One can only wish that Afzal was just one. But Afzals abound in Kashmiri society. Over the years, thousands of Kashmiri youth have slipped into the ‘high and dry’ alleys.
As a staggering Afzal manages to hold himself erect while walking down the road, his watery eyes give him a blurred image of people around watching him with an air of disgust. He can but hardly help.
The pleasure seeping through his veins is far above anything that tends to invoke his guilty conscience. While he flies high above in the skies, the earthly beings tend to cut down his winged spirits with their taunting looks and abusive behaviours.
But a determined Afzal cannot be compelled to choke his happiness and asphyxiate his dreams by such petty people and their petty words. After all, Afzal was born to fly!
Afzal’s father, Mansoor owns a garment shop in Lal Chowk, the trade heartland of the Srinagar city. But his diffidence has never helped him in earning himself the title of a great businessman like his counterparts in the same area have.
Over the years, his demure has only been able to take him to a level where he can make ends meet but not sufficiently. All this is because his entry into the field of business was a matter of chance.
Once an aspiring doctor, Mansoor had to give up his dream because of financial instabilities.
Nevertheless, lacking the dexterity of a businessman, Afzal’s father has been a thorough gentleman in his personal and social handlings.
With a loving wife as a homemaker, Mansoor was once a proud father of three sons (the second being Afzal himself), and like every father, he pinned all his hopes to his three pillars, his future support system, investing all he had in them, materially as well as in terms of what was required of him as an affectionate father.
When the brightest of the trio of brothers Afzal started losing interest in studies, his parents took it as lightly as any parent of a teenager does, realizing the fact of his age being a gusty phase of life where tantrums are normal and in fact welcoming those tantrums of their “Soneh Gobur” (good boy) given the belief that only love can mend him.
Such a phase came and went by until a second phase of minor aggression followed. Afzal’s father gave him a scolding now and then as he began to get calls of complaint regarding his son.
Mansoor’s frequent visits to Afzal’s school, his subsequent apologies to the school authorities and his head drooped in utter shame had but little or no influence on Afzal who had by now assumed an air of negative self confidence where he deemed everyone but himself to be on the wrong side.
And then, the scoldings multiplied and the chidings recurred until one day Afzal emerged as an incorrigible young lad who could no more stand the rebuking attitude of his father.
One fine day, up he took the spade and a once docile Afzal banged the doors of his house and slashed all the windowpanes. The entire locality got startled by the screeches of the wild slashing and ran to know the details only to see an unruly lad smashing the windows and doors of his house recklessly with a spade.
Afzal’s eyes manifested his feral instincts while the frightened neighbours tried to put an end to his savage self. Painstakingly, escorted by a few elderly neighbours, Afzal was taken to a rehabilitation centre and after spending a night there, he fled from the institute and returned to his home.
Enervated by the whole incident and ashamed too, his mother was vivified at the very sight of the apple of her eye. The first thing she did next day was to prepare a wok full of “Tahaer” for the entire locality, an age-old Kashmiri custom of preparing yellow rice as a mark of gratitude for an imminent danger that has been evaded.
Since that day, Afzal has added multiple occasions of escape from different rehabilitation centres to his record. His times of escape have mostly been in the dark of the night but never has he failed to miss a mark even amid strict vigilance of the day.
Taking shelter in the local Mosque at the night, Afzal would show up early in the morning at his home and demand a heavy breakfast of chai with “Aloo ka paratha” and like a doting mother, his birthgiver would sweetly comply in hopes of restoring the formal self of her son with her devotion and care.
One can only wish that Afzal was just one. But alack! Afzals abound in Kashmiri society. Over the years, thousands of Kashmiri youth have slipped into the alleys of substance abuse.
Data from a leading drug de-addiction centre of Srinagar, Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (IMHANS), reveals a 1500 percent increase in the patients of drug abuse in the past 3 years.
While 52 percent patients registered in these years belonged to the rural areas, 47 percent hailed from urban cities.
With a surge in the cases of substance abuse, there has been a considerable increase in the emergence of drug de-addiction institutes in Kashmir as well.
Founded in April 2013, with a limited staff and an OPD (Out-Patient Department) facility, Police Drug De-Addiction & Rehabilitation Centre, Kashmir launched an IPD (In-Patient Department) in 2017, recording almost 2000 cases and not less than a 50 percent recovery rate each year.
The institution provides a 30-days treatment in the IPD followed by an 18-months medicine course at home which focuses on the restoration of the dopamine loss during the time of addiction.
Gurveen Kaur, a drug de-addiction Counsellor in the Police Drug De-Addiction & Rehabilitation Centre, mentions a shocking 60 percent surge in the cases of drug abuse post Covid-19.
She reports how the addiction to heroin, alcohol, and canabis or marijuana has significantly increased in the valley, especially in the teenagers. The number of OPD patients registered with the Centre currently is around 6000.
Kaur especially mentions that drug indulgence is mostly due to peer pressure and that the recovery rate depends upon the willingness of the victim.
Ruheel Nabi, an Islamic Scholar and Religious Counsellor, who interacts with victims of drug abuse across the valley, highlights family alienation as the principal cause of people falling into the abyss of drug addiction.
Not just poor-parenting, Ruheel terms this cause of alienation as an ‘absence of parenting’ where the person who takes drugs is the actor only the first time he/she does so and post which one attains the status of a victim.
While the rehabilitation centres mostly receive teenagers as patients, Ruheel ranges the victims from a tender age of 8 years to a mature age of 40 years.
He reiterates proper-parenting as a preventive measure and highlights the role of proper counselling and treatment as a curative one.
But amid all this, Afzals’s father has exhausted all his hopes and options of getting his son back to normal.
The defamation brought to him by his son has made him stony. He cries his heart out only in Namaz (prayer) in a secluded corner of the local mosque.
But the mother is far from giving up on her Afzal. In a hope to bring his pre ‘high-and-dry’ son back home, her struggle driven by her maternal compassion continues.
While she’s doing everything possible to help her son, Afzal is soaring high on skies by pumping the poison in his veins. And this very act of the ‘Soneh Gobur’ has made him a big shame for his family now.