Dubai: Ever heard of a millionaire who can't afford a decent meal, has no place to sleep and no income? Meet Pottengal Ahamed. Four months after he won Dh1 million in a National Bonds draw, he is still waiting for his prize money — partly due to miscommunication, but largely because of his own ignorance.
Ahamed, 50, quit a Dh1,300 restaurant waiter job shortly after being declared winner of the millionaire draw on September 24 last year.
He recalls that day. "It was around 7.30pm. I was serving food as usual when I got an SMS from National Bonds saying I have won one million dirhams. I dismissed it because just one week earlier I had got an SMS from a strange number saying I had won £5,000 (Dh28,591). It turned out be a scam. Later that evening I showed the SMS to some friends. One of them called up National Bonds. When they confirmed that I had indeed won, I felt my heart pound so heavily I thought I would faint," said Ahamed, who had saved for months to buy Dh3,000 worth of certificates.
"A few days later I told my employer to find someone else. For eighteen years, I've been cleaning dishes. Who'd want to do that any more when you have one million dirhams in your account?" said the father of three from Kerala, India.
The next few days passed in an unrealistic blur of ecstasy. His pictures were splashed across newspapers and he was flooded with congratulatory calls. "I felt my dreary days were over and started fantasising about the good life ahead."
It was the stuff that would have inspired a movie. But somewhere down the line the plot went slightly off track.
Ahamed is still waiting to get his hands on the money.
"Every time I go to an exchange house or bank and ask for my money I am turned away. I don't know what to do. Whatever savings I have is fast dwindling. I cannot go back to my old job because the owner of the Deira cafeteria where I worked has employed a new waiter and my visa has expired," said Ahamed.
"If I stay any longer I might be caught by the police for being an illegal resident. In any case, I have very little left to survive. You know how expensive it is here… When I was working as a waiter I used to send some money to my family, but I haven't sent anything lately. My wife was complaining I was better off as a waiter than I am as a millionaire," he said.
However, Ahamed's ordeal is set to be over now with National Bonds CEO Mohammad Qasim Al Ali taking an interest in the matter after it was brought to his attention by XPRESS.
Al Ali said Ahamed was never turned away. "Our customer service and retention team's job is to ensure that customers are aware of the disadvantages of not continuing to save especially with all the weekly and monthly rewards that National Bonds provide. We spoke to Pottengal Ahamed on the occasions that he tried to redeem his prize, and explained that if he kept them until the impending profit announcement, he would get an even higher amount of money. This was done in good faith and at no point did our team say that Ahamed could not redeem his money, so we are surprised that there has been a misunderstanding. That said, we are always looking for ways to enhance our service standards, and this valuable feedback will allow us to look into avoiding such miscommunication that may arise in the future, Al Ali stated in an e-mailed statement to XPRESS.
Since Ahamed doesn't understand English and speaks broken Hindi, National Bonds had to get a Malayali speaker to communicate with him in his native language.
"We have spoken to Ahamed and explained that he can come and pick up his cheque at any time, so we expect him to join us some time this week to redeem his prize," said Al Ali.
Ahamed said National Bonds called him on Wednesday saying he will get the Dh1 million cheque next Tuesday (January 31). "Now I can breathe a sigh of relief. I am happy," he said.
Ahamed said he will use the prize money to secure the future of his children. "My parents couldn't send me to school. I had to work in the farms. I will try to get the best education for my children — (one daughter and two sons aged 10, 6 and 4). I have not seen them for years. Some day I will bring them to Dubai."
Ahamed said he plans to start a grocery in Dubai, but is not sure if one million dirhams is adequate start-up capital.
"I don't want a fancy shop.. something very small and basic.. Will it be enough?"