Mumbai: Many people in Kerala still remember an air crash in 1976 that killed 95 people, including noted film star Rani Chandra. At that time, relatives of Sajjad Thangal belonging to Kollam had believed that he was among the victims as Sajjad was supposed to be a passenger on that flight.
Sajjad's family members and friends soon resigned to the fate that they would never see him again. However, to their surprise, Sajjad, who is now aged 70, has been located at the Seal Ashram, near Mumbai, and will rejoin his family on Tuesday.
SEAL Ashram, located at Panvel near Mumbai, is an Indian NGO that provides shelter to helpless people rescued from the streets and railway stations of the metro city.
The fateful crash
The air crash took place on October 12, 1976. In 1971, Sajjad travelled to a Gulf country seeking employment. He soon prospered and began arranging stage shows in the Gulf with performers from Kerala.
Rani Chandra and her group had also arrived in Abu Dhabi for a show. (She was the winner of the Miss Kerala Title. She was a busy actress in the Malayalam film industry in the 1970s. She had also acted in a few Tamil films.)
The fateful crash happened on their way back home. After the stage show, Rani Chandra and her group reached the erstwhile Bombay city, now renamed Mumbai, from Abu Dhabi on a flight. From Bombay, they boarded another aircraft for Chennai, then called Madras, when disaster struck. The plane crashed on the way and 95 people, including 89 passengers and six crew members, were killed. Even though Sajjad too was to travel on the flight, it was a friend named Sudhakaran who took his place owing to some reasons and lost his life.
Why Sajjad vanished
Severe mental stress affected Sajjad after the mishap. He was worried that an official enquiry into the incident would target him and decided not to visit Kerala again. Some years later, Sajjad shifted to Bombay and engaged in some small business ventures. However, none of them succeeded. Several diseases began haunting him and there was no one to look after him at home.
"Realizing Sajjad's plight, a friend brought him here in 2019," said Pastor Philip, founder of Seal Ashram at Panvel in Mumbai.
Tracing his family
Sangeeth Kumar, the campus manager of the Ashram, had visited Kerala recently. He went to a Juma Masjid at Kalarimukku in Sasthamcottah, Kollam district, and made enquiries about the family of Sajjad. Soon, he reached Thekkethil House in Padanilam, where Sajjad's mother Fathima Beevi, now aged 91, was waiting for her son for the last 45 years.
Fathima Beevi and Sajjad subsequently spoke over a video call. Sajjad has seven siblings. His father had passed away earlier.
Relatives of Sajjad will reach Mumbai on Tuesday to take him home, finally.