Naseer Vatanapally: The 'positive' social worker

Dhanusha Gokulan (Principal Correspondent)
dhanusha@khaleejtimes.com Filed on April 16, 2020 | Last updated on April 16, 2020 at 12.33 pm

Community reporters like me have several go-to 'sources' who have their senses well-tuned to ground realities. Over a period of time, these 'sources' also become friends. In pre-Covid-19 times, prominent Indian social worker Naseer Vatanapally and I would check on each other at least once or twice a week. Naseer's cheerful disposition would only falter when he would inform us about repatriating the mortal remains of a UAE resident or visitor. Community service is significant to Naseer, and, as expected, when the virus struck, he jumped on the frontlines to serve the most vulnerable residents of the UAE.

On March 22, I received an urgent call from him at 8.30 pm. "Dhanu. I am worried; I'm receiving a lot of calls from people who are saying they might be sick. What can we do?" he asked.

Back then, I asked him to exercise caution. "Naseer bhai, you have three kids. If you are stepping out to help people, you must ensure your family is safe," I suggested. That would be the last of our long conversations over the phone.

Bidding his family goodbye, Naseer promptly moved into a hotel in Deira. Over the next two weeks, he communicated mostly through WhatsApp voice notes, and would send pictures and videos from what he called 'Ground Zero'. During our calls that lasted less than 60 seconds, I would hear Naseer pleading with people walking about on the streets to "go home".

He sent a multitude of voice notes asking people to take this seriously. Although those in the media fraternity who know him prayed for his safety, the inevitable happened. On April 6, Naseer tested positive for Covid-19.

"I got a call from a hospital to leave everything and get admitted," he said from his isolation ward in Dubai's Medeor Hospital. "I've been here ever since. Fortunately, I don't have any pre-existing conditions, so I am fine. In the beginning, I had a sore throat. But I've been having a lot of hot water with lemon," he added. Naseer's family is safe, according to the 42-year-old.

He said he is being provided with top-quality healthcare and is confident he will recover soon. However, even in his hospital room, Naseer continues to take calls and help those in need - remotely. "I should've exercised more caution. Maybe washed my hands more often or worn gloves. In the bustle of life, we forget to take care of ourselves," he told me.

"I am just waiting to receive a negative report so I can jump back into work. I can see Bur Dubai from my room; I miss working with my fellow social workers," he maintains. "People need us now more than ever."


Dhanusha Gokulan

Originally from India, Dhanusha Gokulan has been working as a journalist for over ten years. For Khaleej Times, she covers NRI affairs, civil aviation, and immigration issues among other things. She completed her BA in Journalism, Economics and English Literature from Mangalore University in 2008 and is currently pursuing her MA in Leadership and Innovation in Contemporary Media at the American University in Dubai. In her spare time, she dabbles with some singing/songwriting, loves food, and is mom to an over-enthusiastic Labrador retriever. Tweet at her @shootsprintrite.

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