent without a wink of sleep! Ribhi, the Palestinian friend, made contact again and urged Hari to leave the country.

“The best place to go to would be Amman (capital of Jordan).”

“But how do we go there Ribhi?”, asked Hari quizzically.

“We will have to drive out of Kuwait, through Iraq and into Jordan...”

“That sounds crazy...”

“That is how I go home to Palestine! Trust me and come along. I shall protect you as long as there is life in me.”

Hari was touched and he decided to listen to Ribhi. But he didn’t want to leave on the 8th. He wanted to leave the next day because the 9th of August 1990 was a Thursday - the day special for every Sai devotee.

His cousin also decided to join Hari along with his wife and children. Later, a certain Mr. Salim from Kerala and Mr. Kirit Gandhi also joined the entourage with his family. Hari’s cousin was the one who convinced them.

“My cousin Hari has a powerful God! His name is Sai Baba. If we go with him, Sai Baba will protect us also.”

Though Hari did not subscribe to this logic, he could do nothing to help it. He gave everyone vibhuti to apply and told them, “This is our greatest raksha (protection). Now, before we leave tomorrow, I wish to spend the entire night doing bhajans. Please do not disturb me.”

Far from disturbing him, everyone joined in the bhajans in their own way for some time. The ladies prepared Idlis (South Indian rice cakes) in preparation for a journey that nobody knew the end of. Thus the holy Thursday was welcomed with devotional singing as the group prepared for what life (or death) had in store for them.

Part 01 || Part 03 || Part 04

- Aravind Balasubramanya
Radio Sai Team

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