Kottayam: More than a month after the mysterious disappearance of a couple from Chengalam, the police are groping in the dark. Relatives and friends of Hashim and Habeeba, however, are not ready to let the case go cold.
Hashim Ottakkandathil (42) and Habeeba aka Kunjumol (37) left their home at Arupara after dusk on April 6. They were supposed to return with food for the children from a takeout joint in Kottayam.
Nobody has seen them since then. Even the car they drove towards Kottayam remains untraced. The police and well wishers have left no stone unturned in search of the couple. The search has been futile.
The couple’s children have moved to their aunt’s house at Changanassery. Hashim’s father Abdul Khader, a retired employee of the Kottayam Collectorate, stayed put in his son’s house in the hope of finding a clue. Hashim’s mother Anumma passed away a few months ago.
“The children are with my elder daughter, Hashim’s sister,” Khader said. The family plans to shift them to a school at Changanassery. Fida is in the ninth standard and Muhammed Bilan is in the fifth.
Hashim’s grocery store attached to the house has been closed ever since he disappeared. Khader puts up a brave front as he is faced with a barrage of questions from inquisitive relatives and neighbors.
Hashim and Habeeba drove towards Kottayam after leaving their mobile phones, wallets and identity cards at home. Khader could find all the ATM cards and identity cards used by his son, except his Aadhaar card. Hashim probably carried it. Hashim’s phone is in the custody of the police.
Khader has no tears left. The pensioner finds solace in his strong conviction that his son will return one day as unexpected as he had vanished.
He finds it hard to cope with the strange rumors floating around. Someone even said that the couple must have been hijacked along with the car in a container! “I don’t believe in these rumors. My son will return,” Khader said.
Khader said that he was the one to suggest that Hashim take Habeeba along. Hashim and Habeeba were on medication for mental disturbances. Both of them were not allowed to go out alone at night.
They usually buy food from an eatery at Kodimatha which is run by a relative. They also used to go to a restaurant near the municipality office. When they did not return after a long time, Khader made inquiries at both the places. They had not gone to either place. That was a hartal day and most of the establishments in town were closed.
Craze for automobiles
The police have not got any breakthrough in the case. The cops have searched all the places the couple could have gone to. A lookout notice has been issued.
Hashim and Habeeba are not used to staying away from home. Their travels mostly confined to outings with children to a beach or a park. Whenever they visited a masjid, they made sure to return immediately, neighbors reminisced.
They said that they never felt that the family was in a financial crunch. Hashim was fascinated by automobiles. He bought the car a few days before he was to disappear. The car only had a temporary registration number.
He was known to be prompt in his business. No one seems to have any bad memories of him.
The long wait
“If they were alive, they would have called up their children at least,” said K.M. Kunjumon, the owner of the eatery at Kodimatha. “People say so many things including a story that their car has been hijacked in a container. Anyway, it is mysterious,” said Kunjumon, who is also a municipal councilor.
“They used to come to my place often. But I had not opened the shop that day because there was a hartal. The shop has a surveillance camera. Had they come there, we could have seen them on it,” he added.
All masjids in Kerala and even the other states have been informed about the missing couple. Their pictures have been pasted in all places of worship and tourism centers. Various organizations are also trying to find out about them.
Experts on the trail
A 30-member police team has been put on the job, district superintendent of police N. Ramachandran said. They have relied on all possible technology and investigative techniques, he said. The team is coordinating with their counterparts in other states to look for the couples in every corner of the country.
A naval team combed the River Meenachil with sophisticated sensor technology.
The police have pasted the missing persons’ photographs in all the service centers of the company that sold them the car as well as all petrol pumps along the main routes in south India. The lookout notice has been published in newspapers in all states.
The police even inspected the gorges of Idukki and Wagamon using helicams. Border check posts are under constant lookout.
The police forces in all states have been asked to check for the couple’s car among the list of vehicles found to be abandoned.