Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Indian finds Saudi father after 27 years

By Siraj Wahab

Published in Arab News on Thursday, July 16, 2009

Twenty-eight-year-old Indian national Ahmed Fahhad Mohammad Al-Hajri's story is stranger than fiction. It is a story that film directors in India would die for. It is straight out of Bollywood.

Born to a Saudi father and an Indian mother in Mumbai in 1981, Ahmed Al-Hajri has spent most of his life trying to track down his father. His father, Fahhad Mohammad Faleh Al-Hajri, was suffering from acute spinal pain in the early 1980s when he headed to Mumbai for an operation. One of his friends accompanied him to India. The treatment was to be long and hard. The two Saudis decided to marry in India.

They went about it in a legal and Islamic way. Thirty-eight-year-old Fahhad married Salma Khan. The marriage took place in 1980 with the consent of Salma's father, Khair Mohammad Khan, who originally hailed from Swat Valley before the partition of India in 1947.

The marriage was solemnized by Qazi Abdul Jabbar Khan of Bhendi Bazar and it was duly registered. Al-Hajri stayed in Mumbai for some months and then left for Saudi Arabia never to return.

A few months later, Salma was blessed with a baby boy. She awaited her husband's return. Days turned to months and months to years. There was no way to contact Fahhad. To make matters worse for Salma, the address that Fahhad mentioned in the marriage contract was sketchy at best.

Angered by the helplessness and desperate situation of his dear daughter, Salma's father approached the Saudi Consulate and filed a written complaint against Fahhad.

"If he is not going to come back, fine; he should at least give her a divorce so that they could close the chapter," he wrote in his complaint addressed to the Saudi consul general. Nothing came of it.

There was no word from and no trace of Fahhad. Salma kept hoping against hope that he would turn up one day to surprise her and their son. That never happened. In between, Fahhad's friend, who had accompanied him to Mumbai on the first trip and who had also married another Indian woman at the time, visited India and learned about Fahhad's Indian wife giving birth to a "handsome" baby boy. He also was told by acquaintances that Salma had named Fahhad's son Ahmed. The friend did inform Fahhad about the birth of a son.

In any case, Fahhad never returned to India. He told Arab News that he did however try to locate Salma through his employees who visited India every year. He said they never succeeded because Salma had married another man and was no longer at the location Fahhad knew.

When Salma's father realized the futility of waiting endlessly for Fahhad to return, he went to Qazi Abdul Jabbar Khan. In accordance with the Islamic principles, the marriage was annulled. The husband was reported as missing. Salma's father arranged a marriage for her to another man with whom she now leads a comfortable and happy life in Mumbai. She has had more children, and she has basically turned a new leaf in her life after the turbulent 1980s.

Things weren't that easy for the son, however. He would constantly badger his mother with questions about his father. "Who is he? Where is he? Why did he leave us?" he would ask her day and night. His mother would narrate the whole story to him, night after night. "What does he look like?" Ahmed continued to ask, and eventually his mother produced a grainy black-and-white photograph of his parents, which was taken the day after their marriage.

"It is a picture of happiness, and in those impressionistic days it was my lifeline. It held the key to my existence. In that photograph, my father is on the right, and he is looking at my mother, who is smiling. There is just a side view of my father. That photograph was the only tangible thing I had that linked me to my Saudi father," Ahmed told Arab News on the phone from Bisha on Wednesday. "That photograph would eventually help me to connect the missing link in my life."

Ahmed's mother ensured he got a good education. "I did my schooling in Mumbai, and then mother sent me to Lucknow for graduate studies," Ahmed said, "but more than education my heart and mind were set on only one thing - to locate my father. I promised myself to go to any corner of the globe to find him. However, since my mother wanted me to complete my education I did it, and the day I graduated I came back to Mumbai, applied for a passport and started knocking the doors of various travel agents who would recruit people for various jobs in Saudi Arabia."

