Cast Away

They have lost everything to floods but hope and their favourite toys. Living in makeshifts tents these tender souls have created a new life for themselves. Photojournalist Durdana Bhat captures life inside Parimpora camp on an unusual sunny winter day

Cast-Away

In a vast wasteland, a small girl, oblivious to her surrounding, is busy tip-toeing between boxes marked on the ground. She was so engrossed in her small world that she did not notice me coming. I stopped her and posed some questions, but without answering she giggled and then within no time grabbed a yellow plastic bag and started to run.

She was running so fast as if the wind was carrying her from one end of the ground to the other.  Tied with a thread on one end, this girl was trying to fly that plastic bag.

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She is one of the many kids uprooted from their dwellings in Bemina during recent floods and put inside this driving-school-turned makeshift camp near Parimpora.

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As I walked on, along the rows of small tin-sheds erected for the flood victims, a sense of poverty, gloom, and devastation overwhelmed me. In the distance, I saw two small girls, dusting their clothes, soiled by the winter winds.  These innocent kids live their lives unsound; they just try to live it.

A little far away, Tabu, a little girl was looking outside the window.  When she saw me with a camera she hid her face and went inside. But as I started to walk past her tent, she chased me with her eyes. When Tabu saw me clicking pictures, she couldn’t control herself and came out of her hiding and said innocently, “would you click my picture too.”

After I clicked a few picture of her, she felt at easy in my presence and told me that her mother has died when she was only eight months old. She has never attended a school.

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When other kids saw me clicking Tabu’s pictures, they came running towards me. Amidst the crowd was this beautiful girl with big eyes. Her name was Iqra. She was carrying a big toy pressed close to her heart.  Later I came to know that Iqra had attended school for three years only. When I asked her why she left her studies mid-way, she replied innocently, “I help my mother in her work”.

Only half an hour into this makeshift tent I realized that almost every kid was carrying a toy with him. These toys were only solace for these kids till they met each other in this make-shift camp they began calling home.

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While I was scanning their cute faces with my camera Tabasum caught my attention. She had lost all her toys in the floods. She was the most silent among the lot. She let her friends do all the taking. “Would you click her picture too, she doesn’t have any toy but she plays with her little brother Azaan,” asked a concerned friend of Tabasum.  “She studies in 3rd standard in a local school.”

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Before I could say anything to Tabasum, a small girl, probably 4-year-old, who said her name is Arbin, came to me wearing a curious look on her face. She wanted to see how I am clicking pictures! Holding a stuffed duck (toy) in her soiled hands she asked in a language that first sounded alien and hard to decipher. Finally I comprehended, “Where should I sit so that you can click my picture?”

Interestingly, before coming to this camp some five months back, these kids had never met each other. They still don’t know each other’s name. But the September tragedy and fate has brought them together. They have very less to share except a few toys their parents managed to salvage from the deluge and a dusty playground.

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Wearing a Nike warmer and one hand in his pocket six-year-old Rahil has never been to school. He had recently hurt his head while chasing a ball. He was the naughtiest kid around, it seemed. With a sly smile hanging over his lips he asked repeatedly: would you upload my picture on the internet. I said yes.

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In the far end of the camp, three kids: Umer, Saleem and Ashraf were playing cricket. I could sense their curious eyes fixed on me while I was talking to Rahil. So I called them and asked: would you like me to take your pictures? Without saying anything they came running with their bat and ball.

When I started to pack my things, that 4-year-old girl named Arbin, came to me as asked, “would you please click my brother’s picture too?”

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When I asked her brother why his clothes were dirty like his face, he said he was working at a nearby garage helping a mechanic.  And he just came to get his picture clicked.

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Before I left, I finally caught hold of that girl who was trying to fly a plastic bag. “My name is Mehvish,” she said candidly before letting me take her picture holding a grime teddy bear.

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