Darkest Days

By: Shams Irfan

Injured-at-hospital-[2016-unrest]
One of the pellet injury ward at SMHS hospital Srinagar.
The small lobby outside causality ward of Srinagar’s SMHS hospital is filled with anxious looking faces. With each arrival of ambulance, ferrying bullet and pellet injured from peripheries, a new wave of sloganeering erupts.

Amid this commotion, three friends, all in their early teens, holding each other hands, walk towards the main entrance to get some fresh air. Wearing over-sized glasses over swathes of bandages, they are led by the one whose right eye still sees.

After making their way past the crowd, they sit on a wooden bench, where till a few days back a banner with two pictures of popular militant commander Burhan Wani was on display. Silently, they turn their heads to the sound of commotion.

The youngest of them, hardly 12, a lean boy with pointed nose and a tiny face, would occasionally adjust his glasses he wore over his bandaged eyes. He was operated unsuccessfully a few days back on his right eye.

He was one of the first pellet victims bought to SMHS on July 9. Since then more than a thousand injured had arrived here from across Kashmir.

As one crosses the long, dimly lit corridors, the tragedy of three boys, turns out to be just another story. Inside the ophthalmology ward, a middle-aged man is surrounded by relatives and well-wishers, as he cries in pain. He has been hit by multiple pellets in his eyes and head.

His cries turn two dozen bandaged heads, wearing dark shades, in his direction. He has been given seven painkillers since morning, but of no use, said a relative. His optical nerve is shredded by pellets, adds another one. That is why he is in such pain, explains an onlooker.

As crowd swells around him, he holds his head in both hands, gets up from the bed, and tries to storm out of the ward.

At that moment, one of his relatives runs inside the ward, he is followed by a doctor. The doctor looks as tired as the victims inside the ward. However, he takes charge of the situation. ‘Sit down’ he tells the victim courtly. A woman, in her late 40s, who stood near his feet, wails all the while murmuring prayers.

On the opposite bed, a young boy barely out of his teens, wearing a black t-shirt with stains of fresh blood on its chest, is interviewed by two local reporters. He tells them how he was chased down by the cops and then after cornering him, shot with pellets. His eyes are covered with bandages, crisscrossing his small cheek bones. He responds to questions, turning his head occasionally, and then sinking it back in his chest. ‘I have pellets in my chest too,’ he tells the journalists.

‘How old are you,’ asks a reporter. To which, he raises his head, looks around, but after struggling to find his father’s voice among the crowd, says slowly, 14.

Irshad Ahmad Shah
Irshad Ahmad Shah (24)

In the next ward, Irshad Ahmad Shah, 24, a handsome young boy, who wore a bold orange coloured t-shirt and a sporty haircut, tries to read newspaper with his right eye. His left eye is hit by multiple pellets. He is surrounded by half-a-dozen friends, who accompanied him to SMHS.

A resident of Batpora area of Langate in Handwara, Irshad’s friends spent the night outside ophthalmology operation theater, where he was undergoing a surgery.

As I stopped by to ask about his condition, one of his friends took out an Urdu daily, and pointed towards a sketchy coloured photograph, showing Irshad being carried inside SMHS on a stretcher. He is surrounded by hundreds of people who have their arms raised in air. ‘They began shouting slogans as Irshad was taken to the causality (ward),’ he explained.

On the first floor, outside ICU, two teenagers walk up and down the corridor, with one holding a urine pouch attached to other’s body. He was hit by a bullet in his abdomen.

People still stop outside the ICU and ask about Insha, 15, the girl from Shopian, who was blinded by pellets shot from close range. The picture of her poke-marked pellet ridden face, covered under layers of bandages, shook Kashmir’s conscious. ‘It (Insha’s photograph) broke my heart,’ said an injured protester, who sat on bare floor outside the ICU, tying to get some air. ‘I went out and joined the protests.’

Meanwhile, outside the emergency ward, all eyes remain fixed on the under construction stone gate of the hospital, hoping that no other ambulance carrying injured comes through today, but ready, if it does.

And it does, after every half-an-hour, their sirens breaking the eerie silence, as they halt in front of the emergency.

Amid chants of pro-freedom and anti-India slogans, victims, mostly with pellet and bullet injuries, are loaded on blood stained stretchers, and rushed towards emergency operation theater. A sea of helpless eyes follows them, as if telling the victims: this pain is collective.

The granite lobby, which on normal days would comfort concerned attendants, is now a morgue of dashed hopes, broken hearts, and angry faces.

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