Alif with Archana and Arya in Dubai
Alif with Archana and Arya in Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: When the video of Keralite students Archana and Arya carrying around their classmate Alif, who was born without legs, went viral in India recently, the college friends had not imagined their “wings of friendship” applauded by netizens would fly them to Dubai for a dream trip.

The trio is now living that dream, along with Alif’s mother Seenath Shanavas, thanks to UAE-based Indian businessman Afi Ahmed, managing director of Smart Travel. He sponsored their trip after he heard Alif say on a radio channel that he wished to see Dubai.

They arrived on Friday and have already visited the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, in Dubai and enjoyed a full day trip to Musandam peninsula in Oman.

NAT ALIF 13-1653909589673
While visiting Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower in Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Speaking to Gulf News during a city tour on Monday, Alif said they did not feel like they were visitors. “We have received a lot of love and affection. Everyone is treating us like family, with so much warmth. We feel like we belong here, we are not strangers.”

NAT ALIF 145-1653909592764
The trio strike a pose in front of the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

He was particularly excited about soaking up the beauty of Dubai from Burj Khalifa. “It was amazing. I was born without legs and it is difficult for me to climb on anything. I know there are several people living here who haven’t had a chance to go inside Burj Khalifa. I consider myself extremely lucky.”

He said getting a chance to visit Oman by going to Musandam was also an unexpected gift. “We didn’t know we would enter two countries. I was so excited to do kayaking and other water sports activities.”

NAT ALIF 1773-1653909602453
Alif kayaking in Oman Image Credit: Supplied

Message of equality

Archana said they had not expected such a life-changing impact after their video went viral. Their video was shot during the arts festival in their college, D.B. College, Sasthamcotta in Kollam district in Kerala, by Jagat Thulaseedharan, a wedding photographer and an alumnus of the college.

“It was nothing new to us in our college. Either us or someone else would be carrying Alif around all the time. But, it was a breath of fresh air for many people as it showed us abolishing any discrimination [of disability, gender and religion].”

Arya said: “We sent out the message of equality. That is what is lacking in our society these days.”

In love with Dubai

The BCom graduates, who are awaiting their final year results, now wish to get jobs in the UAE. “We don’t feel like going back,” said Alif, who is also a mimicry artist.

“This place is very exciting. It is great to see how differently-abled people are supported here. I particularly noticed the facilities for people with special needs and I also got to know that ‘People of Determination’ is the reference used here.”

Arya and Archana have a brother each as siblings and their friend Alif is now their ‘brother from another mother’. And for his mother Seenath, the girls are like her daughters now. “I have one more son and daughter back home. I have been sad for my son for a long time. But I am so happy for him now.”

She said she was happy that Malayalis across the globe now know her son and he was gifted with an electric wheelchair and a modified two-wheeler scooter after the video went viral.

“I only wish our entire family was here together.”

NAT ALIF 1675-1653909598385
Alif with his mother Seenath during the trip to Oman Image Credit: Supplied

Missing his father

She said Alif’s father Shanavas, who is a taxi driver in Saudi Arabia, could not fly into Dubai to meet them here. “We have not seen him for three years. One day, I wish to come again with my father and siblings also,” said Alif.

He added that he had missed seeing Expo 2020 Dubai and wished to visit when the site would be reopened as District 2020. “I hope I will be able to see the Alif [Mobility] pavilion on the site also,” said Alif, who is known by his nickname, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet.

“My real name is Mohammed Nasim. But I am popularly known as Alif,” he added.

Full of gratitude

The trio and Seenath expressed their gratitude to Ahmed for making the life-changing experience possible. “Without his generosity, this wouldn’t have been possible,” said Alif.

NAT ALIF 173-1653909600174
Alif and Ahmed Image Credit: Supplied

Ahmed, who has been accompanying the trio on their trip and was also spotted carrying Alif around, said he was touched when he saw their video and did not think twice when he heard Alif say that he wished to see Dubai and Burj Khalifa.

“It is only when we celebrate such good deeds that people will be motivated to do more good things,” he said. “That is why I brought [all of them] to make it a great experience,” added Ahmed, who had earlier made headlines for gifting Dubai trips to Kerala’s flood hero Noushad and family as well as for expats’ children from low income families.