As luck would have it, it did not take long for Ahmed to get a job offer. "The travel agent said there was a Saudi employer looking for educated Indians for his companies in Saudi Arabia. That was how I was introduced to my sponsor, Khaled Al-Mutairi. 'What can you do?' he asked me at the travel agent's office in Mumbai. 'Anything,' I told him, and immediately explained the real reason for my desperate interest in coming to Saudi Arabia. He was moved by my story."

Al-Mutairi sent a visa for Ahmed as soon as he got back to Saudi Arabia.

"I landed in Dammam in 2003 for a monthly salary of SR500. I was armed with that black-and-white photograph and the marriage certificate and the copy of the complaint that my maternal grandfather had lodged against my father at the Saudi Consulate in Mumbai," said Ahmed. "I thought it would be very easy to locate him. It dawned on me very late that there were hundreds if not thousands of Al-Hajris in Saudi Arabia and that they are spread across the length and breadth of this vast Kingdom."

Ahmed worked in one of Al-Mutairi's hotels. Coincidentally, the firm that supplied ice to the hotel was named Al-Hajri Ice Factory.

"I was delighted and thought the ice-factory owner might turn out to be my father, and if not he would certainly have some clue to my father's whereabouts. I promptly produced the photograph for the ice-factory owner. He didn't recognize anybody in it. It was not he."

After a few more attempts, it dawned upon him the task was not easy. Four years passed, and he was soon losing hope when a friend of his suggested that he take recourse to putting an advertisement in Arabic newspapers. "I did just that," he said. "Not a soul responded."

A little later, Ahmed befriended a Passport Department official who would frequent their hotel. "Once again, it rekindled my hope. In the complaint that my maternal grandfather lodged with the Saudi Consulate in Mumbai, there was a mention of my father's passport number. Surely that should reveal all the contact details of my father," thought Ahmed. A few days later his friend came back without good news. "He said there were no records for that number. It seems Saudis get a new passport number every five years. Those were not the days of the computer when everything would be centralized and all data available at the click of a mouse. The old records were not there, or maybe they were there - but not in the Dammam passport office."

In a last-ditch effort, a Keralite friend suggested that he report the story in a local newspaper read by Keralites. "I never thought it would succeed, but my Keralite friend said since Keralites have a huge network spread far and wide across the Kingdom they would certainly know the Al-Hajri he was looking for. My report was published in a local Malayalam newspaper. One of the Keralites in Riyadh read it and held his head in his hands after reading it. 'Mushkila, mushkila,' he muttered. 'What mushkila?' asked his sponsor. He narrated the whole story to his sponsor and showed the picture that accompanied the article. One look and the Saudi sponsor said, 'Oh this is Fahhad Al-Hajri from Bisha.' He immediately called my father and explained everything. My father was in Riyadh at the time. He promptly sent my brother to find out all my details. When my stepbrother turned up that night at the hotel in Dammam, my heart was pounding. It was a bittersweet feeling. I was the happiest man on earth. I was about to fulfill my lifelong quest. The dots that could never be connected were about to be connected. My life was about to be complete."

Ahmed's voice chokes as he narrates the details of that night. "My father basically asked me three questions. What is your name? What is your mother's name? And what was your grandfather's name? I told him everything - the name of the person who had solemnized the marriage and the area in Mumbai where the marriage took place. My father asked me to pass on the cell phone to my stepbrother and told him, 'Yes, this is my son. He is your brother; bring him home.'"

Ahmed said he relaxed. "My job was done. Now, I was curious to see how my father looked. I thought of pestering him with many, many questions that were swirling in my mind. 'Why did he abandon us? What were the reasons? What made him do so?' There were a million things on my mind. The next morning, my brother approached my sponsor, Al-Mutairi. He readily agreed to release me. He was happy for me. 'Mabrook,' he told me. 'Anta Saudi; maafi Hindi,' he said as he bid me an emotional adieu. I then met my father. That was the most beautiful moment in my life." It was what Ahmed Fahhad Mohammad Al-Hajri so long had hoped for.

