On December 8, 2001, a date Farooq remembers to this day, he made a choice that would determine his future. Promising his siblings that he would come back soon, he ran away from his house. “I saw going to school as the only way I would move forward in my life.”
This was the first time Farook would venture out of his village – Sing Tung in Uri. Just a kilometre away from the Line of Control, the village has seen more than half of its population migrate to the other side of the divide. Left with only 12 families, the highest qualified person in the village was a 9th class pass, who had been Farook’s teacher in the only primary school in the village. The school did not even have a building and the classes were taken in the open.
After running away, Farook’s first stop was Baramulla, where gunfight between militants and security forces was going on, as he reached there. Farook was stopped by the security personnel, but let go for his age.
“I had no idea where to go,” recalls Farook. Soon he heard the call for iftaar as it was Ramzan and he headed to a Masjid.
There he met a known face – a person from his own village. He narrated his tale to the person, who realising his dream, introduced him to another person, Dr Nasir-u-Din Chowdary, an assistant professor in the Government Medical College, Srinagar.
Dr Nasir sensed the potential in Farook and brought him to Srinagar. He offered him shelter and took care of his schooling too.
The first difficulty he faced now, as he took admission in a private school, was change of medium of instruction from Urdu to English. “I put in extra effort. And worked very hard at that time,” says Farook, whose efforts paid off when he topped the class 10th examination in his school.
Later, he took admission in Gujjar Bakerwal hostel at Gogjibagh and enrolled in the Govt Higher Secondary School in Jawaharngar. At the hostel, Farook started giving tuitions to other students that helped him pay his fees.
After passing higher secondary exams, Dr Nasir again came to his aid and paid for his engineering entrance examination coaching. It paid off and Farook became the first person from Uri to qualify AIEEE. He had to go to Jalandhar for counselling, which became his first foray outside J&K.
“While leaving for Jalandhar, I remembered the time when I took first steps away from home.” He was granted admission in NIT Srinagar, in the chemical engineering branch.
It was around the same time, when the 2005 earthquake, caused death and devastation in Kashmir, especially Uri and Tangdhar. Farooq’s house, back in his village, was also destroyed.
For his disaster proved a blessing in disguise. “With the aid, the government provided for the damaged house, I was able to pay the fees for my admission in NIT,” informs Farook.
Farook became the first person from all of Uri to get admission in the NIT, and since, as he says “unfortunately” he has been the only one so far.
After his admissions in NIT, his uncle reconciled with him and “admitted that he had been wrong”. Inspired by his success, going to school has become important for children in his village now.
Making good of the promise he made to his siblings, he brought both his brother and sister to Srinagar. Both are studying, his brother in Amar Singh College, and his sister in a Srinagar school.
“During all this time I met all the expenses by the money received as earthquake aid and I also landed a scholarship,” says Farook, who was now residing in the NIT hostel.
In 2010, he qualified GATE (Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering). But the bigger achievement was yet to come. A month ago he faced an on campus placement interview of ONGC in NIT. “I had been waiting for this day since I had first stepped into NIT,” says Farook.
“I went to the interview with the belief that hope and trust in God can take you anywhere,” says Farook. As he faced the interview questions, he could not help but remember his own journey, and each question seemed a milestone which he had reached against all odds.
The next day he received an email from ONGC, that made tears roll down his eyes. He called Dr Nasir and said, “Sir, I want to inform you that I have landed a job. The job pays Rs 11 lakhs per annum”.