If only he answered my phone, says Kuwait fire survivor in shock over loss of close friend

Najeem and Shameer. Photo: Special arrangement

Two days after a deadly blaze in Al-Mangaf, Kuwait, killed some of his friends, room-mates and colleagues, Najeem Jalal, one of the survivors, was sitting in a flat closely following news on transportation of mortal remains of the victims. He survived with a fracture to his left leg. He was a close friend of Shameer, one among the 24 Keralites who died in the accident. Both of them were planning to come home in November.  

Najeem, who is employed as a driver, stayed in a flat on the first floor and Shameer was on the second floor. It was around 4am when catering team arrived in the building with breakfast. People were preparing for namaaz when they heard a frantic knock on the door.

One of the caterers told Najeem and his room-mates to immediately vacate the building. Najeem was barely awake, as soon as he stepped on the floor, the tiles were unbearably hot. The first thing Najeem did was to call Shameer. The internet was off and he couldn't reach him. He somehow managed to get out of the room. Power had snapped and there was darkness and smoke in the corridor. ''I just couldn't move forward. I got to another flat and alerted them. We smashed the windows and started jumping one by one. I landed on a water tank, skidded and fell on the ground. I was panicked. I just couldn't reach Shameer and by then the second floor was engulfed in smoke,'' Najeem told Onmanorama over phone.  

Shameer with Najeem. Photo: special arrangement

''If only he had answered my call,'' Najeem paused. Najeem, who hails from Thamarakulam, and Shameer had known each other for 10 years. ''When I was in hospital, Shameer's wife would call me repeatedly asking for Shameer. I didn't know what to tell her. Around 10 am, one of our friends told me that he was gone. Even then she was calling,'' said Najeem. Last week both of them went out, had food, took photos at a beach nearby and came back. 

As a driver, Najeem often took many of the people in the building to office and to hospital when they were ill. ''I knew almost everyone. We would have food together. When I see news, I see their faces and it hurts. They always smiled at me, would ask if I had eaten. Even a day ago we all ate lunch together and now everybody is gone. I can't sleep, I try to watch news but when their names are uttered, it is heart-breaking,'' he said. 

Najeem remembers one of the victims from Kerala, who arrived last week, faced issues due to documentation. The authorities had even told him to return immediately due to lack of documents. ''Somehow we convinced them that documents would be ready in 10 days. I was the one who took him to various offices. Looking back, I don't know if he should have just returned,'' said Najeem.

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