Memories of a lifetime, N.S. Das leaves Kuwait after 42 years

    Not many people can claim the length of experience or breadth of knowledge in print media, as journalism veteran N.S. Das; even fewer people can claim the depth of friendships and network of acquaintances that he developed over a professional and social life spanning more than four decades in Kuwait.

    The mild-mannered, good-humored Das, who always appears with a genuine smile on his face, has been a popular and well-loved figure among the Indian community in Kuwait. After spending the major part of his working life in Kuwait, Das is now preparing to bid adieu to the country he refers to as his “second-home”, and return to India to enjoy a semi-retired life there. Recently, The Times Kuwait had the privilege to spend some time with him, discussing his years in Kuwait and the changes he witnessed, both to the country and the people, over the decades.

    Along with former South Korean Ambassador (L-R1), Publisher and Founder Editor-in-Chief of Kuwait Times (L-R3) and former Indian Ambassador M. Ganapati (L-R5)

    Lighting the lamp at the Indian Educational Exhibition

    In 1975, arriving in Kuwait as a young graduate fresh out of college, the then 23-year-old Das had a bright future to look forward to. Kuwait was in the midst of a heady oil boom, jobs were plenty, qualified personnel were few, and competent people could afford to pick and choose a profession that suited them. In the case of Das, journalism was his passion and shortly after finishing his visa-formalities he joined Kuwait’s first, and then only, English language daily newspaper, the Kuwait Times. He immediately struck a chord with the publication’s founder and editor-in-chief, the late Yousef Saleh Alyan, who took him under his tutelage and appointed him initially in the editorial department.

    Throughout his career of 42 years in Kuwait, Das remained dedicated to the daily paper, growing professionally with the publication as he worked in different departments of the newspaper. Even when he worked at the Ministry of Health’s Blood Bank, he would return every day in the evening to work at Kuwait Times. For many Indians, Das was the face of Kuwait Times and became the ‘go-to’ person when someone needed something published. Never one to turn his back on anyone seeking his assistance, or shy away from raising issues faced by the community, Das often leveraged his professional connections and vast social network to help the needy and those in distress.

    “In the 1970s, everything in Kuwait was small scale,” said Das with his infectious smile as we sat down in our office for the cordial chit-chat. “Buildings were only a few floors tall, the skyscrapers that you see dotting Kuwait’s skyline today were practically non-existent; there were no malls and the popular marketplace for most things was the traditional shake. There were very few highways and traffic jams were quite unheard of. Kuwait’s total population in the mid-seventies was less than a million; the number of Kuwaitis were around 300,000 and expatriates accounted for a little over 680,000,” recalled Das, citing statistics of that period.

    “There were only a handful of populated suburban areas, and the Salmiya suburb was only beginning to gain popularity among Indians, mainly due to the presence of the Indian Community School located there. The crime rate was also small, in fact, quite negligent; one could leave their front-doors unlocked without fear of getting robbed or move about safely at any time without being mugged. In general, even the cost of living was much lower than what it is today; you could rent a one-bedroom flat in Salmiya for around KD35 per month,” said Das.

    “Back then, the total population of Indians in the country was about 22,000 and we were a very close-knit community. We often met and got to know each other very well, mainly through the frequent events and celebrations arranged by the only Indian cultural organization of that time, the Indian Arts Circle (IAC). Whether it was a cultural event, such as a musical program by the legendary Indian singer Muhammad Rafi, a social gathering such as a family picnic, or a badminton sporting tournament, the IAC was the center for meeting and greeting other community members. When the late Dhirubhai Ambani, the founder of Reliance Industries, India’s multi-sector business behemoth, arrived in Kuwait to promote his company’s Initial Public Offering (IPO) in 1977, I had the honor to accompany and introduce him to many of the Indian business stalwarts in Kuwait.

