21 Years Later

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Way back in 1991, a fateful woman was abandoned in Jaipur by her careless Kashmiri husband , who took away their infant son and returned to the valley. 21 years later, her resilient son made a phone call which changed everything. Sameer Yasir travels to a village in North Kashmir to detail an unusual story of hope and destiny.

Suhail Ahmad Dar with his mother-Photo:Sameer Yasir.

(Suhail Ahmad Dar with his mother-Photo:Sameer Yasir.)

The blaring sound of trains chugging out of Jammu railway station and a melee created by passengers, vendors and workers at the platform made Suhail Ahmad Dar a tad restless. It was noon already and Suhail, 21, a resident of north Kashmir’s Tangmarg, had been waiting at the platform since morning. The scorching heat beating down on the tin roof of the station had made it unbearable to sit inside. Dar slowly set his head on the armrest of a bench that he was sitting on, and slept.

The harsh sound of Sampark Kranti Express train that came from Ajmer woke him up and he saw a pale woman with a round face stepping out of a compartment. He had never seen the women in person but there was something about her that made him forget the heat and the riotous atmosphere at the station. He started running toward her. When they stood face to face, the women, Zareena Bano, couldn’t recognize the gasping boy standing in front of her. The last time she saw Suhail, he was barely two year old. Now he had grown up.

When she asked him who he was, Suhail couldn’t control his emotions. He hugged her and instantly broke down. The passengers at the platform carelessly walked past a son and a mother consoling each other. “I always saw the other boys in our village holding the hand of their mothers while going to school. I always missed my mother. I cried but I thought she would never come back.” Suhail says.

Suhail’s father, Abdul Aziz Dar, spent most of his life outside Kashmir. He left his native village at a very young age and worked as a manual laborer in different parts of India, mainly Jaipur. It was in Ajmer in 1987 that he met a local Muslim girl, Zareena, an orphan, and the two got married. Immediately after getting married, Aziz returned to Kashmir and stayed with his family for some time. They had two children and led a happy married life for four years.

In 1991, when violence was at its acme in Kashmir, Aziz, who used to work as a local tourist guide, suddenly saw his fortunes sinking due to a sharp decrease in the number of tourists visiting Kashmir. As tourists started abandoning Kashmir, Aziz’s worries mounted. Hundreds of people associated with the tourism industry lost their livelihood. Most local tourist guides changed their jobs to earn their livelihood. In this quagmire, many youth took to guns; some became informers for security forces and many left the valley to earn a living in India. Aziz was one of them.

One fine morning, while sipping the traditional Kashmiri salt tea, Aziz told Zareena that they should move back to Jaipur and look for some work. His wife was initially reluctant. She wanted to stay in Kashmir but she knew there were few economic opportunities.

It was almost a month after they left Kashmir that Aziz returned to Kunzer with his infant son, Suhail. When he reached Kunzar in Tangmarg, he boarded a bus to his Hayatpora village, almost three km from Kunzar. Upon his arrival, he told his brother that he had met with an accident. Although he and Suhail had survived, his wife was killed, he told the family. No one knew what had actually transpired. But no one believed him too! Few days before the husband-wife had left for Jaipur, an ugly commotion was reported at their house. There were scandalous rumors that the two were not on good terms with each other.

“It was a small fight between a husband and his wife. We never believed that his wife was dead. He never told us that he had kept this truth hidden from us. We kept waiting that she might return someday. But she never did,” says Suhail’s aunt, Zaiba.

As the years limped on and Suhail was left without his mother, his father left no stone unturned to ensure that his son never missed his mother. Once he was back to his village, Aziz again started working as a guide in Gulmarg, staying most of the days outside his home. He sometimes even sold drugs and alcohol to tourists; all the while, Suhail was living with his uncle. “I used to go to a small tributary which passes through our village many times in a day, waiting for my father to return, to stay with me. That was the only time I was happy,” he says.

One fine day, when Suhail was studying in 10th standard, he saw his father crying. When Suhail faced him, his father told him that his mother was alive and living in Ajmer. He said he wanted to get her back so that he could spend the rest of his life with her.  “Since he had no address, his only wish was to get me married. He was suffering from multiple aliments and he knew that his end was approaching.  When he broke the news, I was so happy to learn that my mother was alive,” Suhail recalls.

To fulfill the wish of his father, Suhail started preparations to get married. But the shadow of lingering tragedies haunted him like a wild ghost. Just when he was about to fulfill the wish of his father, Aziz passed away, exactly one day before Suhail was getting married. It was another shock for Suhail. He was raised without his mother, and now the cruel hand of destiny had taken away his father as well. Aziz died without seeing his son as a groom and without meeting his wife.

The idea of getting back his mother crossed Suhail’s mind many times but he didn’t know where to find her. His father hadn’t provided him any address. He wasn’t sure where she would be and travelling to Jaipur would have meant spending money, something Suhail hardly had.  On Aug 2, when the sun was shining brightly over Hayatpora and the birds were chirping in the trees, Zubair Ahmad, a doctor from the adjoining Mamoosa village, arrived at Suhail’s residence just when he was getting ready to go to his farm. On hearing a knock, Suhail opened the door. He didn’t recognize the visitor but Zubair told him that he had met a woman in Ajmer on his recent trip who had told him that she was married to a man in Hayatpora.

“She wanted to see her son and husband but she wasn’t sure whether they were alive. She gave me a cell phone number and pleaded that if I got any information about her family, I must call her. Passed on the cell phone number to Suhail and left. He knew that the woman was her mother,” Zubair says.

Suhail couldn’t believe what Zubair told him. Tears started trickling down his cheeks and, without telling anyone, he ran to a nearby village from where he made a call on the number. It was indeed his mother talking to him, after a gap of nearly 22 years. He told her to come to Jammu. Next day, she took a train from Ajmer and they met at Jammu railway station.

Zareena says she wanted to die in Kashmir with her husband. When she heard that her husband had died, she almost fainted. “I waited for 21 years to see my son. I had only one wish that I should see him. I don’t need anything now,” she says. Zareena and her son talk for hours at their house these days, recounting the tales of bygone days. After spending 20 years in Ajmer, she says her prayers were finally answered that she was able to meet her son, “Now I don’t have to worry about who will bury me.”

Suhail spends most of the time with his mother these days, “I want to know what happened to her over these years. My world has changed since she came back home. I am blessed that I am sitting in front of my mother. I can’t believe that my mother, whom I considered dead, is alive and talking in front of me.” For the moment, all Zareena and Suhail do is talk about the past without bothering about their future.
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