"One look at him, and all my anger dissipated in one second," he said. "I no longer had any questions. One hug from him, and it was like Paradise. He apologized for his mistake and said there were things that were beyond him. He insisted that he did try to locate Ahmed and his mother through common friends but didn't succeed. That night my father threw a grand party in Riyadh for his near and dear ones."

Ahmed then accompanied his father and brother to Bisha. "There my father threw another party. There was a big celebration. In the meantime, I informed my anxious mother about my father's discovery. She was very happy for me. My father apologized to her, as well. And as they say 'all's well that ends well.' My father now proudly introduces me to all his friends as his long-lost son from India."

Having realized his fondest dream, Ahmed is now with his father in Bisha. He still has an Indian passport. The Al-Hajris have approached the Ministry of the Interior to process Ahmed's Saudi citizenship papers. "It will take some time ... there are too many bureaucratic procedures to be completed," Ahmed says.

In the meantime, his stepbrothers, stepmother and stepsisters treat him like a prince. "They pamper me a lot," the soon-to-be Saudi said. "My father is 68 years old now and is retired, but his stepbrothers are well settled running their own businesses. I have picked up a smattering of Arabic. Conversation is no longer a problem. Acceptance in the family was the most important thing, and that happened very smoothly." The only thing that Ahmed misses other than his mother is the spicy Indian food. "Arabic food is bland; I need spicy Indian stuff," Ahmed said. "I am getting used to the Saudi food now."


Sidhusaaheb said...

Life can indeed be stranger than fiction.


Muniza Ali, Riyadh said...

It is indeed a miracle that Ahmed Al-Hajri was able to be reunited with his long-lost father, although considering the little information he had about his father when he embarked on his search, one might think such a reunion impossible. I am very pleased to learn that this lost son of the Al-Hajri family is now well-settled in his new home and very well treated by not only his father but also his stepbrothers, stepsisters and stepmother. I hope and pray that he will not in the midst of his new family forget or neglect, even for a moment, the womb that sheltered him and the mother who brought him into this world, by the will of Allah, and then raised him in what must have been very difficult circumstances. Alhamdullilah, his mother was blessed with a second marriage, children and a new life, but I am certain that the years she spent waiting for her first husband with a small child, regardless of why her husband did not return, were not easy.

Sadly, and especially in a region such as the subcontinent, it seems that women often have to bear the brunt of such problematic relationships. Even when the woman is legally married, rumors abound when there is no husband by her side, and if there is a child, that only adds to her difficulty. Over 1,400 years ago, Islam elevated the status of women as no other religion on earth had done. Islam gave her rights and honored her, but people are not always as kind or considerate. Although Muslims are enjoined to avoid most forms of suspicion, some people often ignore this injunction (in addition to many others) and are often merciless in their gossip about, and accusations against, a woman embroiled in such a difficult situation.

I would advise my brother Ahmed Al-Hajri that while he settles into his new life as a Saudi, he must take care not to deprive his mother back home in India of his love, care and company. I truly admire his mother, Salma Khan, for putting her own feelings and the past aside and sharing in her son’s joy. I pray that while Ahmed Al-Hajri brings joy to his father’s family in Saudi Arabia, he will use his privileged position to improve the lives of his family members in India, especially his mother, whose heart must still pine for her beloved and absent child.

Ozma Siddiqui, Jeddah said...

