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How many of you have watched the Hindi movie ‘Airlift’ – starring Akshay Kumar? It was completely based on the Gulf War that happened in August 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait on the 2nd day of that month. I was 7 years old and enjoying my summer holidays with my 5-year-old brother until one of our family friends had come to inform my mom of the disturbing turn of events. My dad was in India.

Yes, it was a terrifying sight when military trucks, tanks and BTRs were prowling all over the country in the days to follow. All small shops, hospitals and government offices were shut and some citizens were also shot at sight, by the invaders. We Indians were quite safe like that but couldn’t take a chance in such situations, and when hungry Iraqi soldiers swarmed our homes for food and water, it was even scarier. Our essentials were reducing and all of us wanted to get back to our own country; for me, it would be the first time.

invasion gulf war kuwait
Indians being evacuated during the Gulf War in 1990

I was one of the 170,000 Indians that the Indian Government evacuated from Kuwait. Little did I know that this would be known as the world’s largest civilian evacuation in history. I wanted to write about my experience around the Gulf war long ago but wondered how to put it into a way that helped others. I didn’t want to just write about the terrible times but also wanted to jot down what we learned from such a catastrophe.

The big supermarkets were open and we would meet soldiers on the way when we went to get our essentials. In a few days, we took all our food and required clothing and left to stay at a cousin’s place. A couple of weeks later, we loaded ourselves into a bus and headed for Bagdad, Iraq. We stayed in tents, at the border, for a few days until we were again loaded into another bus and taken to the border of Amman, Jordan. Some cold baths, tuna fish tins and tent experiences later; we were airlifted by Air India and taken to Bombay on 4th October 1990. We were just one of the 488 airplanes that Air India operated for the airlift between August and October 1990.

Air India evacuation
One of the biggest evacuations in history

I met my grandmothers and grandfather for the first time. I realized I had plenty of cousins, aunts and uncles who I never knew existed. I met my dad after a year. This event made us realize and learn a few things that I could think of and put in words only 30 years later, i.e. now, during a worldwide catastrophe.

Air India airlifted 170,000 Indians from August to October 1990
  1. You will never know how others feel – When we were young children during the war, we didn’t think about how others felt about it. In the absence of my dad, my mom was petrified for her kids. I would ask her things like what if one of the bombs fell on our building, or what if one of the soldiers entered our house and shot us? Recently, my mom told me that my questions would haunt her even in her dreams.
  2. Being at home should be enjoyable too – There are so many people who find it difficult to stay at home and enjoy themselves. Though I was one of them during my teenage years, I know how to be comfortable in my own home. I have created an environment at home which allows my kids to be as busy and productive as possible while also being happy.
  3. Never take mom’s food for granted – Most of us take our mom’s cooked meals for granted. I would always throw a tantrum when my mother made fish curry and rice because I disliked fish. But after this episode, I never despised any food that my mom cooked, ever. During those border days, we did get some good food but mostly survived on tomatoes and tuna fish tins and I would desperately crave for my mom’s hot fish curry and rice.
  4. Bathing every day is not compulsory – Hot water baths are a luxury many do not have. I know a few people who have a bath twice a day, which I think is a complete waste of water. We were so accustomed to having a warm bath every day that I was traumatized when I was forced to have a bath with cold water, out in the open, throughout the journey to India. Now, I can survive without bathing if there is no water or water shut down due to maintenance issues and still not complain until the problem is solved and hot water is back.
  5. Do not take nature for granted – We were so used to being entertained and watching movies and couldn’t go a single day without our daily sitcoms. During the travel, I was introduced to nature. We admired its deserts, sand dunes and trees wherever visible. We enjoyed playing with each other around the tents and large spaces. After that, I make sure I use as much wet waste for compost as possible, walk instead of using the car as far as I can and do not throw anything on the streets. Caring for nature is now a part of me.
  6. Money is not everything – In Kuwait, many of us enjoyed the luxuries of huge soft beds, classy furniture and clean toilets. But in the tents, we were all equal and slept on thin mattresses kept over uneven stones and went far to poop in huge holes in the ground. Due to my diarrhea issue during this time, I visited all the existing holes. My mom would hold my hands in the front while I stretched my tiny buttocks backward, over the depression in the Earth, to do my job. In seconds, all that we owned back in Kuwait did not matter. All the money we had just disappeared or became useless.
  7. Sanity is more important than schedules – Keeping up with routines is something everyone is stressed about. Cleaning the house all day, washing clothes every day, struggling to prepare tea on time, serving hot chapattis to in-laws or cooking a fresh meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner; nothing was important during those months because all we needed was food to survive, whether hot or cold, tasty or not, spicy or bland, fish or vegetables. We just had no schedules but had to only live in the moment and be positive in order to keep our sanity intact.
  8. Be grateful and help others – If there weren’t people who were helpful enough in their hearts, trust me, we would have been left back in Kuwait and endured more than we could imagine. Five men initiated the airlift and helped with the evacuation to India safely. Then, when we landed and waited at the airport to get home, we kids were hungry and got biscuits from passers-by. It was by sheer goodwill of those strangers, who never knew how much we earned in the Gulf, who offered us something to eat.
  9. Spend quality time with family – Life is not a race. It is a journey to enjoy. Spend more time doing the things you love, with your loved ones at whatever time you please. Kiss and hug your kids as much as possible every day. Enjoy every day as it unfolds with beautiful sunrises. Besides getting a good sleep due to school, we barely have any schedules. Don’t let God send another pandemic in order to make you realize this.
  10. Nothing is constant except change – In the midst of analyzing what we could carry along; we only regretted one thing which was leaving our photo albums behind. But then, it taught us to enjoy every little moment and not depend on mere photographs for memories. Life circumstances change and photographs are taken for memories but the mind will surely remember all the good times with or without the photographs.
airlift gulf war kuwait
Highway of Death – Kuwait to Iraq

