Bug, breathlessness, beseeching: Kashmiris in COVID captivity

Mehraj prays for those infected with the virus. 'Only a person who went through this ordeal can tell how dangerous this virus can get it,' he says.

To capture the current household crisis, Free Press Kashmir presents the pandemic prison tales as part of the Survivor Series. This first story, details the breathless encounter of  a Kashmiri man who just returned home after battling two-month-long hospitalization.

Defying the viral desertion in the ‘shabby-state shelters’, spick and span home hospice for this Covid captive looks immaculately intimate.

The picture itself dents the make-believe notion of home apathy and aloofness. 

In reality, beyond the desolation created by invisible enemy on the pandemic-plagued landscape, Kashmir’s classic resilience is taking the contagion head-on within four-walls: “We’re in this together.”

But in the current crippling crisis, where the major solace comes from His name, the feeling and craving to resume the old times is grossly growing. This feeling is no different for Mehraj-Ud-Din Baba. 


Mehraj, 62, is unable to breathe without support for long. This limits his movement, forcing him to spend most of the time in bed.


After discharged from the heaving hospital, he stays in his room — near, yet far from his family. 

The tiny tormentor has aged him beyond his years. Cramps and aches are sending senile signals in his body. There’s a concern on his face, possibly about his family, some unfinished tasks, and a few mundane meetings. 

But for now, he’s only making peace with his rosary—the symbol of hope amid despair. 

In this state of solitude, the nasal cannula has become his constant companion.

Mehraj likes to listen to Kashmiri Sufi songs. He passes time surfing the internet.


This weary routine began that long night, when he gasped for breath, and the doctors thought 62-year-old Mehraj would require ventilator support. The virulent strain storm, at the outset of spring festival in the valley, had found its way in his body.

One of the hopeless moments came when the panting elder was shifted from one to the other hospital building, almost on war-footing. 

His recollection of the scene invokes that emergency movie moment where a patient is being driven by frenetic family members to the critical care ward.

To keep a check on oxygen saturation, Mehraj is advised to wear oximeter.


But before the treatment began that day, his son was asked to sign a paper—citing: ‘If anything happens to him while shifting, the family would take responsibility.’ 

The son had frozen for a while, mulling: ‘Am I being asked to sign and seal my father’s fate?’ 

After testing positive for coronavirus, Mehraj was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia. The doctors feared he would require a ventilator.


Like in contemporary Kashmir politics, there’s no middle-ground in the prevailing pandemic. It’s either this or that. 

And the very feeling fretted Mehraj’s family—beyond expression and comprehension—when that breathlessness began. 

The doctors have strictly asked Mehraj to stay indoors. He sometimes sits by the door and enjoys the view of his garden.


Mehraj had felt feverish a week before they would insert pipes and tubes in his body. Since it was a long-feared symptom, the learned headman quietly walked away from his family and isolated himself in his room. 

In his hometown, many had already picked up such isolated routines. The virus had outwardly become a part of life a year after that Khanyar lady’s first Kashmir Covid case would create shock and stereotype in the society. 

In the second and vicious viral wave, Mehraj’s old routine came to his rescue.

It is difficult to get an oxygen concentrator in Kashmir due to its shortage.


In his pre-pandemic past, when he was diagnosed with leukemia, the elder was advised by medics to avoid crowded spaces as a precaution. Even on the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, his doctor warned him to stay cautious or else face life-threatening consequences. 

But once he tested positive, his life turned upside-down. What started as a mild infection soon escalated to bilateral pneumonia. And with that, started his home to hospital shift.

People who visit him have to wear masks and sanitise themselves. Doctors say he cannot afford to fall sick again because his immune system is weak.


The hospital stay was harrowing. It took his family a lot of time to find a hospital bed due to a war-like situation. Even Kashmiri medics trained in conflict war-theatres termed the current health emergency as unprecedented.

“There was a shortage of ventilators, oxygen concentrators and beds in hospital,” Mehraj recalls traumatic time of his life, while running his slow-moving fingers on rosary. 

After two long months, Mehraj groomed himself. He jokingly says, ‘It was getting difficult to recognise myself.’


Some of the vital drugs had to be ordered from New Delhi making them even more expensive. 

“I don’t know how a poor man will survive this pandemic,” he wonders.

During his stay, the hospital remained swarmed with patients, without any letup in rush and chaos, he continues. “I’ve never seen anything like this and I don’t know how long it will take me to come out of the trauma.”

As Kashmir prepares for a long plagued season, Mehraj is fearful it will only make things worse for those who have trouble breathing.


After two-month-long hospitalization, now returning to normal life, he says, seems like a far-fetched idea. 

While it’s too early to determine how the recovery of patients infected with the novel coronavirus will play out in the long-run, many doctors have warned about its long-term effects. 

“Approximately, 10-15% of cases progress to severe disease, and about 5% become critically ill,” a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) reveals. “For some people, some symptoms may linger or recur for weeks or months following initial recovery.”

Mehraj offers namaz while wearing the nasal cannula. He has been diligently offering his prayers after he was discharged from the hospital.


In his post-Covid period, Mehraj breathes with the help of nasal oxygen. Apart from health complications, he suffers from severe emotional trauma and anxiety attacks. 

Bug might’ve left his body now, the state of breathlessness prevails, so does the beseeching—the power of which has helped his beleaguered brethren to overcome some tough times in Kashmir over the years.


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