x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

The Ali Story: Remembering the super-operator at Al Jazira

In this serialised feature, Ali Al Saloom shares his insight and experiences from growing up in the UAE.

Almost a month ago, I came across a piece of news in the local newspaper's sport section on a farewell event that took place at my beloved sports club, Al Jazira, where the management said goodbye to one of its heroes, who is one of my heroes as well.

Krishna, the Indian telephone operator who served the club for more than 30 years, was known as Krishna in the country and even sometimes outside the border of our country.

I miss Krishna. Not the god, but the human being, who shared with me and many others the scores of our various sport teams in our club, whether it was a football match, volleyball, handball, table tennis or any other sport, and whenever there was bad news you were able to feel it in his voice. His professionalism was always classic.

My memories of Krishna go back to the early 80s, when I was in elementary school. I would get dropped off at the club by my dad, who served at Al Jazira as general secretary and manager back in the day.

He would give Krishna a call and ask him about something and he would quickly reply with "OK Krishna, thank you", or he would end his call by saying to him sometimes: "Oh wallah, alhamdulillah, mabrook, mabrook, Krishna," meaning congratulations. This would happen when my father was busy at some other event and wasn't able to attend one of the various matches, so he would keep checking on the score almost every 10 minutes. This happened a lot, because not all of the games were broadcast and football has been, and still is, the major sport that gets all of the highlights. But my father wanted to know all the scores of the club's teams and would be in such a great mood every time he heard the news that one of them won.

I would ask my father about Krishna a lot when I was young and my dad would never hesitate to take me to see him. I was so little that I was not even able to see Krishna at the operator's desk, so my father would tell him: "this is Ali, Krishna", and Krishna would quickly stand up, with very dark, black hair and very obvious moustache and give me my favourite, warm smile.

He would say, "Ahlain Ali, keefak?", meaning "Hello Ali, how are you?" I would simply stay quiet and just say "hello".

But over time, Krishna became like family, as he was with many people from the club. He even got to know my whole family. My mother would call him sometimes to check on my father - since mobile services didn't exist at the time. So Krishna was like a point of contact for many families whose husbands and sons attended the club.

Whenever I think of Krishna, I think of the words "passion", "commitment" and "dedication". He had an unbelievable amount of patience that got him through the routine job of a telephone operator - one of the most boring jobs in the universe, in my opinion. However, with his humility, knowledge and ability to stay positive, he made this position the most important in the club, hence he had support and respect from all of us, from the workers to the big guys and the players.

Go around the UAE today and ask any person interested in sports and bring up the name Krishna. You will see that they either know him very well or have heard of him. Personally, what fascinated me the most about him is that he is blessed with an amazing memory. He was able to remember every single person's phone number - home, office and, over time, mobile. All it would take is just one phone call to Krishna, asking him about a score of any match, and he would manage to get it for you.

Krishna left us and maybe he is back in India now to start his new life with his family. I write this article with pride as a tribute to the person who always loved us a lot and shared with us many moments of happiness and victories.

Once my father said to me: "Son, see how Krishna is so blessed?"

"But people see him as a phone operator only, baba," I replied.

My father sighed and said: "Wrong son, he is a super-operator man, and he is the only one. Be proud to know him and you will be influenced by him someday."

My father is no longer with us, and when Krishna found out he passed away, he was in pain. Today, I also feel the pain in seeing him leave us to return to India, but I am also happy for him and honoured to have met someone with his dedication and commitment.

Krishna, bahoot shukriya (that means thanks a lot in Hindi). May God bless you. You will always be one of my heroes.

artslife@thenational.ae