Two nights later I’m feeling terribly homesick. Wake up at 5 a.m. in a city where suddenly everything seems unfamiliar. I can’t call home, since the hotel staff couldn’t pay the landline bill. Even if I could, I wouldn’t! I’ve lied to the Mother about being in Agra with my friends. She’s recovering from a neurosurgery, the last thing she needs is to hear the truth. The Father and I react the same way, feigning indifference. The last thing I want to hear is, ‘I don’t care.’
Janaab M, my auto driver from the previous day is waiting for me. He’s going to accompany me inside the hospital. We smuggle my camera in, avoiding the few attendants who are outside. The torturous images that have made their way into the papers are all from SMHS. Images of the four-year old Zuhra, whose body has been pierced by pellets, the twenty year old unknown boy whose head was pierced with bullets, shattering his entire brain. The photograph of a 14-year old Insha Malik, who has lost vision in her right eye, a photograph of 31 year Parvez Ahmad who has lost the vision in his left eye.
We enter ward no 8, where the majority are suffering from ophthamalogical injuries. At six in the morning, almost everyone is asleep and totally bent out of shape.’What is a boy who has been disabled going to do in Kashmir? We’ve successfully worsened the Kashmir conflict by doing this.’I think to myself.
On one of the beds sit two attendants with a patient who is awake. I ask the patient if I can speak to him but he politely declines. We quietly move out and step into the adjoining ward. An attendant steps out to speak to us. As I am introducing myself, he sees two men and abruptly cuts me short. ‘Madam camera andar rakho aur jaan bachcha ke bhaago.’ The urgency in his voice makes my movements swift. The man who is part of the collective- Murawat centre, the recently released from prison bully, is walking towards us. I walk past him without making eye contact. Janaab M, looks at me and says,’ Jail se nikal kar abh ye volunteer hein. Ladko ki madad karte hein.Tabhi uss ladke ne bola, jao.’
The situation at SMHS, reminds me of something Andrew Thompson,
who served at one of the U.S run detention centers in Iraq wrote. ‘At Camp Bucca, for example, the most radical figures were held alongside less threatening individuals, some of whom were not guilty of any crime….This provided a space for extremists to spread their message. The radicalization of the prison population was evident to anyone who paid attention. Unfortunately, few military leaders did.” We really need to pay attention to this circle of violence and it’s consequence.
A few minutes later, the same attendant joins us. He now only addresses my companion in Kashmiri. ‘There are a number of government agents in the hospitals. That’s why no one wants to speak to her. The men are being bashed up.It’s best if she avoids this place.’ I catch up with the
We leave, I get dropped outside my hotel. Switch autos as a precaution and head off to see what’s happening in downtown. The new auto driver has much to say.
By 8, I have done whatever I could. I’m scared and lonely in a city which has felt like home for almost a decade. Get dropped to my former assistant’s home where everyone is pleased to see me. I apologise for barging in this early, unannounced. They insist it’s not too early. I’m fed and fussed over. Kashmiri hospitality at it’s best.I leave within an hour before the curfew becomes strict and the few autos on the road also become unavailable.
Reach the hotel and miraculously, the staff hook me on to the very dodgy wifi. Blog entry posted…whattsapp status updated and I start replying to all pending messages. Mr T, my photojournalist friend from Srinagar, has been trying to get in touch with me. I inform him of my whereabouts. ‘Don’t step out alone’, he writes . Within an hour he lands up. Am I glad to see him!
We head off to SMHS, yet again but this time without our cameras. At the J&K Yateem Trust counter inside the hospital we chat with Zahur Sahab, from the Darul-Atta, Rainawari. ‘The government is providing cheap medication, not the kind that is required to heal pellet wounds. We’ve been here ever since, providing medication to the people in the wards.If the government was taking care of the patients why would all of us be here? ‘ I take a few pictures with my phone.
As we move towards the wards we cross paths with the bully. I’m glad to be with T, who looks like a typical Kashmiri boy. Though, there’s a hostility towards Kashmiri photographers too, being local is better than being ‘Indian’. On the way out, we come across a group of men, slapping someone and screaming ‘Card dekho iska, card dekho!’ ‘They are accusing him of being an agent. I’m glad we didn’t bring our cameras.’ says T. It’s total mayhem.