“What took you so long”?, The nurse lashed out, grabbing her by the arm into the Emergency OT, “We have been calling your name for so long!”....
“Is this your child”?, She asked, pointing at a small girl of about ten years lying on the operating table.
The girl had been hit by a pellet gun, damaging her right eye. She needed emergency surgery to remove the pellets from her eye.
Neelofar stood in shock, she could not discern this sudden course of events.Her throat choked and she could not utter a word, as if someone had snapped her tongue out her mouth and was grabbing her throat.
“Is this your daughter”?? The doctor scrubbed in to do the surgery, repeated?
“Daughter”! The word reverberated in her head loudly, she felt something wrong about it. This was not what her mind had been occupied with since that ominous night ... She had no daughter! , She had been married only 5 months ago!!
She steadied herself only just a little ,grabbing the cold handle of the stretcher carrying the girl, caressed her throat with her right hand, swallowed whatever little spit her parched mouth had produced and blurted out,
“No my husband is missing, I don’t have a daughter!
“Are you not Neelofar ?”, The doctor asked again, clearly agitated at this delay and ordered the nurse to check for any ID proof,
“I am Neelofar jan”, my husband Mohd Shabaan is missing”, she replied , “This is not my child”, bursting into tears...
“Then why didn't you tell me outside?!’’, The nurse escorted her out, red faced at her erroneous judgment.
“Are you sure, that is not your daughter?’’, the nurse asked her again out in the waiting area
“No madam ji, I am here looking for my husband; he was picked up by security forces 3 months back , and hasn’t returned home since”, Neelofer replied
wiping her nose by the hem of her Pheran.
“I have an ailing Mother-in-law at home, My Father-in-law died 1 month ago, Everybody in my village told me that there was an encounter in a nearby area here last night! They advised me to look for him here”,
“Stop crying !, don’t worry !, he’ll come back!”, The nurse tried to console her and added,
“What name did you say ?” Shabaan”?, trying to recall the name among the bodies that were brought in the morning when she had come in for her shift.
“Ji madam ji, Mohd Shabaan , of Shopian”
“Don’t worry, I’ll check the dead bodies they bought here in the morning”!
Neelofer cringed at the thought of her husband being dead !, A violating warmth coursed within her veins and her cheeks tinged red, when she imagined her husband wrapped in a white cloth, his eyes half shut, his dried blood smothered face.
“Oh please madam ji ,Don’t say this!, May Allah keep him alive and healthy”, she protested.
The nurse told her get cup of tea in the cafeteria & handed her a ten rupee note. In the meantime she would try to get some information about her husband.She left & dispersed into a sea of people, once again looking for Neelofer...
Neelofer never liked going outside her village. The monstrous concrete hospital buildings in the city intimidated her. The brightly lit cold alleys, swarming with sick and their attendants intimidated her, and she found herself always at odds with the ways of the people here. Their village had only a Dispensary; that ran out of two makeshift rooms made of bricks cemented together with dried mud , and a heap of dried grass to act as the ceiling.A local Medical Assistant who had worked with a City Doctor at his clinic tended to the patients there.People called him “Doctor saab”and held him in great reverence.
She gulped her tea timidly on a dilapidated wooden stool outside the cafeteria. The way things had played out since morning plus her own anxiety-which had doubled since yesterdays’ news-made her nauseous. She ran outside, and vomited whatever little she had consumed, by the side of a tree near the fruit vendors hawking outside the Entrance.
A middle aged woman standing near the tree at the entrance, saw Neelofer. She went upto her, and gave her water from her plastic bottle,
“Beta, are you alright”?, she asked
Neelofer took a sip, cleaned her mouth, and spat the rest on the pavement. She wiped sweat from her forehead and said,
“Thank you so much, I am fine !”
“Is there someone with you?, You don’t seem to be well !,
“No, I am looking for my husband,”
“Is he admitted here ?”,The lady asked
“No, he was taken by security forces and there is no news of him since then. The people in my village told me , they would have jailed him here and that they would torture him and finally kill him. He will then be proclaimed as a slain militant killed in some fake encounter. And since then I have been searching for him.They say the injured are brought to Emergency first, wherever any encounter happens, “
“Have you tried asking the local militant groups in your area”?, What if he has joined them?,’’
“Yes , I did ! , but they are not sure.They say he might have crossed the border. Whatever it is, I don’t know what to do! I leave home early in the morning, my sister looks after Mother-in-law in the meantime.I have searched in almost all hospitals of the city and many Police stations near our village too .The Police seems to have no clue either.”
“How come you are here Didi?, you are not feeling well or do you have someone here who is admitted?” She stopped mid way, at the thought of bothering her with her misery and changed the topic
“My daughter in the operating room, she was injured in the clashes today!” Oh my God!, what happened, Is she ok?,
“She was caught in the protests on her way home from school. People were protesting the killing of local militants last night, & the security as usual used tear gas and pellet guns to disperse them.One of the pellets hit her, and damaged her right eye,” She started crying and covered her face with her scarf,
“Don’t worry Didi, she will be alright, be strong!”, “What do the doctors say?”
“They had already taken her inside, when I reached”, she said
The woman calmed her self & turned her attention towards Neelofer, and started consoling her all in a very stoic manner , which seemed a bit strange to her, and said
“There is a place about 2 hours from your District. It is a large field , belonging to no one. The local Muezzin tends to it; cuts the wild grass, and mends its boundaries. His name is Karim Khan. You go and tell him your story. He might be able to help you.”
“How will he of all the people be able to help me”, Neelofer snapped curtly, still bewildered at the calmness & nonchalance of the woman,
“She smiled at Neelofer, sensing her discomfort and responded,
“Twenty five years ago , An Army Convoy was passing through our Village in the evening. Militancy was at its peak. Many foreign militants had infiltrated into the valley including Pakistanis and Afghanis. They along with some local militants attacked the convoy. A lot of soldiers were killed .The Security forces , cordoned off the whole area.Curfew was imposed.Out of frustration at the unprecedented attack, they summoned all men of the village outside their homes and interrogated them for two days out in the Cold. Many of them were killed ,whose bodies were dumped into the open outside the village.Some of them however never returned home.My husband was one of them. And Just like you I have looked for him everywhere, every hospital, every Interrogation centre, but nothing!”, she continued
“Few years back many unidentified bodies were dropped in our village and a few others nearby. The elders in the village decided to offer them a proper burial. A graveyard was dug for this purpose.Hundreds of bodies have been buried there since then, with no names, no epitaphs.”
“I have given up any hope of my husband’s return now. I go to the graveyard and pay my obeisance at the graves of all the “Shaheeds". You should go and meet Karim Khan and tell him about your husband, he may remember something about Shaban”
Neelofer was dumbfounded at this revelation, a sense of admonition grew large in her;What if her husband had actually been killed and is buried in this graveyard? She ignored these thoughts for the moment and mustered up courage to ask,
“Why have you given up so easily Didi? !,What if your husband is alive?, What if comes back some day?”,
“My dear,! You are young, & have the strength to fight!, I on the other hand have lost all strength now, I have resigned to my fate , as a widow”, It is the story of thousands of women of Kashmir!”, she sighed & decided to leave
“I need to check up on my daughter now, You go too, Its getting late!” “But Didi, you Didn’t tell me your name”, she said
She stopped, smiled at her and said, “Neelofer”