His family members recall his cherubic face, of a boy who was always shy and obedient, and who would even “greet passing fakirs”. They wonder when he became the man plastered across newspapers, as being one among India’s first bunch of terror exports to the conflict zone in the Middle-east.
Arif Ejaz Majeed, a 23-year-old civil engineering student, went missing in May this year along with three other youths from Kalyan. They were later reported to have joined Sunni insurgents’ group ISIS which has revolted in Iraq and Syria. On Tuesday, they got the news that shattered their world — about Arif’s death.
Saheem Farooq Tanki, who had also gone missing with Arif, called up his brother Farzaan on his cellphone using Voiceover Internet Protocol (VoIP) and broke the news about Arif’s death. Investigating agencies have confirmed that Saheem was in Ar-Raqqah, also known as Rakka, an Iraqi city under ISIS control, when he called.
Arif’s family is yet to come to terms with the news, according to their friends.
Arif walked out of his house on May 24 evening, telling his parents he was heading to a friend’s place in Panvel to study. They never heard from him again. Ninety-six days later, his father Dr Ejaz Majeed offered Ghaibaana Namaaz-e-Janaaza (a funeral prayer offered for times when the body of the deceased is not found). He is still unable to decipher the tumult that was going on in his son’s mind.
Dr Ejaz, “like his son”, many said, is known in the community for being soft-spoken. According to neighbours, he draws tremendous respect from both Muslims and non-Muslims residing in the city. In a city where many speak about the fear of lurking into the locality of the “others”, Dr Ejaz was surrounded by members of the Hindu community on Thursday who had walked into his Sarvodaya Residency apartment in Govindwadi Colony offer condolences.
“We were surprised to hear reports in the media about the family. They all are so genial and well-behaved and so unlike anyone who would subscribe to militant ideas,” said a friend who stays close to where Dr Majeed’s dispensary is located.
Family friends claim the family always laid emphasis on good education while raising Arif and his three siblings. “The entire emphasis when it came to raising the children was to ensure that they got good education and imbibe good values,” a family friend said. Arif was sent to Old Lourdes English High School, a 76-year-old institution set up by missionaries and known to be one of the best institutions in the city. He is said to have been decent in academics.
“He was not exceptional but he was good at what he did,” said Faisal Tanki, a friend. All of Arif’s siblings had undertaken professional courses. His sister is a doctor, another is in college while a younger brother is pursuing engineering.
The family’s emphasis on education saw them asking Arif to take up a diploma in engineering after school. He undertook his diploma in civil engineering from Father Agnel’s College in Vashi. His academic record is supposed to have been decent enough for the Maharashtra government to grant him an education loan.
Arif cleared his diploma in engineering in first class in 2011. The next year at the insistence of family members he opted for a degree course, travelling almost 100 km to and fro every day to Panvel, in Anjuman-e-Islam’s Kalsekar Technical College.
“He had grown a beard by then but there was no inkling of him having radical views. He was genial and would often sit at his father’s dispensary in the evening,” a resident of his building said.
Apart from Saheem, two more youths went along with Arif — Fahad Tanvir Sheikh and Aman Naim Tandel. Their family members claim they did not know that the four used to socialize together. Police probe found that the four would spend considerable time at Bazarpeth, a residential and commercial colony in Kalyan.
“Never in my life have I seen any of them walking up to my house and asking Saheem to come out with them. In my entire life they never visited our house,” said Saheem’s uncle Kashif Tanki.
Family members are also perplexed about how Arif could have been radicalised. “He was religious, no doubt. People would lovingly tell him that after completion of engineering he should be sent to Mecca because of his piousness,” a close family friend said.
Arif’s transformation seems to have taken place in the fag end of 2013, which saw massive clashes between the Syrian government and the rebels. A once brilliant student known to score first class in his exams started faltering in his studies from 2014. Family friends said after that they do not understand what happened to Arif. “I don’t know if the stuff on the Internet could have influenced him,” said another family friend. “But one fine day he just disappeared, only for us to be informed later that he was in Iraq.”
Immediate neighbours too are in shock, as they only recall a well-behaved Arif. A distant relative claims that Arif did not leave behind any letter while leaving. “The letter that is being attributed to him was actually written by another boy who had left with them. I don’t know why the letter was attributed to Arif and why the Majeed family were targeted,” he says.
The departure of Arif seems to have affected his father Dr Ejaz the most. People who claim to know him and seen him walking to the mosque, said that the long wait of 96 days has been the most visible on him. “He is not himself anymore. More like a shadow,” said a neighbour.
Dr Ejaz refuses to talk about Arif. “I have lost my son. Talking now is not going to bring him back,” he says.
(With inputs from Gautam S Mengle)