In a narrow lane in downtown Baghi sundar, Maidanpora, Darish Kadal( Safa Kadal), Syeda Begum, 66, is anxiously waiting for her 8-year-old adopted son to come home safe after school. The sight of him everyday—his smile, his childhood antics—is the only reason that keeps her alive. Having lost all her four sons in the past twenty years of conflict, the lonely old widow is struggling to live in her two small dilapidated rooms that is her home. A meager monthly aid of Rs 500 does little to alleviate her suffering.
Syeda Begum cannot see from her left eye. Her eyesight is getting weaker. The doctor has told her that her she needs an eye operation, which costs a minimum of Rs 10,000. But she doesn’t have that much of money. There is no one to look after her. She doesn’t have the energy to cook every day. She doesn’t own a cooking gas cylinder. She barely manages to arrange some milk and bread for her adopted son. One of her neighbors sometimes gives her some food to eat. Occasionally, her old sister sends her some clothes to wear.
Rarely anyone visits her shack-like home, a small room where she spends most of her day. “No one comes here even on Eid,” she says. Outside the street, near her home, some auto wallas in the morning prepare Kanger for her in these winter months. If I had some money, she says as she looks at the decrepit walls, I would get these two rooms repaired. “Sometimes some people give me these clothes and I wear them,” she points at her used clothes.
There are open gaps in her small room which also doubles up as a kitchen. Not more than three people can sit together in this room. Only a few utensils are placed on a few wooden shelves. She doesn’t have enough money to buy blankets to fight the biting winter cold. A small bathroom outside is damaged. She doesn’t have enough money to repair it. The broken staircases, leading to another small room, also need to be repaired.
“soure maukloeam,” she says as tears show up in her sunken eyes. (I lost everything.)
Married in a middle class family in Baramulla, Syeda’s husband made a living from a modest fruit business in the past. With a family of four sons and a daughter, they were living happily—till her husband was crippled by a fatal accident. Then they had to sell everything to support his treatment. But he died after three years, leaving behind a widow and five young children – in poverty.
Syeda says four of her five brothers have also passed away. Her husband died after an accident in the eighties. He had a broken leg after the accident, she says, and he was in hospital for a long time. Three years after the accident, he passed away. Syeda’s kids were small then. She would spin yarn day and night to make a living for her family. That would later damage her eyes.
Syeda’s eldest son, Nazir Ahmad, was killed by the government forces outside the gate of her home in 1998. Nazir would sell small items on his roadside grocery shop across the street. “He was not even 25 when he was killed by BSF,” she says. “Boaed brest duthaes…,” she says. (He was shot at many times). Syeda says the troops then broke the small gate of her house.
Syeda’s another son, Tariq Ahmad, was 18 when he drowned in the river after a firing incident in Safa Kadal. After his brother’s death, Tariq had just started to work as a hawker to support his family. Not a year had passed when one day he found himself being chased by troops, along with a group of protestors, along the banks of Jehlum. Tariq’s body was fished out after three days of search.
Her youngest son, Mushtaq Ahmad, was 15 when he was killed in the nineties. At nine in the night Syeda was spinning yarn when she heard the devastating news of his death. The dead body was brought home at 12 in the night. “Shot in the head,” says Syeda. “Yae leaj nae paye soe keam mour.”
As if all this tragedy was not enough, Syeda’s only surviving son, Nisar Ahmad, a small-time tailor, disappeared seven years back. He was unable to reconcile with the loss of his brothers and his mother’s pain. He would roam around naked and shout hysterically in the night. “He became mentally unstable,” says Syeda. “He would roam around and never stay at one place.” Once he came back after disappearing for some days. But Nisar has not come back since the past seven years now.
Since no male member was left in her family, Syeda sent her youngest daughter into the care of a relative in Pattan.
Seven years back, having lost the hope of her elder son’s return, one day Syeda went to a maternity hospital to see a distant relative. The women had delivered twins. “The poor couple gave me the baby boy which I gladly accepted,” she says.
She brought him home. Syeda’s adopted son, Mohsin, is now a bubbly 10-year-old boy. She sent him to a nearby school which doesn’t charge him any fee. A vivacious kid, Mohsin is studying in second grade now. When he is around, Syeda is happy. After the loss of all her four sons, Syeda adopted Mohsin to fill the void in her life. He has been living with her for the past seven years now. He doesn’t ask for his parents. He doesn’t leave her alone. He thinks she is her real mother—and father. He remains with me day and night, Syeda says with a smile, and protects me. “Otherwise I will die here alone.”
Some days back Mohsin asked Syeda to arrange Rs 100 as his school charged him some fee. “He told me to collect the money from auto wallas outside the street,” she says with a smile on his innocent suggestion. She can’t buy new clothes for him. Mohsin’s school shoes are worn out, but he doesn’t ask for new shoes from his old mother.
In a hushed tone Syeda says her in-laws are eyeing her two small rooms. She is not on talking terms with them although they live a short distance away. She says she has all the legal documents of her two-room property. After her death, she says she wants to keep these two rooms in the name of her adopted son. “If he is not around,” she says, “I will die here without him.”
Syeda says she has told his little son that if she fell ill someday, he should immediately call the neighbors. Once, she woke up at midnight after being unconscious for many hours due to some illness. When she gained her consciousness, he was sleeping in her lap. He had hugged her tight. Some days back, when she had gone out for some work, she found him waiting for her on the roadside. He always waits for her.
During Mufti Syeed’s rule Syeda says she would receive Rs 1000 per month. Even that amount was reduced to Rs 500, which now arrives sometimes after months of delay. She has no other source of income. “How long will I survive on these five hundred rupees?” she asks.
Syeda has never approached any minister for help. She doesn’t like to go around and beg for money. She is grateful for whatever little is given to her. Although living in miserable conditions, she lives a dignified life along with her adopted son.
Till Mohsin comes home, Syeda keeps her door open. Once he comes back from school, she closes the door and the windows. “Then I don’t like to come out of this room,” she says. Every day, at eight in the morning, Syeda accompanies Mohsin to his darsgah. Mohsin is everything for her.
When I see him, she emphasizes, I forget my pain and the loss of my sons.
“He is my Kashir. He is my world.”
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