A young contractor from Pahalgam lives a dejected life after his dream of connecting his village with rest of the world was crashed by a false news report. Suhail A Shah covers a dangerous track to meet the family who now live on the margins.
In the wee hours of 11th January 2003, the black and white edition of a local English daily was getting printed somewhere at a Srinagar Press.
Oblivious of the fact that his destiny was getting printed less than a 100 Kilometres away, Abdul Rashid Lone,who was in his early thirties, slept soundly in his humble dwelling. The sound of Nallah Shesh Nag which runs along Rashid’s house in Laripora locality of Pahalgam village, drowned his snoring. He had loved the sound of water hitting stones in the Nallah since his childhood.
Next morning when the said newspaper reached market one of its headlines read, “Private Bridge in Pahalgam!” The news report alleged that an influential hotelier is illegally constructing a foot bridge over Nallah Shesh Nag. Those black and white words written casually by the reporter changed Rashid’s life forever.
Laripora is one of the several small habitations in tourist hotspot Pahalgam. There is no road as such that connects Laripora with the rest of Pahalgam. One has to pass through a small opening carved out of iron grate fencing the local graveyard, to reach a makeshift road. But it is not a normal road. This road, which runs along Shesh Nag Nallah, is made by locals using uneven boulders extracted from the Nallah. One wrong step and you will be consumed by the gushing nallah waters. With time the gap between boulders got covered with grass which makes it commutable during rain and snow too.
Before I was about reach Rashid’s house my local guide, a teacher by profession, asked me to be patient if he behaves awkwardly.“He is not mentally well, bear with him if he throws some tantrums,” my guidecautioned. The news report, says my guide handing over a copy of the newspaper to me, devastated this promising young contractor.
After 10 minutes of risky walk along Nallah we finally reached Laripora. My guide, who requested anonymity, stopped near a modest wood and mud house. “There you are,” he exclaimed as if happy to reach Laripora safely. It was a small house with just three rooms. In one of the rooms which was partitioned by a mud wall to make room for kitchen, sat Rashid. The forty-one-year old former contractor sat near a widow in soiled beddings that probably has not been changed in years now.“I don’t know you or do I?” asked Rashid while shaking my hand, and started looking out of the window without waiting for an answer.Rashid did not talk after the handshake so my guide started to narrate things.“It was Rashid who had built that foot bridge on Shesh Nag Nallah outside his house,” said my guide. “He did so purely out of a sense of community service.”
On the other side of the Nallah some people from the area have their proprietary land.Rashid started construction of the bridge for his fellow villagers; however the news report conveyed a false message to the authorities.
The Pahalgam Project Organisation (PPO), now Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA), officials took immediate action and made sure that the bridge was demolished.The PPO team however did not bother to cross check the facts.Shocked at the demolition of the bridge, Rashid soon lost his mental balance and has been on medication ever since.
“After a couple of years of mental instability he once fell off from the roof of his house damaging his right leg completely,” said my guide, as if explaining why Rashid was bedridden.While we talked Rashid intermittently snapped in, “What about the bridge,” he asked, his eyes growing restless every time we mentioned it.“There are more than 200 foot bridges across Pahalgam and most of them have been constructed without prior permission from the authorities,” said Muhammad Yousuf Lone, Rashid’s neighbour.He questions the motives behind singling out this bridge and putting a family through hell.He was the only source of income for his family of four, including his two kids.
“Rashid’s brothers now take care of his household needs,” my guide informed. “His kids attend a government school.”
The locals in Laripora have approached authorities a couple of times;however nothing have been done ever since.As we stand to leave the house, Rashid’s wife sat at the small door of her kitchen.
I realized she had not been a part of our conversation but the look on her face said she has been very much the part of the pain the household has gone through.