Behind the headlines, here’s the reflection of life, loss and community resilience in Kashmir
He abhors agonised visitors. They haunt his meditative mood and unsettle his cherished conversations on life. But they still arrive wearing those mourning faces—placing a plea for memorials. The seasoned stonemason has no choice but to cast his survival on stone, and send-off. The man in his late fifties writes epitaph for dead. But while he deals with death, he grows restive with the distant sounds.
At a stone’s throw, a grocer sits fidgeting his toes as though anticipating an unsettling occurrence. The wailing ambulance sirens often reverberate through the area. Even with minimal hope for survival, those in the ambulances make every possible effort to hurry to the critical care hospital for the sake of their loved ones. “I was preparing for prayers when I heard cries from outside,” grocer Ali Mohammad recalls an incident that took place three months ago. Without hesitation, he rushed to the rescue. This time around, the victim was a young lady who had been through a divorce recently. He somehow managed to rescue her.
Having saved five girls over the years, Ali Mohammad and his wife go beyond the immediate rescue. They welcome the girls into their home, offer them water and support. “I may not have a daughter of my own, but I treat these girls as if they were my own, ensuring they face no humiliation,” Ali asserts. “We shield their dignity by bringing them indoors away from prying eyes, so they are not seen in that condition.”
There was one instance where Ali had to contact a girl’s father, but he couldn’t bring himself to tell him the truth. “Instead,” he recalls, “I fabricated a story about an accident, and he came to take his daughter.”
Reflecting on the past, Ali Mohd notes there was a time when he would hear about such incidents on TV. But from the last decade, especially after 2014, it has unfortunately become a normal occurrence for the couple.
In their neighbourhood lives a widow, engrossed in her daily household tasks. She wears a scarf tightly on her forehead to alleviate the frequent migraine she experiences when she suddenly hears some noises coming from outside. And in a rush of urgency, she makes her way outside, her heart pounding, to make sure everything is fine.
Having witnessed death of her husband, there is no greater gift than the gift of life for Amina. “People run after jewels and other tangible assets to adorn their lives,” the old widow exclaims, “I fail to understand why don’t people realise that life and the lives of your loved ones are the biggest adornment itself.”
People who succumb to their despair leave behind for their loved ones a trail of darkness, unanswered questions and broken promises. To get these answers, the bereaved family members run to these locals. From listening to families of the deceased, to offer them comfort as they wait there, Amina remains present throughout the entire process.
Since every case of self harm is followed by days, sometimes weeks of investigation, even sleuths end up at Amina’s home. “They come over to use the washroom and to charge their phones,” Amina says in a feeble voice. “It gets difficult for me to even use the washroom as the house is flooded with people.” Despite the hardships she faces, Amina’s approach towards the team of rescuers is sympathetic. But she expresses her concern for the families.
“Mothers visit me inquiring about their dead children,” Amina laments. “I have no answers to their questions and no words can comfort a mother lamenting her dead child.”
At the far end of Amina’s house stands a tea stall. In a large container, tea brews, and a tall, sweaty man serves it to a group of drivers exchanging conversations about daily events. Some focus on cleaning their taxi windows, while another group deliberates on a driver who has yet to pay the pending stand fee. Simultaneously, debates arise over the order of departure.
One of the drivers brings up the recent incident that unfolded around 6:15 in the morning the other day. Luckily, locals managed to rescue the individual involved. The stall owner, who has covered the end of his stall with a large bright coloured plastic sheet, notes, “It has become exhausting for me now to witness this every now and then.” He goes back to his stall with the empty tea glasses. One of the drivers expresses his concern about the impact these deaths have on the minds of children. The others nod in agreement.
Residents have been consistently urging authorities to intervene and take the required steps to prevent cases of self harm. Masroor Ahmad, a highly regarded neuropsychiatrist from the valley, underscores the significance of small interventions, saying, “A timely phone call, a compassionate gesture, or a supportive conversation during a moment of self harm can revive an individual’s survival instincts, potentially averting a tragic outcome.”
As the sun sets, painting the sky in a hue of crimson red, the locals’ eyes reflect the profound stories etched in their hearts. Restlessness grows among them, anticipating impending doom as nights and early mornings are more susceptible to such events. Having witnessed death so closely, they become the silent custodians of tales and secrets belonging to individuals now at rest in a state of stillness.