In Depth

Kashmiri humourist of ‘Sheherbeen’ fame now living in ‘paralyzed silence’

Sitting among the specially-abled people, attending a rehabilitation programme at the Shafqat Rehabilitation Centre, on how science and technology can help them make their lives better, was a renowned Kashmiri artist, humorist and writer Seth Rafi.

Srinagar: Rafi’s mention would make thousands of urban as well as rural Kashmiris nostalgic. He would act and people would laugh their hearts out after watching him. His young spirit would attract even the younger generations who would otherwise be least interested in Kashmiri dramas and programmes telecasted via the media.

Where has he been? Why would he quit the industry when he was at the peak of his career? What is he doing now?

Rafi was at the Shafqat Rehabilitation Centre, but he was not there as a guest. He was there as a patient.

A specially-abled girl performs a traditional Kashmiri dance at a function organised by Shafqat Centre, a rehabilitation center for specially-abled people. (Photo: Baba Tamim)

Shockingly, the same artist who made people laugh with his words, cannot speak today. Not even a word except for Allah or La Illa Ha Illalla.

Many known personalities met Rafi at the rehabilitation centre on Saturday. Everyone assured him that he would be alright. Rafi would laugh at each comment like, “You spoke too much then. Now you don’t have words.”

When this reporter tried to talk to him, he gestured he would love to. And later, he called his wife Qudsiya Rafi who was sitting on the other side of the gathering (sitting with women) to speak on his behalf.

While talking, she opened a box of Biryani for Rafi and handed him the spoon. Rafi started eating with his left hand. People stress on eating with their right hand for religious reasons. Qudsiya began telling the tale of the sole breadwinner of her family.

She told Free Press Kashmir that Rafi was born in 1965. While saying that she looked at Rafi and got a nod of reassurance.

Seth Rafi with his wife, Qudsia Seth. Rafi was partially paralyzed and has needed help ever since. (FPK Photo/Marouf Gazi)

He lived near the Jamia Masjid, Nowhatta and studied Adeeb- e-Kamil (Urdu). His interest in writing developed because of his father Mohammad Sultan Mir, who had served in the B.Ed College in Srinagar. Rafi also has a caring brother Altaf Kavi who is the Chief Accounts Officer at the JVC Hospital.

Rafi got many opportunities to work out of the state, but his love for his ailing mother held him back.

In 1991, Rafi and Qudsiya, who are cousins, got married. Rafi’s love for his work would help him earn enough for his family. He was blessed with daughters.

However, what annoyed Qudsiya then, is what she craves for now.

“He would get up in the middle of the night and write his ideas. I would love them and be satisfied with the dialogues. But, in the morning, I would see heaps of paper, torn apart. He would never be satisfied in the first go. He would chisel the words all night long. He used to be so annoying. I wish he does it now,” said Qudsiya, while Rafi continued to eat his Biryani and kept laughing over her statements.

Counting Rafi’s achievements, Qudsiya’s starts crying. Helping Rafi hold his box of Biryani that kept skidding from his hands, she continued, “He has performed in, and written, many dramas. He is a lyricist. The president of India awarded him two 1st national Awards and one 2nd national award.”

Seth Rafi looks into the camera siting in the lawn of Shafqat Rehabilitation Centre, where he comes for help, after he got partially parlayed. (Photo: Baba Tamim)

Rafi had a sense of humour that could make kids as well as the elderly of Kashmir laugh. That was ‘stupidity’, according to Qudsiya. One day, however, she had asked him to stop the ‘stupidity’.

“I asked him what stupidity he was doing. He told me that Kashmir is conflict-ridden and that people here are already depressed. He said that it’s not easy to make people laugh. If his efforts can cheer up the people of Kashmir for a few moments, he considered it a blessing,” said Qudsiya, pressing on how pure the intentions of her husband were.

“Rafi was among the people who introduced ‘Sheherbeen in Kashmir when militancy was at its peak. We would be worried about him,” she added.

Quite some time ago, Rafi shifted from Nowhatta to Mustafa Abad, HMT.

Rafi would write on a hard paper in Kashmiri and Urdu languages. However, according to him, he was not appreciated by the industry here. But, that never stopped him from writing. He kept focusing on his work.