    With former ambassador of Nepal and Indian ambassador Sunil Jain

    Sri Lankan Cricketer S. Jayasuriya

    With friends during a farewell held for Ambassador of Laos

    “In the mid-eighties, the country’s population began to boom, growing by more than 70 percent, and this growth was also reflected in the number of Indians in the country. When Kuwait Times decided to launch a Malayalam section with its daily edition, I was on the committee overseeing its launch. And, one of the reasons cited by the committee, for coming out with a Malayalam section, was the growing number of people from Kerala in the country. The publication, which was the first Malayalam daily paper to be published outside India, was extremely popular among Keralites. For many of them who could not read the English edition of our paper, the Malayalam section was often their only connection to what was happening in the country, as well as back in India and elsewhere around the world.

    “During this period, I had the opportunity to witness first-hand many historic events in the country, including the aftermath of the Souk Manakh Crisis, the consequences of the eight-year Iran-Iraq conflict. I was also on hand to cover the first-ever visit to Kuwait by then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. To mark the momentous occasion, Kuwait Times came out with a huge 80-page special supplement. More than anything, the heartfelt and overwhelming welcome given on that occasion to the Indian premier by the Kuwaiti leadership, attested to the strong historical links and the bonds of friendship that existed between the two countries.

    “No one in Kuwait was prepared for the rude shock of Iraqi invasion in August 1990 and understandably there was wide-spread panic and fear among people. With nearly all businesses shut down, many Indians were stranded without money to buy food or to arrange for their transport back home. The Indian government, with assistance from the Indian embassies in Kuwait, Iraq and Jordan, along with our national-carrier, Air India, and several prominent community members, did a truly phenomenal job of organizing and safely evacuating the tens of thousands of Indians stranded here, and in Iraq, back home.

    “I would like to add that the assistance provided by the embassy and the Indian government was not limited only to Indians; several hundred third-country nationals were also aided with food supplies and transport out of Kuwait. We left Kuwait in a convoy in late September and after several days of painful experiences and unforgettable memories, landed safely in Mumbai.”

    During the wedding of his son Manu and daughter-in-law Anju and wife Usha

    With friends and Mrs Usha Das extreme right

    In April 1991, just two months after the Liberation of Kuwait, Das was back in the country and immediately became engrossed in getting Kuwait Times back into circulation. “The whole country was in shambles, with large-scale reconstruction and rehabilitation work beginning to emerge everywhere. There was a boom in most sectors of the economy, especially in the construction and in retail resupplying sectors. Many Indian businesses took advantage of the vast opportunities presented in the reconstruction of Kuwait and prospered.

    “The Indian community began to grow significantly after the Liberation and soon crossed the 750,000 mark. Today, there are a little over 900,000 Indians and we form the largest expatriate community in the country. Indians are engaged in every sector of the economy, from blue-collar workers to skilled technicians and professionals in every field. In the place of the single cultural organization that represented Indians in the seventies, today we have over 230 social, cultural and voluntary associations officially registered with the Indian embassy.

    “I have witnessed this country transform itself, from a low-profile country of less than a million into an energetic and vibrant nation of more than four million people; a small developing country has turned into a global humanitarian center. The desert has transformed into a lush garden of greenery, a sleepy little city has metamorphosed into a futuristic city of gleaming skyscrapers, multi-level flyovers and mega-malls. And, as is to be expected with development and modernization anywhere, the people have changed too — some for the better and some for the worse.”

    “I also believe all this wonderful change has been made possible by the wise and visionary leadership of Kuwait’s rulers, the government and, of course, the people — including the hundreds of thousands of expatriates from around the world who come here and contribute to making this a better place to live and work, for everyone.”

    Das who has a large extended family of brothers, cousins and nephews in Kuwait, is happily married to Usha, and the two have a son Manu and a daughter-in-law Anju. “While my greatest wealth is my family, I am also thankful for the many, many friends I had the privilege of meeting and knowing throughout my life,” said Das in conclusion.

    Though he plans to lead a retired life, knowing Das, we are sure he will continue to be actively engaged in community affairs, helping those around him in whatever way he can.

    We wish him the very best.