Tickets booked, bags packed, Sukaina Jaffer, her husband, and three children were all set to fly from Yemen's capital city of Sana’a to Mumbai for a family vacation on April 1.
Instead, they landed as refugees, on April 6, among a total of 5,600 people rescued by the Indian armed forces in an operation that ended on Friday. The Indian embassy in Yemen has since been shut.
“We were excited to visit my parents,” says Jaffar, a 39-year-old teacher who has lived in Sana’a for 21 years and is currently at her parents’ home in Mira Road. “Now, we are uncertain of our future. We don’t know if we should look for jobs here, put the kids in school. It feels like a full stop.”
Since mid-March, Yemeni residents, including a sizeable number of Indian nationals or people of Indian origin, have been living amid airstrikes following the Saudi-led military intervention against the Houthi expansion and a separatist movement for south Yemen.
For some, ‘homesickness’ is now setting in as they wonder how they will pick up the pieces of their scattered lives.
Jaffar’s husband, for instance, is from a Yemeni family of Indian origin.
As are Nasser Nabijee, a 55-year-old perfumer, and his wife Tahseen Bahader, 55, a vice-principal at Aden’s Mahatma Gandhi International School. “We have left our lavish lifestyles and are now in limbo, praying to return home to safety,” says Tahseen, who helped coordinate rescue operations at her school and is now holed up in Naseer’s sister’s Mumbai Central home.
“We have left everything in the care of our staff, servants, and most importantly God,” Nasser adds.
Sukaina Jaffer is seen here with her children and their friends
This is the first time the Nabijees have left Aden, which they fondly refer to as ‘paradise’. They now pray for the safety of the relatives left behind, and spend their days watching TV and worrying. The rented three-bedroom flat they lived in is half a kilometre from the presidential palace, now a target of airstrikes.
“We are in touch with my sister via Viber and WhatsApp. “God willing, all this will end soon,” says Nasser.
For Farida Hizam, 44, who moved from Pune to Sana’a when she married a Yemeni Indian 24 years ago, her main worry is her husband, who is still there, tending to their garments store.
“I talk to him every day,” says Hizam, who has returned with her 14-year-old son. “Sometimes the street outside our shop is riddled with shells. My husband was torn between being there for his parents and wanting to rush us to safety. So we decided that I should go and he should stay.”