Meanwhile, when he was pulled down, he switched to audio and video CDs. His dramas would go viral.

“People from the industry would talk behind his back. They were not happy to see him grow,” added Qudsiya.

Seth Rafi looks into the camera standing inside the compund of Shafqat Rehabilitation Centre, where he comes for help, after he got partially parlayed. (Photo: Baba Tamim)

That’s when Rafi stopped eating his Biryani and made a writing gesture in the air, followed by a facial expression that meant ‘nothing came out of it’.

He tried to talk and speak his heart out. But he couldn’t. His wife kept translating his gestures.

Working hard is good. But it proved to be fatal for Rafi who wanted to prove his mettle. Qudsiya would wake him up on working days. On Sunday or holidays, he would wake up on his own.

8th February 2015 was also a Sunday, however, it was different. It changed Rafi’s life and goals. A person who wanted people to see and read his words now wanted to be able to just say one.

He became disabled with the right side of his body paralyzed.

As Rafi finished his Biryani, Qudsiya picked up some of it that fell on the floor. She insisted on eating the left-over of Rafi. He refused and forced her to eat a fresh one. Continuing with the story of that fateful day, she said, “It was a Sunday. He asked me if it was raining or snowing. He decided to sleep a little more. I helped him pull up the blanket. I went to the kitchen.  Our daughter was asking me to give her some tea so she could head to her tuition classes.”

Seth Rafi eats while siting on a bench in the lawn of Shafqat Rehabilitation Centre, where he comes for help, after he got partially parlayed. (FPK Photo/Marouf Gazi)

“I could hear that he was up. He came downstairs and was wearing a Pheran (traditional Kashmiri overcoat). I was about to taunt him on finally waking up. But I stopped when I saw him struggling to talk. He was standing at the door of the kitchen saying, ‘aa aa aaa aa’,” she said.

Rafi’s daughter had assumed that his mouth was dry. She got him a glass of water. Meanwhile, Qudsiya helped him lay down. Rafi’s mother, who was offering prayers rushed to him and asked Qudsiya to call the neighbours.

“As she held him on his lap, I called the neighbours. We got a local medical compounder. Even he said that he was fine. But, he wasn’t. We took him to the JVC Hospital. The doctor asked him his name,” said Qudsiya.

‘Rafi’, he had replied. That, according to his wife was the last word he could utter.

Rafi has played the characters of handicapped people and he now points up to the sky inferring that God’s plans are known to none.

“We took him to many doctors including Dr Omar Farooq and Dr Mushtaq Wani. Now, he has been going to Dr Sushil Razdan who is in Jammu. He has been asked to stay indoors during winters,” said Qudsiya.

On 15 April, they came back from Jammu and Rafi was advised by a doctor to do certain exercises. That’s how he landed up in the Shafqat Rehabilitation Centre.

Asked if he feels better after coming to the centre, Rafi pulled up his arms and moved them a little. He wife said, “He is now able to move this arm. It was as hard as a log earlier. He is getting better.”

Sometimes Rafi gets violent when her family is not able to understand what he is trying to say. However, his wife is grateful that he is able to take care of himself.

“I only help him while taking a bath and shave his face. He comes here on his own. He can do everything else now,” she added.

Apart from Rafi’s brother and Qudsiya’s family, no one is helpful to him. In his absence, Qudsiya told this reporter that she cannot describe how hard it is for the family.

“We have been asked to keep him happy. I cannot tell you this in front of him. Our kids are not able to study properly. His brother helps a lot. My family does too. But, ultimately what would we do? Is this the fate of an artist here?” she asked.

She added, “He has served Doordarshan for more than 15 years. They don’t bother to ask about him, forget about providing any stipend,” she added.

Rafi’s talent has always been adored by his fellow artists and people. Arshid Mushtaq, an artist in an interview had said, “I am directing a satirical play ‘Shakeligour’ (portrait maker) by Seth Rafi, a playwright whose genius is so underrated. No playwright comes even a distant close to his vision and artistic acumen. It is a personal challenge also as I have never tried comedy.”

As discussed in the Shafqat Rehabilitation centre on Saturday, much is possible when it comes to improving the lives of patients like Rafi. However, poverty remains a factor. In such cases, artists like Rafi are left on their own.

Their talent left unexplored and their lives left as they are: crippled.


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