The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Baghdad burns, Begopara cries
- Bengal’s Little Kuwaits worry about safety of sons

Ranaghat, March 27: The war clouds over the Gulf have cast a shadow on Nadia.

Begopara and Srinathpur — two localities in and near Ranaghat that are better known as Little Kuwaits — have started feeling the heat of a battle being fought far away.

Almost every second house in Begopara — outside the confines of the Ranaghat municipality — has at least one son working in Kuwait and pumping in the petro-dollar back home.

Srinathpur — a little smaller but within the municipality — has followed in the footsteps of the original Little Kuwait, sending its sons in droves to Kuwait (and the rest of West Asia) to cook or work in a press or do some other job.

The signs of new-found prosperity in both Srinathpur and the paras within Begopara (Don Boscopara, Josephpara, Anthonypara and Mariampara) are unmistakable; they range from the swanky exteriors of the concrete houses — in areas where huts of mud used to predominate till the other day — to the electronic gizmos inside.

But the signs of stress and strain — normal for any region experiencing a war — cannot be missed either. From the threat of unpaid loans (taken to finance the trips) and the very real risk of seeing a way of life slipping out of their grasp, these areas are now spending sleepless nights over the fate of their sons who have not been able to return home and are incommunicado since the war started.

Purnendu and Bijan Biswas have two sons in West Asia; one, Simson, stays in Kuwait and is in the range of war-fire. “We can reach Solomon, who stays in Muscat, but cannot get through to Simson who said he was living in a police camp when he last spoke to us (before March 20),” the worried father said. “Neither can Solomon contact him.”

They needed to borrow Rs 60,000 to pay for Simson’s trip to Kuwait. They are not regretting that decision; within six months of being there, he has sent home almost half the loan amount. The house now has a colour television and has recently got cable.

But the family is now worried. “If the situation worsens, we will not be able to repay the rest of the loan,” mother Bijan explained.

Biswajit and Tota Mandal’s house, a block away, announces their wealth. “This used to be a mud-and-thatch hut,” sister Suparna Mandal said, pointing to the thousand-square-foot marble-tiled concrete house behind her. Biswajit has been in Kuwait for some years and, recently, brother Tota followed him to Saudi Arabia.

Srinathpur, too, is catching up fast. The Malitas have two sons in West Asia; Zulfiqar works in a press in Saudi Arabia and younger brother Razzak is a chef in Kuwait. The family is now building a swanky double-storeyed building beside the older — and humbler — single-storeyed house. But everyone is worried; no one has heard from Razzak since the third week of February.

Mother Noor Jahan Malita now eats once a day. “Even this is unbearable,” she says. “How can I eat when I don’t know what has happened to my son'” she asks.

Tiger Ali Sheikh’s family is in a similar state. “We spoke to him last on March 20 (the day the war started),” brother Noor Ali Sheikh said. “He said he would be coming back if things worsened,” he added, surmising that he “must have been held up there as he told us that he would be coming back”. Tiger has a nine-month-old daughter (Asma) who hasn’t seen her father.

The present is worrying; no one knows what’s happening to their loved ones in Kuwait. But the future is no less grim; everyone apprehends that the region may be pushed off the job-seekers' map if a war returns every decade to haunt the place.

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