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After more than four decades on the sunny shores of Bahrain, Indian expat Majeed Kuniyil has left the kingdom to continue his charitable contributions in his home state of Kerala, India.
Majeed, a stalwart of Al Hilal Publishing Group where he was the distribution manager and has worked for 40 years, first landed on the shores of Bahrain in February 1980.
A member of the 2.5 million-strong Keralite Gulf diaspora, his journey in the region started in Dubai in 1974, where he worked in the Kuwait embassy for four years and witnessed the birth of the modern Gulf region and its many branches.
In an interview with GulfWeekly, Majeed reminisced: “Back then, most of Dubai lay empty. After I moved in 1974, I witnessed how much and how quickly it changed. I remember, back during my time in Dubai, M. A. Yusuff Ali, who is today managing director of LuLu Group International joined his uncle who ran a small cold store at the time. I used to shop there all the time and now, it’s amazing to see how much that store has grown into.”
After his stint in the UAE, he moved to Bahrain in 1980. With a plan to secure a job, he met with then circulation manager of Al Hilal John Dunn who offered him the position of distribution assistant in the group’s growing magazine division.
Four years later, Majeed got married to Aisha and the young couple settled down in Bahrain to start their family. A few years later, their first son, Muhammed Ershad was born, followed by daughter Majida Majeed and sons Abdul Jumail and Muhammad Yaseen.
As his children started to go to school at Indian School Bahrain, Majeed and a few other members of the community began to see that there were few options for expats, in terms of schooling and education on the island.
Majeed said: “We wanted to provide a more affordable option for expats, especially for those in the Keralite community. That’s how the idea for the Ibn Al Hytham Islamic school came about. We began in 1989 with seven teachers and 200 students, with the support of the chairman Shaikh Isa bin Mohammad Al Khalifa.”
Majeed continued to be a member of the school’s activities committee as the institution expanded in the decades since. Concurrently, he founded the Bahrain chapter of the Centre for Information and Guidance India, a not-for-profit organisation aimed at the uplift and empowerment of marginalised segments of society.
Meanwhile, when the King Fahad Causeway between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia opened in 1986, Majeed’s job often required him to commute between the two countries on a daily basis.
Majeed added: “When I first landed here, much of Juffair and Hoora had not been reclaimed. There were just a handful of buildings that were 15 storeys or higher. As I drove back and forth every day, I could see the country change before my eyes. I also was lucky to be part of the growing Keralite community and the many social organisations, and community media like the Gulf Madhayamam that came to positively impact expat life in the kingdom.”
Later, as he was promoted to distribution manager of Al Hilal, overseeing the distribution of the numerous publications of the group across the region, Majeed’s kids grew up and started to relocate. His son Muhammed Ershad is now married to architect Alifa and living in the USA. His daughter Majida is a doctor and his younger two kids are also on their way to securing professional designations.
About three years ago, Majeed underwent a coronary angioplasty and after that, approached Ronnie Middleton, managing director of Al Hilal Group asking to retire. But after a ‘heart-to-heart’ conversation, Ronnie told him: “Majeed, if I can run around everywhere at my age, you can too. Take it easy and when it’s time to retire, I will let you know when you can leave.”
Now, Majeed is back in India, in the NIT hostel in India under a seven-day quarantine due to the Covid-19 health crisis. Once he goes back to his home town of Kurukkiladu, he plans to continue his work as the chairman of the Kakkad Mahal Sas Karika Koottayma (KMSK), a social organisation that runs the PSC coaching centre, supplies drinking water and provides medicines to the poor. KMSK was started, under the name of Majeed’s father, as a way of giving back to society and has provided meals and supplies to over 500 families during the current Covid-19 crisis.
He concluded in a farewell letter: “I would like to take this moment to mention a special thanks to Ronnie, Jubran Abdulrahman, Sunny Mathai, Muhammed Iftekhar and Ahmed Suliman for their unending support and appreciation for all that I have tried to do. Your support is forever engrained in my heart and even my children have fond memories of meeting and spending time in the company. I wish to also extend my thanks to the staff of all departments, including the offices at Dubai, Saudi and the UK. It has been a privilege to associate with all of you.”