Towering Problems

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With a height of 7.3 ft, Iqbal Doonu must be Kashmir’s tallest man. But the problems associated with his figure have grounded him, literally. Umar Khurshid and Saqib Mir met the man at his dilapidated home and fond it to be a case of crippling malnourishment

It was as recent as 2010 when students in Islamabad schools were flocking to bus stand to see “an unusual man” unloading huge loads from mini bus roofs by accessing it from ground, without using stair case. The tall man was looking too scary to the youngsters. Then he started selling bone china crockery and his customers would line up for purchase and a selfie.

Now except for a noisy radio and a heap of medicines on the window shelf, the walls of the single story flood-damaged home of Mohammad Iqbal Doonu 32, are bare, black and uneven. Completely bed-ridden and not in a position to stand up, Iqbal lives the life of anonymity in the dilapidated home on the reeking banks of Vishu nalla in Kulgam’s Ghat Redwani Payeen. Having told his story whole of his life without any support coming to him, the tall man is unwilling to get “exploited again” by telling the same thing. It needs a real effort to get him talk.

The 7.3 ft tall man lives with his aged ailing mother Sundri Banoo 60, his only support. Of Rajab Doonu’s four siblings, three are normal sized sisters, married and settled. Iqbal is the only “odd man” out.

Iqbal was barely eight when he complained of a severe headache and neck pain. Doctors gave him over the counter (OTC) medicines. Later when his height and body parts started growing fast, he was taken to SKIMS by his father, who was then alive.

In March 1998, Iqbal landed in SKIMS Srinagar. “As soon as I reached there, huge crowds came to see me inside the hospital as if I had come from a zoo,” Iqbal talks about those indelible moments. “I felt humiliated.”

Doctors diagnosed him for pituitary gigantism and recommended surgery. The family lacked the resource.  His father somehow arranged some money and the operation was carried out. Since then, there has not been any abnormal growth beyond 7.3 ft. But the surgery halted his production of growth hormone and he was pt on medicines.

Poverty was already there but after his father’s health problems, he had to take over. He had dropped out of school already. Then his height became his crisis. Being odd man out was all right. When he starting selling crockery, he needs to move from place to place but bus drivers would never give him the lift. Reason: he required so much of space! Under severe pressure, he would walk on foot between Kulgam and Islamabad daily –a distance of 20 kms, one side. His father died in 2008.

“It was painful to walk so much,” Iqbal said. In mid-2008, he purchased a tonga that will take him and carry his load. Somehow it also did not work. Then, he started selling grilled corn in his village for almost a year.

In 2010, like every other person, Iqbal was mostly home. He complained of severe knee and leg pain. Somehow he reached SKIMS. “They said it was because of weakness,” Iqbal said. “Due to massive height and weight, they said my legs have become thin and weak.”

For almost a month Iqbal was on medicines especially calcium supplements for his legs. It upset his stomach and doctors suggested him proper diet. “But due to the poverty, I use to have normal food and I continue to be weak.”

Iqbal has a huge body. He requires more than double in-take of the normal person with adequate balance in it. Even for simple headache, he gets relief only when he has the double dose. The non availability of adequate food and medicine has left him crippled for seven years. Listening to Kashmiri songs on radio in his worn out kitchen is the only work left for him now. He doesn’t even remember when was the last day, he stood up. He actually crawls to the bathroom now.

Getting him to a doctor is a heady task. It needs a load carrier trolley. “I arrange three more people when take him to hospital,” says Ghulam Mohammed, his relative, who lives in nearby. Even this exercise adds to his “humiliation”. People, he says, taunt me, take selfies and laugh. “He says he has left it to Allah.”

The only source to the mother-son duo is monthly Rs 400 each compensation from social welfare department. They live on alms, literally.

Iqbal is solely dependent on Sundari, his aged mother, who is frail and weak. “Though I myself do not keep good health but I am compelled to do all household chorus and take care of Iqbal,” the septuagenarian Sundari said. “I myself go for shopping and also buy medicines.”

Poverty and the health condition of Iqbal have deteriorated their relations with some of their closest relatives but his brother-in-law Ghulam Mohammad Khar, living nearly visits them daily. “Me and my wife comes daily simply because we do not want to see them depressed,” Khar said.

Iqbal is clear about the two sides of his height. Being tall was being able to finish work quickly, he said, help out his mother with the work like cleaning house, pulling down things from the roof and carrying heavy weights. Disadvantages include not being able to find clothes, shoes and even space in a vehicle.

In his life, Iqbal has never purchased a readymade garment. Since 1998, he wears a Khan dress  during summers. For winters, he purchases two sets of jumbo sized leggings and then joins them.

“It is literally suffocating me. I used to trek 40 kms a day and now I crawl to bathroom,” Iqbal gets emotional. “Allah has left me just to suffer here.” He regrets his tall size has dwarfed him. “I don’t want what everyone wants: a wife, a family, a nice home, all this is so unimportant for me,” Iqbal said. “I just want to see myself working again.” His incapacity has led his neighbours to make his surroundings into a dumping ground of municipal waste. He sees it happening but is not in a position to react. They are so incapacitated that after 2014 floods the entire village got support in tens of thousands of rupees. They got Rs 2300! This is despite the fact that the family’s two bed rooms have wide cracks.

Being butt of jokes apart, he says he was cheated by some fraudsters who promised him money for work. He was once taken into a local Kashmiri comedy serial, which made him to act for a serial for four days in Pahalgam. “On the fifth day, they all escaped and I was being left behind with not a single penny in pocket,” Iqbal regrets. This is precisely the reason why he does want to share his story with strangers.

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