Dark and colourful

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Yasmeena can see no colours but her fragile hands knit magic with them. Maroosha Muzaffar narrates her story of grid and determination

Yasmeen

A mosaic of colours emerges from the knitting needles her hands can only feel. Yasmeena Akhter, 40 is visually challenged, but not hopeless. She has not led the darkness in her eyes push her into obscurity. Here is a story of grit and determination. And light for others.

Born to poor parents in village Chee near Islamabad town in south Kashmir, Yasmeena had no vision in her left eye at birth. Some 45 days after her birth, her father died. A five Yasmeena went to study with whatever her right eye could see. But her right eye too started loosing sight, forcing her to undergo a surgery. It didn’t succeed and Yasmeena went blind.

She does not remember the year; she remembers the class she was studying in. “I was in fifth grade when the operation on my eye took place,” she says.

“I was a good student at school. My brothers had left school to start earning. My mother wanted me to study. But it became difficult for me. I could hardly see words in a book. My performance also started to decline. So I could not pursue my studies beyond eighth grade.”

Her hands are busy knitting, the yarns unspooling while she sits in a corner of the single room where she lives with her mother, Raja Begum. Raja’s two sons and another daughter live separately with their families.

“She (Yasmeena) cannot see but she has vanji gash (Light of Heart), that helps her in everything she does,” Raja tells.

It was after leaving her school that Yasmeena’s struggles doubled. “I felt as if my life was aimless. I felt very lonely. I had started to feel like a burden on my mother. I wanted my life to end. That stage was the most difficult stage of my life,” she recalls, her eyes empty.

Years had gone by, without bringing any happiness for Yasmeena. One fine morning she picks up her knitting needles, a childhood hobby, to kill her ennui. Gradually she began knitting for her niece, cousins, and other relatives. “When they saw the sweaters I knit for them were good, they started paying me,” Yasmeena says.  But it was not a smooth ride.
“Initially I faced many problems; at times needles would fall from my hands. I would not know what to do, but I tried. I wanted to do it,” she says.

“At times kids in the neighbourhood would make fun of me, and it would pinch my mother. Once she took away my knitting needles and threw them away,” her voice trails off. “I went into the courtyard, searched the needles and brought them back.”

This grit and determination paid off.  With time and practice, Yasmeena has learnt new designs and is constantly trying to improve her work. Years after perfecting the art, Yasmeena was given the “Gem of the District” Award by an NGO working for the welfare of the physically challenged.

Yasmeena vividly recalls the first time she had gone to a shopkeeper in Islamabad town to seek work. “They would draw the design on my hand with the tip of the knitting needle and then I would remember them and try at home,” she says. “When I am alone in the room, I can figure out which colour to use. When people are around, I can not concentrate much and so I ask them to help.”

Yasmeena is now a regular at the wool stores. She knits sweaters, mufflers, baby sets and socks. This is her means of earning a livelihood, respect. “Alhamdulillah (Thanks to God) I am able to sustain myself and my mother as well. At times I even help my brothers and my sister,” her tone proud.

Her mother brings a sample for us to see. There are four Stars of David plaited in a brown sweater. The stars are perfect.

Today her house of loneliness reverberates with laughter of young girls. “It took me years to adapt to this art and when I had mastered the art, I decided to teach girls from my neighbourhood as well.”

“I earn and now everybody respects me.” Apart from knitting colourful sweaters and mufflers, did she knit some dreams as well? Yasmeena says no. She keeps on knitting, her fingers moving fast. She laughs, maybe sadly, when I ask her about her marriage. “Why think about something that is impossible. Who would marry me? I never thought about it, never think about it. My mother also never mentions it,” she says.

She however says that she does not hold any grudges against life. “I am happy and am living a wonderful life today.”

The colours are found, finally.

1 Comment

  1. kindly help kashmirie people in India who are dying due to want of boats and food.come forward with rescue stores and man power and make it soon before people start dying and we lose the opportunity to help them.

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