A proverbial story of rags to riches that could inspire generations to come; a diminutive man from India landed in Kuwait from a ship on 24 March, in the mid-1960s. Armed only with a degree in architecture but with a load of determination to make big in life, his immediate aim was to support his large family of many brothers and sister, and aged parents, who were then living close to penury in India.
For H.S. Vedi, Kuwait was the first country that he traveled to outside India, and, to make two ends meet in his life, he took up a minor job in a construction company. Vedi’s skill in architecture and his eye for detail soon began to speak for itself, and in a couple of years he had made his presence known in the Kuwait construction field. As luck springs surprises many a time, the petro-price boom in early 1970's saw a major surge in construction activities across the Gulf. Soon Vedi found himself flooded with so much work that he floated his own company. Success finally arrived at his doorstep.
It was not in Kuwait alone; Vedi’s firm began to spread its arms in Iraq, Sudan, UAE, Oman executing major projects that came their way. In the boom period, he led a task force of over 16,000 workers spread across many countries.
Vedi reputation and hard work soon found its echo in the royal family as he procured many assignments to design palaces, chalets and villas for the royalty. His personal relation with H.H. the late Amir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah grew when he designed many of his work. It may be mentioned that the late Amir too had an eye for minute details in architectural work.
In many of the visits of royal family members to India, it was Vedi who accompanied them. He became the known Indian face in the Kuwait royal family circles and perhaps the only Indian to be invited to the Amir Palace during the Ramadan fatour.
An incident reflects explicitly how he endeared himself with the royal family of Kuwait. While walking away after the grand ceremonial reception at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan (President House) in New Delhi in June 2006, His Highness the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah stopped and shook hands with Mr. Vedi standing in the VIP enclosures set up to greet the visiting dignitary.
"How are you my friend? You are here," the Amir said holding his hand, then smiled, and walked away along with late President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh towards his cavalcade. That same evening, Vedi was among theVIPs who were invited for the Presidential banquet hosted by late President Kalam ion in honor of His Highness the Amir.
Vedi’s deep love for Kuwait manifested during the tragic invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Husain’s regime in 1990.He stayed behind during that troubled time and along with some Indians floated Indian Citizens Committee to help evacuate the large Indian community, which by then constituted some 1,70,000 souls. It was an arduous task, especially given the hostile environment. His name recently figured in the Indian blockbuster film Airlift, which is based on the evacuation and had Akshay Kumar in the lead.
Vedi got in touch with the Indian government and the then External Affairs Minister I. K. Gujral who later became the Prime Minister of India, to plan the evacuation process. The Indian Citizen Committee was endowed with the task of helping with the evacuation and through his effort safe passage was granted through Iraq.
The evacuation was recorded in the Guinness Book of World record. Mr. Gujral later accepted the great work done by the ICC in a special message to its chief H. S. Vedi which was printed in the souvenir. Many former Indian Ambassadors too poured their messages of appreciation for the remarkable work done by ICC during that troubled time.
But for Vedi, as he said in his welcome speech in honour of visiting former Indian Union Minister for Steel Mines and Fertiliser Ram Vilas Paswan ,who flew in specially to attend the ICC function in 2008, that it was nothing but the debt he owed to the country that gave him so much. "I preferred to stay behind in Kuwait to share the horror and trouble that my fellow Kuwait brothers were undergoing," he told Indian Minister Paswan.
The Kuwait government indeed recognised his immense contribution in bringing India and Kuwait closer and Mr. Vedi was among the few Indians who needed no sponsor to remain in Kuwait. He was self sponsored, a testimony of the affection he attracts in Kuwait.
He was diagnosed with cancer in January 2012 and fought death as valiantly as he fought for the principles and ideals that were dear to him. He left for his eternal abode on 24 August, 2013.
Mr. Vedi was in deep love with Kuwait, its people, its calmness and its laws. Despite knowing that he could have got the best treatment in India, he preferred to return to Kuwait in June. If not premonition, it was his love for this land that brought him here. Surely he wanted to breathe his last as a tribute to Kuwait, a country that gave him so much love and affection.
In death too he triumphed.
- S A H RIZVI