Surviving on borrowed time

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Aug 9 2007

Condition grounded, but determined to fly home
K. V. S. Madhav, Bahrain Tribune

He dreads the very thought of darkness engulfing him forever, a ribbon of black stretched to the point of no turning back. He sits there, eyes lowered, fists clenched and numbed by the imminent danger of not being able to see his wife and son for the rest of his life.
Nine years had slipped by for mason Maripalli Devaiah from Andhra Pradesh in South India, building dinar minarets in the mind, and toiling in the kingdom as an illegal worker in total anonymity. A few monies were saved and much of it lost too. But a near-blinding cataract last year turned his life upside down.
It was as if someone had pulled down on him, curtains of black. Swathes of them. Out of work and six months of complete darkness. No money even for one meal a day, leave alone medical treatment and none to attend on him.
“I thought my world had come to an end. The fear of not being able to see my dear ones ever again killed me all the time. Those dark days also opened my eyes to the harsh realities of life. Who I thought were friends deserted me overnight. Penniless and sightless, I used to cry my heart out,” he recalls with a shudder.
Broken, he confined himself to the shanty in Umar Ul Hassan area. “But I was determined to face the odds than beg.” The immigrant from Hanumajipet village near the temple town of Vemulawada in Karimnagar district, South India, found humanity in his new roommates, all migrants from Bangladesh.
“I thought only money mattered here. But my belief in humanity was restored after meeting them. They took care of me just like my mother or father would have without any expectations. They would take turns and bring me food, pay my rent and even take me to the toilet.”
In a predominantly Bangladeshi sprawl, he is the only Indian. “How could we leave him like that? We had to bail him out some way,” said his roommate Abul Kalam of Dhaka. They pooled in little monies for his treatment as well.
It was when a colleague took him to a medical facility a chance encounter with a medical practitioner, Hari, turned the tide. He came to his rescue approaching the Indian embassy and other doctors for help. He was operated upon at Salmaniya Medical Complex and sight restored in one eye. “He has gone through so much in this short period,” said Hari.
With amnesty, he saw a new ray of hope emerge. The good Samaritan also helped him out with the papers. Devaiah’s is a typical immigrant labour story. His sponsor taking away his passport and the only photocopy getting stolen left him doomed. With the authorities insisting on documentary evidence, he was at his wit’s end before his son from India sent to the embassy documents proving that Devaiah was indeed an Indian national.
Cataract still blinding his right eye and the other surviving on borrowed time, he fumbles yet does odd jobs to get on with life. But, the fear of going blind fully assails him. “My only wish is to see them. If I do not see them now, I will never be able to,” he pleads.
Amnesty is the last and only hope of Devaiah, as he keeps his fingers crossed and approaches Immigration authorities next week.
All these years his patience has not run out despite the obstacles, but time is as he now longs for the golden brown paddy spears, sunflowers shining like the sun, reddish brown stones of the village temple and a riot of colours in the eyes of his wife and son on seeing him!

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East