The headline of this post should have been: Caught at last! The father, Fahhad Mohammad Faleh Al-Hajri, just didn't try hard enough.
As for the son's motivation, it must have been driven more by the arrival of the step-father into his life rather than any love for his biological father; it seems to have been more a question of identity than anything else.
While it is very tempting to condemn Fahhad Al-Hajri, one wonders why Indian parents are so eager to get their daughters married to absolute strangers in the first place? It is not as if there is any dearth of suitors in India itself. So the blame lies just as much with the parents as the would-be husband. The sad thing about intercaste, interfaith, or marriage across borders is that the consequences are grossly underestimated. The relationship is rarely limited to physical or biological boundaries. When the honeymoon is over, that is when it is showtime. Of course, the fall guys are always the children.
In this case, the story seems to have a happy ending but then it is only the beginning.

Carol Benjamin, Riyadh said...

Fahhad Al-Hajri deserves punishment for causing so much misery to his son and his wife. Nothing will wash away his sins. He should have had the courage to give his Indian wife a proper divorce. That is the least he could have done. Poor woman, she just kept waiting and waiting. While everybody is happy for the son, I still feel sorry for the woman in Mumbai.

Shahed M.F. Baig, Mumbai said...

It was a great story. Indeed, such miracles happen only in Bollywood movies. Must have been the first-of-its-kind in Saudi Arabia.

Jack Cabida, Makati, Metro Manila said...

I am Ahmed Al-Hajri’s Filipino friend. I work in Alkhobar, Saudi Arabia. Fairytales have always been part of our lives; they make us use our imaginations when we were children, and for most of us adults, they provide an escape from the real world. It is when we mature that we realize that fairytales do not actually work in real life except in a few exceptions. Ahmed’s life recently turned into a fairytale. It is not a love story, but it is a story that can make anyone believe that life is indeed beautiful.

When we were together during the search for his father, almost all his colleagues were fed up with his never-ending story, but I was always there to listen. It was also a relief to have him around especially in a place where we are, one needs a friend to maintain one's sanity. One time in a cold winter night, he came without a jacket and he was shivering, so I gave Ahmed my old jacket. I asked him why he did not have a jacket, and he answered, he would like to send money to his mother but with his meager salary, he would never be able to send a considerable amount of money if he buys a jacket. It was then that I realized that here is one selfless guy who deserves more in life.

Ahmed never lost hope. Every now and then he would come out of crazy and absurd ideas on how to find his father. All is well that ends well. I feel happy for my friend.

S.H. Moulana, Riyadh said...

Your presentation is masterly. These are true human dramas. People would like to read such stories because these days newspapers are full of tragedies which are not good for morning consumption. We would like to read more of these stories with happy ending. Thank you. Please keep up the good work.

Mohammed Z. Nadeem, Riyadh said...

Fascinating story. I felt like I was indeed watching a Bollywood movie. I held my breath till I reached the end. This will surely make a perfect script for a film. Also, hats off to the Keralites. They are the real heroes of this interesting story. But for them, there would be no happy ending. Congratulations also to the father, Fahhad Al-Hajri, for having the courage to accept his son and then to celebrate the reunion with grand parties. This can happen only in Saudi Arabia. In my country, India, if a long lost son had turned up like this, the father, the stepmom and the stepbrothers would never accept such a kid. Very nice story. Mabrook.

John Burgess, US said...

It is a real “feel-good” story. A son who was deserted by his father 27 years ago, in India, tracks him down and is welcomed into the bosom of his family. Even his mother, who had been left behind - and in the lurch - finds a happy ending for her own story. Bollywood film, fairy tale, whatever, it is a nice story.

Mohammed Sadullah Khan, Riyadh said...

It is a sad story that ended on a happy note. Unfortunately, there are many such cases wherein the father abandons his wife and children for various reasons. Most of the children are unable to trace their father in spite of their best efforts. The zeal and perseverance of Ahmed Al-Hajri has to be appreciated. We hope he will be able to assimilate into the new culture and environment.

Mohammed Osman, Riyadh said...

