It happened in Dhahran in Saudi Arabia.
I returned to my little villa after driving home early from the office as the visibility was down to a few metres. My eyes were already crying fine tears from the sandstorm outside that had raged all day without mercy to any creature alive.
The sand blew into my car through the air-conditioning system and through every door and window at home. It was pervasive and disturbing.
To my delight Ragavan my live-in housekeeper was at home when I arrived and he welcomed me as always with a slight bow and his Indian style of shaking his head sideways as if it was somehow disconnected from his body. I was so glad to see him, and I think he was too to see me because the ferocious sandstorm raging outside had scared us both.
“Sir, you are coming in a good moment to home because this storm is not good for us or camels. It is a bad omen.” and I replied, “Don’t worry it is just sand.”
He said, “But I never see you cry. You are a strong man and it is not because of the sand that you really cry?”
My Operations Managers’ name was Shankar. He did something stupid though not directly his fault. He was involved in a traffic accident the night before the sandstorm when someone jumped a red traffic light, and he had a few homemade beers in the boot of his car which broke and spilt out all over the road. Both cars were wrecked and the local police arrived and arrested each of the drivers.
I can never forget the sight of him on the floor of the jail in the desert when I went to visit him there the next day. He was manacled by chains to the concrete floor in his cell, and under him, there was a pool of blood. He had been beaten so badly that his wrist and several ribs had been broken by the prison guards with iron rods.
A few days later he went to trial at a shariah court which I attended too. He was charged with selling alcohol (which he had not done) and sentenced to two years in jail and seventy lashes.
I argued then that he was too weak to take the whipping as he was very slender, but the judges did not care.
The Commanding Officer of the jail (a police Major) always sat at his desk in his office just inside the building and I was required to meet him before I could visit Shankar. He always stank of alcohol and smoked long Cuban cigars. He laughed at me and said my friend would die from the lashing for his crime. I hated that man.
One day I went to visit Shankar and he said that the night before the Major had entered the prisoners’ cells late at night and shot a Yemeni prisoner in cold blood. There were several witnesses and they all said that he was drunk at the time.
I arranged a meeting with our Saudi Arabian sponsor and partner in the business and repeated the story I had heard. He listened but did not say anything about helping. He just said, “Inshallah, justice will be done.”
The following week I went to the jail to see Shankar as always and he and all his cellmates were over the moon with joy. They told me the Major had been taken away to Riyadh and had been executed.
In those days, I had an airport security tarmac pass and accompanied Shankar to the boarding steps of a flight to Singapore when he was expelled from the Kingdom. He was still handcuffed then by the police until they took them off as he boarded the plane.
I didn’t hear about him or know where he was living until many years later when I attended an industry conference in Hong Kong.
Our Chinese hosts had arranged a dinner for us at a famous restaurant and we all sat at a huge round table. I got talking to the man next to me who turned out to be an Aussie like me and came from Sydney. By a strange coincidence we had met before in Dubai when we both worked in the transport business but for different companies.
He asked me where I had travelled before in my working career and I mentioned Saudi Arabia.
Then, to my astonishment, he told me a story about a close friend and colleague of his who had been in jail there in the early 1980’s and lived in Singapore.
The story he told me coincided exactly with my own one above so I mentioned his name and asked him if it could be the same man.
He looked shocked and replied, “Yes, that is Shankar. We work together in Singapore and we all know the story in our company. I am proud to meet the man who saved his life.”