Chai Walla

After losing almost everything to the deadly earthquake in 2005, Haneef lost his wife to the shock a year later. Well before, he could think of rebuilding his life, his son got a serious disease that required 24 x 7 medical attention. With no penny left, he started selling tea outside the hospital where his wife and later his son was treated, Umar Mukhtar tell the story of loss, struggle and survival

October 8, 2005, is a date that Kashmir will never forget. It was the day when a 7.6 magnitude earthquake shook the Kashmir region with an epicentre in Muzaffarabad-Pakistan administered Kashmir.Almost decimating a vast belt straddling the Line of Control (LoC), the tremors were felt far and wide.

As the tremors shook the earth, Mohammad Haneef Mir, then a 37-year-old labourer and resident of Dardkot Uri, rushed out in open along with his family. Somehow his family was still not taking rest, the routine in Kashmir post-Sehri in the month of fasting.

Within seconds, Mir, his three daughters, son and his wife Ashraf Bi, were out in open. They just ran out of their home. Trying to keep standing on their feet as the earth was literally shaking, they witnessed with shock and awe that their home crumbled like a pack of cards. Their modest home failed to withstand the intense vibrations. Within seconds their every single belonging was buried.

Some yards away was a cowshed, where Mir’s four cows would rest and feed. That too collapsed leaving all of them dead and buried under the debris. This all happened in a jiffy and everything was lost.This was shocking, Ashraf Bi could not bear it and she fell unconscious. Later when she regained the conscious, she woke up with a heavy heart.She could not forget what she saw that day,  the ruins, cries and shrieks all over.

Ashraf Bi regained her senses but she had a severe heartache. Quickly, she was evacuated to SKIMS in Srinagar for treatment. Mir accompanied her as his three daughters and his son started living in a makeshift tin shed. In SKIMS,  Ashraf Bi was put under observation for about one year. Her heartache finally took her life, a year later, in 2006.

Somehow, Mir arranged a cab to ferry his wife’s coffin home. On reaching home, her son, Shafeeq then 6, saw his dead mother and went into disbelief.“Why you have killed my mother”, a sobbing Shafeeq, asked his father. From that day onwards, Mir said, Shafeeq grew as a quiet boy.

Mir was still struggling to overcome the series of tragedies: the destruction of his home, losing his entire herd to the earthquake and a year later, his wife died. Soon, another crisis hit him: his son showed no signs of recovery after his mother’s death. He started getting weak day by day. Initially, Mir thought he had taken his mother’s death to his heart and the wound, though serious, would be healed by the time. But Shafeeq’s health showed no signs of improvement.

Ultimately one day Mir decided to see a doctor in Srinagar. He along with his son arrived at children’s hospital Srinagar. After going through a series of tests his son was diagnosed with tuberculosis. This came as a shock to Mir. For six months Mir’s son was treated for TB but still, he was not showing any positive results. He continued to be in a poor state of health and was getting weaker day by day.

The doctors could not detect the real reason for his continuous poor health despite a chain of tests and investigations devoured Mir’s entire savings.

Meanwhile sensing something serious, the doctors at the children’s hospital referred Shafeeq to SKIMS for advanced treatment. It was there he was diagnosed as HIV positive. Mir says that there is no such case of family history and alleges that he got infected at children’s hospital. “Where from a six-year-old boy will get such a disease when there is no such family history,” asks Mir.

Though the earth came to halt after the devastating quake, but for Mir, the shaky ground resumed tremors, quite soon. Now his son was admitted to the SKIMS for further treatment. Mir was already running short of the money as he had to arrange a huge amount for the tests and for medicines at the hospital. He had also sold part of his land for his daughter’s marriage so he found himself in the troubled waters.

Left with no option, Mir had to either stop the treatment of his lone son or had to supplicate for alms to continue his treatment. Meanwhile, his daughters were nearing the age of marriage. So he had to take care of many things. Mir almost sold all of his lands and married his daughters.

Back in Srinagar, his son was battling a deadly disease. Nursing and attending his son in the hospital for a long time cost him a lot monetarily. Also, there was no source to replenish his purse for Shafiq’s further treatment.

With his son admitted to the hospital bed, Mir opened a tea stall outside the hospital on a pavement to meet out the hospital and other expenses. “I am a young man why would I ask someone for help,” Mir said he thought and started working. “I will work hard and will make the living by working not by begging.”

Mir now serves tea outside the main gate of the hospital. Most of his customers are the attendants who take a stride outside the hospital to refresh themselves out of the hospital boredom.Mir has stalled a wooden cart decorated with some cookies. He makes tea on that cart hence defying all the odds which otherwise could have overpowered him.

His son has been discharged from the hospital but he is advised to report four times a month for the check-up.It was not easy for Mir to visit hospital from such a far-off place. “It was time-consuming and was getting costly for us to travel around 100 kilometres four times a month,” said Mir. Hence he decided to lock his makeshift shed at Dardkot Uri which he could never build a full-fledged home after 2005. He now lives in a rented room in Soura area of Srinagar along with his son where he pays Rs 1500 monthly rent.

Mir is now meeting his expenses by selling tea outside the main gate of SKIMS. One can easily find the hardships that Mir has been through by all these years. His strong physique and his rugged hands stand witness to that.

Mir now occasionally visits his native place. “I visit the place only on the eve of Eid and when I hear about the death of any of my relatives there,” said Mir. “I work really hard to sustain life.”


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