New Delhi: He was known as one of the heroes who made possible the largest civilian evacuation in known history. And the main inspiration behind the 2016 Bollywood historical drama Airlift. Indian businessman Mathunny Mathews aka Toyota Sunny died aged 81 in Kuwait on Friday after being part of the tiny emirate's fortunes and trials for over six decades.
On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army swept across Kuwait catching more than 1.7 lakh expat Indians, a large number of them from Mathews's home state of Kerala, in a war they had nothing to do with.
The emir himself escaped to Riyadh, his brother was shot dead by the invaders. Kuwait became the 19th province of Iraq and all the embassies in its capital, including India's, were officially shifted to Basra.
As the Iraqi army squatted on occupied territory, Mathews was among a small group who drove all the way to Baghdad to meet visiting external affairs minister IK Gujral. Soon, New Delhi negotiated with Saddam for the safe return of its citizens.
Newspaper accounts showed how Mathews rejected a safe exit and stayed back to help and support tens of thousands of Indians as they travelled across the warfront from Kuwait to Jordan capital Amman to be flown back home.
Makers of Airlift recently acknowledged that Ranjit Katyal, played by Akshay Kumar, was a fictional character based on Mathews and another Indian businessman, Harbhajan Singh Vedi.
He also headed the Indian school, the Indian Arts Circle and many social organisations, serving as patriarch for many Indians who later came to work and live in the oil-rich emirate.
Mathews died at his residence in Qadisiya in Kuwait. He will be airlifted to India one last time, for the funeral rites to be held at his native place Eraviperoor.