Yasmeen Maqbool, an all-time softie is the Features Editor of Filmfare ME, Salt ‘n’ Peppa and Femina ME. Her passion lies in telling stories about people who do what they do because it matters.
She is fondly called Amma, Umachechi, Umadidi and ma’am depending on whom she is assisting this time round. And all of us who have been living since long in the UAE know her too. It’s been 26 years and counting. Umarani Padmanabhan – the hope for those in dire need of assistance and guidance, lends her time, effort and empathy across the UAE expatriate population (Be they Indian, Nigerian, Philipino, Srilankan, Brazilian or South Arfican).
She keeps busy and for a good reason. She not only visits mentally ill patients and those suffering from HIV, cancer, Hepatitis B, TB and brain tumour, but also requests authorities to waive their medical bills before assisting them in being repatriated to their hometown, at times.
Helping illegal workers, mostly without passports, repatriating human remains back home and performing local cremation and regularly visiting the immigration jail to assist with the emergency certificate (travel document) are some of the services Umarani renders herself for.
And she does this for just the satisfaction it gives her. “Being of help to someone and making a difference in someone’s life makes all my efforts worthwhile.”
Umarani is always by your side; all you need to do is to ask her for assistance. “I always answer all my calls, even if I’m about to go to sleep, because it could be a matter of life or death for the caller,” says the Indian social worker.
She relentlessly works with the local authorities and the respective consulates of the various nationalities she comes across. “I would like to especially thank the Police and the Immigration officials who trust me and help in completing all the formalities.”
Umarani does not keep a list of the number of people she has helped over the years, but she remembers that she started volunteering around 26 years ago. “I do not keep a count of the people I help. That’s not the focus anyways.” Umarani’s husband, BS Padmanabhan, a businessman, was instrumental in shaping her philanthropic activity after he was rushed to hospital in 1990 due to complications with kidney stones. “I used to be by his bedside in Rashid Hospital, Dubai, and there I noticed that there were many patients who did not have anybody other than the nurses and doctors to care for them or talk to them,” she says. “Their families were back in their home country and they were yearning for somebody to talk to or listen to their worries and problems.
On some days she would sit by their bedside and talk to them and cheer them up and also get them home-cooked food and little gifts. Many of them could not afford to contact their families back home regularly, so Umarani offered to do so on their behalf to update the families about their condition.
Gradually this kind of social work started taking precedence and began getting more involved in her spare time says Umarani, who was working with the HR department of the Canadian Immigration Services at the time.
Taking home-cooked food for those recuperating in hospital soon led to her accompanying sick patients back to India.
Finding her initiative to be extremely fulfilling, Umarani began to expand her scope of helping people. “Each step is a learning experience as each case is individual in nature and different from each other.”
“How to tackle issues, what documents are required for police clearances, papers required at the Immigration Department and the consulates, laws regarding people who have reneged on loan repayments…’’
Umarani sites the case when on one occasion she had to carry the human remains of a young boy aged 23. He was returning home to Chennai, India, fell sick at the airport and died at the hospital after three days.
After completing all his formalities she carried the remains to handover to his family, but they refused to accept, as they were expecting compensation instead. She had to take up the case with the airport police to sort it out.
Umarani admits that it though being a very satisfying and gratifying experience, it does take its toll on her. Seeing relatives cry on receiving their deceased, being with critically ill patients, visiting jail inmates and being on the go at all times to work out the papers, does draw out her energy.
Umarani admits that it is the relentless support and encouragement from her husband and two daughters that helps her to go on. Her maxim has always been: “Never give up and keep your faith because there is always someone there willing to lend a helping hand.”
Moreover, meditation, prayers, yoga and breathing exercises is what helps put Umarani on her feet, day in and day out, with added vigour and zeal to make a difference in someone’s life.