For us kids, it was like a reality check but for the adults, the journey was a fight against fear, obstacles and insecurity until we reached home. Unless one is in a bad situation, one would never understand the depth and emotion related to it, so, as humans, we can merely be a shoulder to cry on, a confidant to confess in or support to free the mind.

I hope you look at the current pandemic in a positive way and learn a thing or two from it. Stay home and stay safe. Most importantly, do not be afraid to take that step to free your mind during difficult times.

Check out another blog I found online on how the invasion changed lives.

Cindy D'Silva
Cindy D'Silva
Cindy D'Silva, besides being a mother of two angels, is a belly dancer, writer and photographer. She loves partying, bowling and eating sushi. There is a detailed biography about her on the ABOUT ME page in case you would like to know more. :) You can like and follow her Facebook page to get all updates on the latest blogs and more: https://www.facebook.com/blogaberry/


  1. […] During the Gulf War, I was one of the children (along with my mother, brother, aunts, uncles and cousins) airlifted from Kuwait in 1990. […]

  2. Urvashi says:

    This is heart touching Cindy! I had no idea what you went through until I read it today. You and your family must be so strong to have witnessed Nd survived and successfully be together. Your learnings are so relevant for this pandemic.

  3. Cindy, your post focuses on how to be brave in the situation. I am glad you took positives from the situation and the pointers listed in the post are the one we all wish to God.

  4. Very well written Cindy. I’ve seen the movie and could imagine how it would have been for you as a kid.

  5. This is so heart wrenching, you have gone through so much. I have seen Airlift and condition what people gone through. You shared life saving tips on bad condition.

  6. […] a mask has never been a requirement even during the Gulf War I was a part of. We would only see crowds wearing them in the movies. And now, in order to avoid spreading, what we […]

  7. Akanksha Singh says:

    I got goosebumps reading your experience Cindy..Being at the luxury of our homes during covid sounds so much better than what you and your family have experienced.

  8. Wow. This is such a well researched post. Loved every bit of it. Kudos to you.

  9. […] my daughter did miss some of her friends but WhatsApp and Zoom were there to see them unlike 30 years ago when we went through a lockdown because of the Gulf War. So, I figured this list was important about how we kept the kids engaged and happy during the long […]

  10. Jyoti Jha says:

    It is so disheartening to see the plight of people caught amidst such adversities. You have precisely jotted down the important learnings that such tough times teach us, especially in the current situation. Absolutely loved your write up!

  11. Alpana says:

    Cindy, it was such an heartfelt , and thought provoking post. Someone who has experienced this kind of a situation and has learnt from it can only write this. You are so very true- we tend to crib about so many things in daily basis but we understand it’s importance only when we don’t get them.

  12. […] On the other hand, lockdown or shutdown refers to the general restrictions by the government on movement, work and travel in a city, state or country. Here, people may not be allowed to even enter or leave a building freely because of an emergency (COVID-19). The authorities could call for a lockdown during catastrophes like an epidemic, pandemic, riot or war. […]

  13. This was so overwhelming for me. Experiencing airlift as a movie was extremely emotional for me and to think that you went through it.. . I cannot even imagine it. More power to you 🙂

  14. Varsh says:

    That must’ve been a harrowing experience for everyone, just like Corona is right now. Only in the times of catastrophe do we look back and evaluate the way we lead our lives.

  15. Gunjan says:

    Such a beautifully written piece Cindy. No one can imagine the pain you and the fellow Indians there might have faced. I like how you have shared learnings from your personal experience here.

  16. Jhilmil says:

    I had goosebumps reading how a family can feel during such circumstances. And that also comes as one of the biggest learnings of life! I can feel what you said, Honor Mom’s food, creating productive indoor environment!

