From Obscurity To Fame
The Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas in Ahmadabad revealed how many awardees of Samman Patra, the prestigious award that is given to NRIs in recognition of their achievements and services, had humble or near anonymous beginnings. But with sheer dedication and spirit of doing good to others, they became known. India did well to recognise their good work. He isn’t the CEO of the world’s largest software firm, doesn’t own East Africa’s biggest conglomerate and isn’t the President of a nation. But Ashraf Palarakunnummal has received India’s highest honour to its Diaspora for a feat none of his co-winners can claim. Ashraf has re-united over 2,000 families in India with bodies of their loved ones who died over the past 13 years in the United Arab Emirates, where the 43-year-old from Kozhikode repairs and paints cars in his modest garage. “You could say it’s my calling, it gives me purpose,” Ashraf said. “I feel like I’ve done something bigger than I could ever have by just tinkering with cars.”
For Ashraf, the mission began in 2001, two years after he landed in Dubai on his second attempt at building a life in the region. On a visit to a hospital in Dubai to see a friend there, Ashraf saw another patient—an Indian—lying dead next to his friend, his wife and children crying helplessly. “There are complicated rules in the UAE for repatriating bodies of foreign nationals, and most Indians struggle to handle these,” Ashraf said. “That day, I realised I could help someone when they needed it the most.” Over the past 13 years, stories of Ashraf’s help have thrust his telephone number onto the speed dial of most Indian community leaders. When Indians lose a family member in the UAE, they contact either the Indian mission there or an Indian community organisation. They in turn contact Ashraf. He has helped India in the complex repatriation of bodies.