Streets are locked down, not hearts: A story of hope and humanity from Kashmir

Mother-son duo, stuck in the valley since lockdown began, finds home away from home thanks to a family

geetanjali

Geetanjali Minhas | April 21, 2020 | Mumbai


#COVID-19   #coronavirus   #epidemic   #healthcare   #lockdown   #kashmir  
Javed and Khadija sharing food with the Ahmed family (Photo courtesty: Javed Sheikh)
Javed and Khadija sharing food with the Ahmed family (Photo courtesty: Javed Sheikh)

When Javed Sheikh and his mother Khadija set out from Mumbai for a week-long trip of Kashmir, they could not have imagined it would turn out to be much longer than a week, and they would have a glimpse of much more than the tourist spots of the valley.

While both have tested negative for Covid-19 twice, they have been stuck in the valley after the countrywide lockdown began on March 24. At a time when the unprecedented health crisis has led to suspicion and mistrust among people in society at large, a family in Patal Bagh area of Pampore has not only offered them shelter but also consider it a god-sent opportunity to help them.

Javed, 29, and his 59-year-old mother took a train to Jammu on March 5 and reached there the next day but had to stay at a hotel that night as the road to Kashmir was shut due to landslide. The next day, after an alternative road was thrown open, their cab got stuck near Chandrakot due to another landslide and they had to take shelter with a local family. On their onward their journey the following day, in a similar episode they got stuck once again, this time at Rambagh and had to stay in a lodge there. On March 9 after reaching the police check post at the Jawahar Tunnel they were tested for Covid-19 and the result came negative.

In Kashmir for the next two-three days both went sightseeing around Yusmarg and visited their friends. With the measures to stop the spread of coronavirus being tightened in the union territory around that time, health officials had started testing tourists too. Again, they came in to test Javed and his mother. Again, the results were negative.

As the administration started taking tough measures, areas like Lal Chowk and Mughal Gardens had been shut down. “We found ourselves getting stuck and worried for our safety and wanted to return home at the earliest since we were tourists here. We had been told that all people with domestic and international travel history were being quarantined in hospitals. I was worried for my mother, who is a diabetic, catching infection in quarantine. So under such situation traveling back to Mumbai or staying here was a double-edged sword for us,” says Javed who owns a turf ground in Mumbai. Khadija works as a senior hair stylist in the film-TV industry.

To keep himself occupied Javed is giving tuitions to children in the vicinity. “We were tourists here and the situation due to the coronavirus was turning serious. We did not want to be a burden on anyone and hoped to leave by 20th March. One day while I was at a grocery shop I met Mr Nazir Ahmad whom I had earlier met at the mosque where I had gone to offer prayers. We got talking and he asked us to join his family for dinner. He offered us his house to stay for a day and said not to worry as we had tested negative. ‘Aapki hifaazat mere dar se jyaada zaroori hai,’ (your safety is more important than my fear) he told us. Another two-three days passed as we expected to leave for Mumbai, and then the day-long national curfew was imposed [March 22] after which came the 21-day lockdown [From the March 24 evening]. Mr Ahmed said to us that we need not worry and could stay back till April 13 [when the lockdown was to end]. Now with the lockdown extended to 3rd May we have no other option but to stay here,” Javed told Governance Now over phone.

“Emperor Jahangir had said, ‘If there is heaven on earth, it is here in Kashmir.’ I would like to add here that people of Kashmir are heavenly and they have given us immense love. Mr Nazir Ahmed’s family has given us unconditional love and they treat us as their own. They have a really good heart. If roti, kapada aur makaan (food, clothing and shelter) are all that you need to survive, this family has given it all to us. My mother had an acute tooth problem, so despite in the lockdown they took out their car and took her to the dentist for treatment – not once but several times. They even ensured that she has her stock of medicine for diabetes,” says Javed.

Hilal Ahmed, son of Nazir who works with PWD in Kashmir, adds, “When my father met Javed and his mother he found them very worried and invited them home for food. He asked them to stay over for night at our house. The next morning they wanted to leave but he did not allow them to leave and told them to stay with us till the lockdown was over. We are lucky that the almighty has given us a chance to look after them especially in these circumstances. My three sisters and his mother sleep in the same room, while I and my brother share our room with Javed. We eat and stay as one family. My father has promised to see them off at the railway station only when lockdown is over.”

Both Javed and Khadija are in touch with their family back home in Mumbai. “Our story gives people hope that humanity stills exists. At a time when everything is locked down and when the government is unable to reach the last mile, it is such people who are reaching out. Kashmir has shown great humanity to us and showered much love and now it our duty to give back the same love to them,” says Javed. “Once things settle down, I am waiting to welcome our hosts in Mumbai.”      
 

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