You could not keep a balance while writing this story. I have a different view about the story. The end of the saga may be melodramatic for the son, the father and the readers. The question is: Why did nobody think about the helpless and hapless woman who suffered all these years after the “departure” of her Saudi husband who left her pregnant with a child and who she later nurtured without any help from anybody - neither moral, emotional nor monetary help? If the Saudi father accepted the son, does it compensate for all the sufferings of the past? Fine, a son got his father and the father got a son but what about the poor lady? She is still a loser? You should know that it is not necessary that if we are in Saudi Arabia we should always praise Saudis. Journalists should have the courage to call a spade a spade.

Siraj Wahab said...

To Mr. Mohammed Osman: There was no question of taking any sides. Journalists only act as a bridge between the subject and the reader. I only brought you the story. I told the story as it happened. I did not add to the drama. The drama was there in the story itself. I have not praised Saudis nor have I condemned them. That is not my job. As journalists, we only bring facts to the table. It is for you readers to draw your own conclusions. I think the remarks posted above have made some excellent points. Some have called for meting out exemplary punishment to the Saudi father. Others have blamed Indian Muslims for marrying their daughters to complete strangers. Yet others have asked the son and his mother to approach the courts for monetary compensation and yet others have admired the courage of the Saudi father in accepting the son after so long a period. Please remember, mine was not an opinion piece. This was a news story. I did speak to the woman in Mumbai. Salma Khan only says she feels happy for her son. She refuses to say anything else. My understanding is that she is happy having turned a new leaf in her life with her second husband. She doesn't want to be bothered. That is the impression I got. As somebody rightly pointed out, life is not a Big B movie. A son is a son is a son. Ahmed needed identity. Only his real biological father could have provided him with that. The circumstances that Ahmed finds himself in are unique. He cares for his mother. But she is happily married to another man. That man is naturally not comfortable with Ahmed, the stepson. Ahmed feels welcome in his new home. So then who are we to lecture him? He knows what is good for him. To say that he doesn't love his mother or that he is out to exploit his newfound relationship is taking the metaphor too far.

Dr. Zafarul-Islam Khan, Editor, The Milli Gazette said...

Once an story is published you may look at it from many angles - motive, timing, selective narration, moral - all come in. Here, we had a real life human story brilliantly narrated, one which any newspaper in the world would have happily published and indeed many newspapers around the world picked that story next day and almost all Urdu papers here ran it. Siraj Wahab deserves warm congratulations for a job well done.

Gulzar Wangde, Alkhobar said...

I agree with Dr. Zafarul-Islam Khan that Mr. Siraj Wahab has indeed done a very good job and he deserves our best wishes for the same. I also agree with what Mr. Siraj mentions in his post that he has tried to bring forth a story for the readers, and ofcourse every reader will have a different opinion. Nowhere does his story depict that it is biased toward any party. Instead of blaming each other for the plight of Ahmed and his mother, how about we pray for Ahmed that Allah makes his life easy with the new family; for his mother that she lives the rest of her life in peace; and for his father and his family that they do take care of Ahmed the way it should be.

Syed Riaz Ahmed Quadri, Abu Dhabi said...

Ahmed should not have accepted to stay with his careless father. He was taken care by his mother all the way in his whole life and his father never ever thought of them.... So why was he excited to meet him? I really don't understand it. How can a person forget his mother who cared for him so much from his childhood? Is it only because he is going to be Saudi national? I think it is really unfair for his Mother Salma.

aynzan said...

Your writing keeps the readers enthralled..Well done!

Adam said...

I am currently seeking my long lost father in Saudi Arabia. Him and my
mother were divorced before I was born in 1982.
I have never seen or heard from him. All I know is a few bits about
him along with very few photos.

His name is Fahad Muhammad Jussif Al otaibi. He was or is in the Saudi
Royal Air force. He met and
married my mother (Celia Cantu) in the early 80’s in San Antonio, TX
within the United States.

Any information or help would greatly be appreciated. email. I’m sure
he would be pleased to know I am desperately searching for him and
want him in my life.

I know he has a sister and I think he was born in February. I also
believe he was born in Riyadh.


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