Abu Dhabi: A Yemeni man who reached India for medical treatment said he felt the trip was like a journey back to his roots as he grew up around Indian culture with many Indian friends, especially Hindus, in Aden, a port city in Yemen.
“We Muslims and Hindus are living like one family in Aden,” Mohammad Omer Al Jefri, 54, a retired limousine driver, told Gulf News from his hospital bed with the help of a translator.
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Gulf News visited the Yemeni patients who were flown to the VPS Rockland Hospitals in Delhi last week as part of an Emirates Red Crescent initiative to help Yemeni people.
He said Indians [people of Indian origin], including Hindus, have joined Yemeni Muslims in fighting Al Houthis.
“Indians have been living in Aden for more than a century,” Al Jefri said. “We lived together… went to school together… studied together,” he said with a smile.
In Delhi, he was happy to see Indian women wearing the traditional sari and bindi [a decorative mark worn in the middle of the forehead by Hindu women]. “Although generally Hindu women wear traditional Arabic dress in public [in Aden], they wear sari and the bindi at private parties and when they visit temples.”
Al Jefri said he has, on many occasions, driven his Hindu friends and their families to the temple in Aden.
Al Jefri said the Bania community [an Indian Hindu trader or merchant community] in Aden has a designated temple which he would visit.
His Indian friends, Al Jefri said, belong to different communities and include Bohra Muslims, Banias and Sikhs. “They all are my neighbours. We get together at wedding parties and other special occasions. We [even] go on trips together,” he explained.
Talking about the situation after the arrival of the Al Houthis, Al Jefri said, “Initially, we were afraid. However, when we started to fight back, everyone came together. Some friends of Indian origin were also injured in the fights and they were sent to Oman for treatment,” he said.
Al Jefri was wounded during an Al Houthi firing while he was sitting inside his home. A bullet entered his neck and exited from his shoulder, due to which he will undergo a shoulder replacement surgery.
Despite the unrest caused by the Al Houthis, Al Jefri said the social harmony in the city has not been affected. “We all still live like a family,” he said.
Having lived with such harmony with Indians, Al Jefri has understandably developed a fondness for Indian food. “I like the laddu [a sweet dough fried delicacy] and dal [savoury lentils],” Al Jefri said.
An elderly Indian woman in his neighbourhood would cook delicious food and offer it to him and his family. Her husband, he said, was chief of police in Aden.
Al Jefri also spoke of the Bollywood ties with Yemenis and how they enjoy watching Hindi movies.
As Gulf News reported on July 1, a 21-year-old Yemeni woman said she hoped to meet one of her favourite Bollywood actors — Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan — during her medical treatment in India. Sameera Mohammad Hazza said Yemeni TV channels regularly telecast Bollywood movies.
Al Jefri and Hazza were among the second batch of Yemeni patients reached in Delhi on June 22 as part of an Emirates Red Crescent (ERC) initiative as announced by the UAE leadership.
The ERC is bearing the cost of their medical treatment in coordination with Abu Dhabi-headquartered VPS Healthcare that runs three hospitals in Delhi.
Hindu temples in Aden date back 150 years
A Hindu temple that dates back more than 150 years, a market that sports an Indian name and love for Bollywood reflect the Indian connection in the Yemeni city of Aden.
From 1839 to 1932, Aden was administered by India’s British rulers from Bombay (now Mumbai), and during this period, the influence of the Indian community in Yemen’s economic and financial fields was very strong.
An estimated 100,000 people of Indian origin are concentrated in southern Yemen around Aden, Mukalla, Shihr, Lahaj, Mokha and Hodeida.
Many of them have acquired Yemeni citizenship and become part of the country’s fabric. They, however, retain ties with their families in India.
The famous Hindu temples in Yemen include the Shri Tarichmerga Temple that was built in 1862, Shri Ram Ji Temple built in 1875 and the Hanuman Temple built in 1882, according to an IANS report in 2013.