Down south in Waltengu Nar, Khalid Bashir Gura met a wheelchair-bound shopkeeper whose life moved from one tragedy to another. Without giving up, he discovered a dignified life, for himself, and his friend

Noor Mohammad Cheechi with his family in Waltengu Nar, where he has a small provision store after he met a crippling accident. KL Image: Khalid Bashir Gura

In the lap of Waltengu Nar, a vast expansive mountain, that is home to a Gujjar hamlet in Kulgam, Noor Muhammad Cheechi’s provisional shop is a go-to place. For provision- shopping to the routine chit-chats, this shop is akin to a post office and a news centre. Noor is amicable and attracts good customers despite low buzz. Sitting on his seat, customers pick the purchase and pay him. Unlike past, he is wheelchair-bound and remains busy with the phone. The social media has reconnected him with his “lost” friends.

Whenever he gazes into nearby domineering, snowless, mountains, he vividly recalls the 2005 tragedy when a series of avalanches erased the entire hamlet. As most of the residents were killed, he, along with his family was rescued three days later. Soon, he had to migrate for better earning opportunities.


Younger among his siblings, Cheechi had to leave his studies to support his family. He was married at the age of 16 in 2012 and now has three children. He would work on the track leading to the Amarnath cave, sometimes working as Palkiwala and sometimes as Ponywalla. Almost a decade ago; far away from his home, at Sonmarg base camp, he used to ferry pilgrims on a palanquin in his group of four people or sometimes on his hired pony.

“Even though it was a physically demanding task, my physique was strong enough to cut through the towering peaks of Sonamarg,” Cheechi recalls. “My burdened back and shoulders never used to bend through difficult terrains. We used to earn a decent income.”

There, he befriended, Mukhtar Ahmed Bijard, a Kahwa seller. They were from two different age groups but shared a bond. Their friendship would grow with new closeness every season.

After the Yatra, he would pack his bags and look for earning opportunities in Srinagar, especially in winter.  Working as a labourer, he would work in a sawmill with his elder brother. “Life was smooth until a moment froze it and changed forever,” he said.

December 2016

“While ferrying woods, a heavy log of wood fell on my back and it injured my spine,” Cheechi recalls another tragedy. He was rushed to hospital, where he spent months pushing his family into debt that crossed one lakh rupees. “I was like a breathing corpse.”

As his legs became lifeless, his family and a philanthropist became his crutches to start a new life. “I am lucky I was married as it gave me a reason to live and struggle, survive and cope with new life,” he said. “A miracle happened as an unknown philanthropic group came forward to help me. They took care of the cost of my treatment. I was shifted and treated at a Voluntary Medicare Society’s rehabilitation centre for one year.”

There, started to get training towards leading a new independent life.

“It had never occurred to me that I would ever sit on a wheel-chair and my life would run around its spikes. But it was a fate and I had to accept it,” Cheechi said. “During the initial days, I never wanted to live this life of dependency. However, the training process ensures the individual accepts new reality and lives independently and is equipped with skills to navigate challenges dictated by physical limitations of new life,” Cheechi said.

As his life changed, he designed everything in his new home to make his new life convenient and independent from his shop to house to his bedroom to the toilet to operating a wheelchair. “The urinary leg bag is attached to my leg and remains hidden as I do not want to stigmatise myself while ensuring hygiene,” he said.

But his convenience is limited to his home. In public spaces, he like many other specially-abled people continues to face problems.

Bouncing Back

The reality has now dawned on him. Had I given up hope to survive, he said I might have been leading a miserable life. “As my hands were functional unlike legs, I may have been forced to beg,” he admitted. After I recuperated, I started a new life in a wheelchair.”

In 2018, he returned home and started a small provision store. It was again somebody who helped him set up his shop. With every passing day, he felt the work brought his dignity back. Off late, he even visited Jalandhar on his own and moved around frequently to meet his friends.

Tragedy Joins Friends

Moving from one crisis to another, Cheechi ensures to mention his friend Mukhtar. Owing to his spinal cord injury, he could not even imagine going to Sonmarg. One day, Mukthar located his photograph on Facebook and contacted him. The virtual reconnect was no less than another tragedy.

Mukhtar was also in the same situation. “In 2016’s August, when Mukhtar ventured outside during the night, he slipped and fell into a gorge. It also broke his spine. The two friends had met in the same phase, separated by a season in the same year.

This added yet another basic minimum to their friendship. “He has spinal cord injuries like me and was bed-ridden but lacked support, rehabilitation and therapy,” Cheechi said. “After learning about this, I went on my modified two-wheeler to meet him. He was bedridden and holding the last straw of hope. I narrated my story to him and the story of the successful shop,” he said.

There, he suggested Mukhtar follow his path towards an independent life and live life with a new reality. The suggestion was taken seriously by Mukhtar. He left the bed and became a provision store owner. Another rebirth took place.


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