Assam final home for Mumbai family wiped out in Tawang crash

Samudra Gupta Kashyap

Mumbai-based homoeopathic doctor and religious worker Dr Asif Chunawala had been regularly visiting Assam since 1994 when he apparently fell in love with the Northeastern state during a trip to attend a congregation of Muslims at Hojai. This month though, his wife Reshma, daughters Zahra, 18, and Zainab, 15, and son Zakwan, 11, accompanied him as the children had vacation from school. They also extended their stay and planned a short trip to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.

But the trip ended in tragedy as the entire family was wiped out when the Pawan Hans helicopter they took to reach Tawang on Tuesday crashed before landing, killing 17 of the 23 on board. Today, 47-year-old Chunawala’s relatives said they would perform the last rites of the family in Guwahati itself because of Chunawala’s love for the region he had visited 17 times, and also because he would have wanted to rest where Allah finally called him from.

“Asifbhai had become like a family member for us. He has been visiting us almost every year. This time he came along with his family on April 10, went to Shillong, then enjoyed Rongali Bihu in Sivasagar and Jorhat, before returning to Guwahati to fly to Tawang,” said Mohammed Moinuddin, a Guwahati-based businessman.

A popular homoeopath in the Andheri West suburb of Mumbai, Chunawala was also a social worker and religious activist. Friends said he left a mark on the people he came across and treated poor patients without charge and even paid for their medicines and diagnostic costs. “He spent all his earnings every year to come to Assam and visit other holy places.

Although we are Muslims, he loved visiting shrines belonging to all faiths,” said Farooq Chunawala, the eldest brother of the homoeopath, who flew to Guwahati from Mumbai today with seven relatives.

In Mumbai, Chunawala’s nephew Sabeer Khairani said the doctor’s family was so religious that it did not have a TV set at home or allowed pictures of themselves to be taken. “It is very shocking that the family had to die in such a tragedy,” said Khairani, who is the son of Chunawala’s eldest sister, as relatives and friends gathered at the Chunawala residence in Al Noor building on SV Road.

“Since the kids had vacations, they insisted on extending their stay and planning a short vacation to Tawang,” Khairani added. In fact, he said that the Chunawalas were to board the chopper from Guwahati on Monday but due to technical problems, the flight was rescheduled for Tuesday. “Our family members have gone to Guwahati and from there they went Tawang in a helicopter to identify the bodies. Reshma-mami and the kids could be identified but Asif-mamu was completely charred and beyond recognition,” said Khairani.