Originally from Iran, Ghaffar Darabian was forced to flee the country and arrived in Pune, India in 1994. Since then, he has built a life in Pune, starting a family and putting his automobile engineering skills to work as a car mechanic. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, the effects of the pandemic have led to extreme hardship for people across India. Ghaffar arranged parcels of food items for needy families, both refugees and members of the local Indian community.
Today, India is currently the country most severely affected by COVID-19 worldwide, with case numbers continuing to rise. Since late April, between 250,000 and 300,000 new cases have been recorded each day.
I’m a car mechanic. In this line of work, one day you can have money while the next day you might not have anything. Here in India, the COVID-19 pandemic has been affecting us severely. My garage has been closed again for weeks, and I’m not earning anything right now.
Some people have been in a far harder situation than me, though. Many have lost their loved ones and their livelihoods. Even with the lockdowns and restrictions over the past year, I have sometimes been able to do minor car repair work from home. Customers could come by my place, and I would repair their vehicles in the parking lot.
I arrived here in Pune in 1994. When I fled here from Iran, I found so many freedoms and such warm people. Many people, especially in the Parsi community, helped me to settle in – to find a house and to get a job. This is part of the reason why I feel so strongly that we must always help others in need. As a refugee, I believe that when you go somewhere and you are able to do something, to be useful in society, you must do it. We must give, and not only take.
I have been fortunate here, so I try to help others where I can. I ask my friends and acquaintances if they know of anyone in need, anyone who doesn’t have food at home. These are people who were not able to earn anything. I then contact them directly, as many people don’t feel comfortable ‘fishing’ for help. I go to their place and give them things, food items like rice, sugar, oil, wheat and tea, so that they can survive. It doesn’t matter who they are, or what nationality they have – we have to help them as fellow humans.
“It doesn’t matter who they are, or what nationality they have – we have to help them as fellow humans.”
This is what also motivates me in my work. I graduated from university in Iran with a degree in automobile engineering. Although I am a mechanic, I am a human first. When I talk to my customers and fix their cars, I try to do so to the best of my ability – as their friend, and as a part of their family. I tell them: “I am thinking of you and of your family – if the car breaks down and gets damaged, if your family gets hurt, how could we fix that?”
And they say to me: “There is no other mechanic who speaks to us like this.” I’m proud that 95% of my customers eventually become my friends.
From a personal perspective, I also feel very settled in India. I met my wife soon after I arrived here. Her family are locals and they owned a food shop just 300 metres from where I was living at the time. They sold everything from milk and water to jam, and she would sometimes help out at the shop.
One day I was buying milk, and she didn’t have any change in the shop to give to me. She said that I could pay the next time I dropped by the shop. Instead, I immediately rushed to the taxi stand nearby and got the missing change. After few minutes, when she saw me again, she said, “Are you crazy? For such a small amount, you have come back already?”
And I said, “You see, maybe tomorrow, something might happen to me and you would say that he didn’t come back. But actually, I don’t want the change, please keep your one rupee.”
That is how it started! We now have two daughters, a 26-year-old, and a 23-year-old. I plan on being here forever: I have a wife, a family, and responsibilities.
I understand that in some countries, people think that refugees and asylum-seekers will come to give trouble and that they are not useful for society. To these people, I want to say that refugees will not harm your society – on the contrary, we can work and we can help. I am optimistic that if people could see how refugees can be a benefit to their communities, they would accept them.