I was born in Saudi Arabia a little more than two years before the Gulf war ended. Although I don’t remember anything from that period of my life, the war left my parents with harrowing memories that they sometimes recalled years later. Airstrikes had damaged parts of the city and the enemy was on the lookout for densely populated areas to drop the bombs. People were asked to turn off all lights and blacken their windows to avoid detection from up above. The government also distributed gas masks, preparing everyone for the worse. Majority of the foreigners had either left for their home-countries or joined the locals and fled to nearby villages, which were less detectable and thus safer from the airstrikes.
Due to some reasons my family couldn’t leave for India. My father and his friends made some arrangements to hide their families at a small village southwest of Riyadh, known as Al-Muzahmiyya. I remember this name vividly because it has been mentioned numerous times over the years when my father recalled the incident he regrets the most during that period.
There were about six families belonging from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka hiding in the house we temporarily moved to, in that small village. The men risked their lives every day when they drove to Riyadh in the daytime looking for food, which had become scare and ridiculously expensive due to the shutdown of almost all shops and markets. One day, after buying the essential food cans, my father spotted our favourite cream rolls being sold at a corner of an alley. After a lot of negotiation he somehow managed to buy four of them and headed back home with childlike excitement to surprise my mother and us kids. Since there were only four cream rolls and a lot of people living in that house, he handed them over to me to take it to my mother secretly so that we could later enjoy the treat ourselves when everyone went to bed.
Oblivious to the situation, the silly little girl that I was at that age, I distributed the cream rolls to everyone I came across on my way to meet my mother, thus leaving nothing for us by the time I found her.
When my father found out about this, he fumed with rage, lost all control and with one tight slap sent me hurling towards the wall. My mother let out a scream on seeing this. Before I could get up, my father gathered me up in his arms, kissed my cheeks and sobbed like a child for hitting me like that.
Now you must know my father never hit any of us ever, no matter what happened. He was a School Principal and was strictly against corporal punishment. So that slap didn’t simply hit my cheek, it hit his soul even harder. Years later, whenever he sat reminiscing about the past, he always called me to his side to narrate this incident and then apologized for hitting me that day. To be honest, I wouldn’t have actually remembered this incident if he didn’t remind me so many times in his moments of regret.
I also remember that years after the war, my siblings and I found the old unused gas mask in the storeroom. Our curiosity got the better of us and we opened that gas mask case and took turns putting it on and laughing at how we looked. When my parents found out what we were up to, they sat the family down and discussed the long over war and finally got rid of the last reminder of the war from our home. War has long term repercussions over everyone involved, specially the children. Thankfully I don’t remember anything else from that period of my life.