Mumbai Local

A sibling reunion story 29 years in the making

complete family:Rafique and Mumtaz share a happy moment while delighted mother Madina couldn’t stop smiling at this reunion. —Photo: Prashant Nakwe  

Mumtaz Shaikh, a programme coordinator with CORO, an NGO, was in Ahmednagar when a phone call brought her the news for which she had been waiting for 29 years. Her long lost brother Rafique had walked into their house in Vashi Naka, Chembur, nearly three decades after they were separated. “Our family is complete after three decades,” Mumtaz’s teenage daughter proudly declared to her friends on Whatsapp.

Mumtaz, who was chosen as one of the 100 women across the world by the BBC last year making a lasting impact with the Right to Pee campaign, could not control her tears. “How can you be sure,” Mumtaz asked her mother and husband over the phone. Madina, her mother, said she knew how to spot her child. “I grabbed his head to look for a surgery mark,” she says, talking about how Rafique underwent brain surgery when he was eight months old. “Even the scars caused by the syringes on his veins are still around,” she says.

For the 16-odd years that Mumtaz, 34, has been working with the NGO, there has been only one question that she has been asking anybody she meets from Kerala, “Will you lead me to my brother?” That question was answered on Tuesday.

Mumtaz was barely five when her father took Rafique away to Kerala on the pretext of giving him a good education. She had vague memories that could help her in accomplishing her mission – his name, that he underwent brain surgery as a toddler, that he works at an automobile repair workshop in Trichur, Kerala, and that the father stayed some distance away from an eatery called Hotel Madina. Nothing seemed to help her track her brother.

Mumtaz‘s parents married in Ahmednagar in 1978 following a brief courtship. Her father spoke Malayalam, while the mother spoke Marathi. In 1983, after their children were born, they relocated to Chembur, and set up a shanty in Vashi Naka. Mumtaz’s father, Abu Bakker, is a chauffeur, and he wanted to shift to Dubai to earn more. Mumtaz‘s mother, Madina, handed over their household savings to pay for the trip. Abu Bakker had other plans, though. He convinced Madina she may not be able to manage both children alone, and took his son Rafique (who was eight at the time) to his parents in Kerala. He returned alone saying his parents had agreed to look after Rafique.

Heartbroken, Madina consoled herself saying that Rafique was better off in Kerala than in a shanty in Mumbai. Her husband left for Dubai and was prompt in sending money for two years. Then, one day, everything stopped: the money, the phone calls, and the letters. To her shock, Madina found out that Abu Bakker had remarried.

Meanwhile, Mumtaz yearned to see her brother. Mumtaz, who grew up in Mumbai with her Marathi-speaking mother, could neither speak nor understand Malayalam. Neither did she have the resources to search for him. She almost gave up hope, but then her mother would say, “Imagine if I were separated from you and your brother was with me. He would never stop looking for you.”

Those words turned out to be prophetic. Rafique was also searching for his mother and sister, even after his father told him that his mother had died.

An inquisitive lady from his neighbourhood, who had stayed in Mumbai till the late 1990s, would become the angel in this improbable story. She knew Rafique, and how he would suffer at the hands of his stepmother. The woman worked in the Gulf, and never got down to reuniting him with his mother. Rafique, who got a job in Kuwait, kept in touch with her, and it was eventually she who led him to the area in Mumbai that had been home to Rafique’s family in the 1980s.

“She is the CID officer in our story,” says Rafique. “We heard such stories happen only in films. Maybe our story will become a film some day,” says Madina.

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 3:04:41 PM |

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