Date: 01/02/2016


Many of us will watch Airlift that released.
This movie is about one Ranjit Katyal who became a hero to 17,00,000 Indians. Air India holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the most people evacuated by a civil airline as a result of this effort.

But my story is not about Mr Katyal, Air India or breaking world records. It's about ordinary people like you and me and a powerful four-letter word: Seva!

It begins
Only eight, a little girl held her father's protective hand and walked to Sahar International Airport [today Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA)]. She was too young to understand the meaning of war or what was going on. Her father made her sit on a stool next to a big vessel of hot tea (outside the exit door of the airport terminal), and instructed her to give two biscuits to every person who came to drink tea. That was her task for the day. A bit shy, a bit nervous, the little girl spent the day following instructions of her dad. She was not alone. Her mother, her sisters, her grandmother and a couple of family friends were also at the airport, rushing in and out of the terminal.

There were a whole lot of people, strangers, with expressions that reflected fear, relief, hunger, sadness and loss, all at the same time. They had just landed back in their own country, with nothing (no material belongings) and yet everything: a hope to be reunited with their loved ones and to restart their journey of life. Everyday, the number of flights landing at the airport, increased. The people onboard had foregone their homes, properties, left behind their hard earned savings in Kuwait and managed to save their skins at whatever cost. They may never have seen another dawn, had they not escaped in the nick of time.

The lesson of Seva
The little girl's father was so moved by the plight of these evacuees that he wanted to help, but knew he couldn't do it alone. His family was by his side. And, what he didn't realise was the biggest lesson he gave to his three daughters, teaching them the true meaning of the word seva selfless service.

He took special permission to organise a guru ka langar (like the ones at a Gurudwara) at the airport. But soon, he realised that providing food was not enough. Many evacuees were labourers who couldn't read or write, let alone fill out the immigration forms. To their rescue came the women of the Ahluwalia family, who started filling out the forms for them. Some of them did not even have a coin to insert in the public call booth. The grandmother of the family set up a counter providing them with one rupee coins, which they used to call their loved ones. The railways set up a counter to issue tickets for them for the journey to their hometown but they were short-staffed.
So, the mother and father and several volunteers manned these counters. Even more heart-rending: there were many body bags flown in, but no one to claim them. So, ambulances and private vehicles were organised.

Mobilising a community
Meanwhile, the langar started by the girl's father was growing into a movement. The committees of Sikh gurdwaras, taxi drivers (who were working at the airport), friends and many others joined and upped the scale of the langar as more and more evacuees started landing into the city. Moved by this, many more people came forward with financial assistance, but the father took their help only in kind. Seva was the only commodity required.

That little girl was me. The father, was my wonderful dad.

My sisters vividly remember going up to the tarmac of the airport and receiving these soul-weary people. Some, upon landing, kissed the ground as soon as they stepped on Indian soil, others couldn't even cry because of sheer relief. Volunteers still remember serving at the guru ka langar. Mom recollects the long days volunteering along with the customs officials, filling out immigration forms and manning the railway counters, issuing tickets.

As for me (daddy's little girl), the day used to begin and end with the task of serving the two biscuits to everyone who walked by that door that's really all I remember. But what I will never forget is the true meaning of seva that my father, my hero, my angel taught me without uttering a word, but only through his actions!

The cast and crew of the mission:
Father: Rajinder Singh Ahluwalia (Founder & Chairman of Mukat Group of Companies, Mukat Educational Trust). He was 41 then, running a steel pipe manufacturing business in Mumbai. He sponsored the airport camp and also arranged for 3-4 buses everyday to transport refugees to railway stations, bus stands etc. He was a vegetarian, teetotaller, fit, handsome and a spiritual man. He passed away after a heart attack one day in his office at 54.

Mom: Sandeep Kaur Ahluwalia, an inspiration for the late Mr Ahluwalia, resides in Mumbai.
Grandma: Gurdev Kaur, was a doting grandparent to the three girls. She passed away in 2003.
The Sisters:

We are the three proud daughters of Ahluwalia. The story of Airlift brought back memories of our story during the Kuwait-Iraq war.

The eldest sister: Mandeep Ahluwalia Pahwa currently looks after his business (Mukat Pipes Limited). She is also the President of Mukat Educational Trust which runs Mukat Public School in Rajpura, Punjab.

The younger sister: Capt. Manpreet Kaur Ahluwalia was 14 when the airport movement started. During the time spent at the tarmac, she was very inspired watching planes land and take off. Today, she's one of the senior-most commanders at Jet Airways.

Daddy's little girl:
I, Simrita Kaur Ahluwalia: CEO-HDFC Education and Development Services Pvt. Ltd. (a 100% subsidiary of HDFC Ltd.), which is setting up HDFC schools.