  17. Neha Jain says:

    Such a well explained post and it’s really important to understand and respect nature as per current conditions we are going through

  18. Espi Gomes says:

    Enjoyed reading yr post and rewinding memories 😥
    Current lockdown also brought back flashes of our Kwt invasion experience.

    • Thanks for reading aunty!

    • Noor Anand Chawla says:

      From the beginning my family and I have discussed how each generation faces its own troubled times. For my parents, it was the terrible anti-Sikh riots in 1984 and this virus and lockdown seem to be our generation’s peculiar testing situation. Your learnings from that traumatic period of your childhood provide some much needed insight that will help us all.

  19. Sharan Desai says:

    Beautifully painful.
    So much love and respect for you darlin

  20. Roma says:

    I am touched with the way you have encapsulated the lessons you learnt early on in life. Glad you shared it with us.

  21. Smitha N says:

    Lovely post Cindy so well explained tht life is all about going with flow no matter what the ups and downs are.. Just loved the post
    .. .

  22. Judy Morris says:

    Oh it must have been a great ordeal coming back to India that time from Kuwait. Yes indeed these are some realization that needed to straighten out lifestyle.

  23. What a lovely read, Cindy. You’ve given us so much to introspect about. A crisis is the time to correct what we can, instead of cribbing.

  24. Beautiful post Cindy. My heart was racing just reading your experiences. And definitely we cannot take Nature for granted. Lesson leant for life.

  25. Lovy Michael says:

    Well written Cindy, short n crisp! It conveys all the necessary aspects and is witty as well. I was one of the few lucky ones to be on vacation in India during the war, but I’ve heard much about it and I am thankful that i didn’t have to go through it! This pandemic is much easier. Just stay home to stay safe!

  26. Your post was heart-wrenching and full of life lessons. We often look forward for luxuries but tough times only teaches us to be humble.I was in school when this war happened. Glad that you were able to come back home safely.

  27. Deepak says:

    I remember this war very clearly! I was in PU that time and we used to follow very closely! First day of Iraqi invasion, first day of coalition raids when They dropped 18000 tonnes of bombs on the very first night!. Worries about you all in Stella aunty house etc etc. That should never repeat again.

  28. Archana says:

    Such a heart touching post Cindy, very well said that Life is not a race but a journey to enjoy. that only we as human almost forgot to do and this Pandemic is giving us many lessons and face off with all the reality which existed since long but we ignored. that’s y time is giving us a reality check! Very nice write up!

  29. PraGun says:

    I have seen Airlift and had loved it a lot. I loved this post giving so many lessons for the present moment.
    Beautifully penned and researched post.

  30. Arushi Seth says:

    A very interesting and a heart wrenching post. We often take too much for granted but these tough times teach us the much needed lessons and also as you say to stay positive. Lovely post

  31. I had not watched Airlift..but your post had given me an insight about the whole situations..I could imagine how hard it must be for your mom to take care of little kids in absence of your dad. you had shared really important learning lessons from this incidence and I agree we should not taken god’s valuable blessings ( food, family..) for granted.

  32. Harjeet Kaur says:

    I hear you, Cindy..I heard the partition stories and believe me they were horrendous. What all my parents went through and I lost my grandfather too then. People are making too much of the lockdown. As you said we should be grateful to be alive and with family around us.

  33. Abha Singh says:

    Really touching story. I only watched Airlift movie on screen. Can’t imagine what people went through that time. I just loved your post. Keep spreading positivity much needed this time.

  34. We should never take nature for granted and destroy its charm by our needs. The current situation is an example.

  35. Ishieta says:

    This is such a beautifully and sensitively penned piece I think it is remarkable what you all have been through and indeed it is absolutely remarkable the woman that you have become. thank you for sharing these lessons and you have me nodding along in gratitude for the life that we do have

  36. That’s true, such times can be very difficult and people can be relentless & impatient. But we do got to stay strong and positive and follow the guidelines being issued for our own benefits.

  37. Nisha says:

    We human had it coming. Our twisted ways of living in our shells definitely attracted this epidemic. I just hope we have learned our lesson.

  38. Heart touching post. Yes this lockdown has taught us many things that we need to change and appreciate in our lives.

  39. Really we will never know what we can expect in future. Really appreciate the list with very valid points.

  40. Ghunjain says:

    A very well detailed informative post at this situation for everyone.. thanks for sharing it

  41. Sundeep says:

    Hi Cindy. Lovely blog. They say it’s in the time of crises that you learn what are the most important things for your life. These 10 points are like 10 commandments for life. Thanks for penning down this list.

  42. Vibha bhat says:

    Wow I remember watching airlift . I almost teared up when you said that hot bath is a luxury. How many of us acknowledge that ?

  43. Such a heart wrenching write up Cindy! I can’t even imagine what you went through!

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