For last nine years he is selling corns at a particular spot in Rajbagh hoping that someday his missing son might come back. Saima Bhat sums up an ordinary man’s extraordinary quest to find his beloved son
For Mohammad Akram Bader, 72, who sells corn roasted on the embers from July to November, and works as labourer for rest of the year, life seems to have come to a standstill in Srinagar’s posh Rajbagh area. He starts his day at 7 AM, by searching for wood on the shoals of Jhelum. Since last eight years Bader is a regular fixture in Rajbagh. Despite high-and-lows of his salesman life, Bader never moves outside Rajbagh. He cannot in fact. Reason? He sticks around hoping to come across his missing son someday.
On May 09, 2007, Bader and his son Maqsood Ahmad Bader, 24, both labourers, were about to start their day at a construction site of a local hotel in Rajbagh, when somebody shouted from outside about an accident.
A shopkeeper selling ice-creams had lifted his shop shutter and an electric wire got stuck in that shutter. He got electrocuted and died on the spot. The Bader father-son duo also rushed to the spot and later participated in his funeral.
“That time everything came to a standstill in Rajbagh. We knew him well. After the funeral me and Maqsood returned to our rented accommodation straight away,” recalls Bader. “But Maqsood went out after some time.”
By evening when Maqsood didn’t return, Bader got worried, as his son was ‘partially’ deaf and had ‘poor’ eyesight. Originally from Kokernag’s Zalangam village, Bader went to his home town to find out if Maqsood was home. But he was not.
With the dusk of May 09, Bader’s struggle started and is continuing till date. As per the daily dairy of police station Rajbagh, Maqsood’s missing report is listed at number 14, dated May 25, 2007. Maqsood was added to the list of thousands of people missing in Kashmir since 1990.
During his almost decade long struggle to find his son Bader has never approached any organization or NGO working in Kashmir to find missing persons. “I prefer to search for my son myself,” says Bader who has visited almost every single police station and jail in J&K with his youngest son. “I visited Uri and Tangdhar areas hoping that post 2005 earthquake there was lot of reconstruction work going on in these areas and Maqsood might have taken a job there as labourer.”
Back in his hometown Zalangam, Bader says, “After Maqsood went missing Army started visiting our home. They used to come every day, enquire about him and search our home. To stop that mental torture as I had wife, three unmarried daughters and two young sons at home, one friend suggested me to report in newspapers that my son was not mentally fit and I did the same. Automatically Army searches at home stopped.”
In order to continue his search for Maqsood, Bader sold off 2 kanals of paddy land for just Rs 2 lakh. The land now costs Rs 12 lakh a kanal. “I am just left with one kanal of paddy land now,” says Bader.
Bader used the money to visit jails in New Delhi, Kolkata, Ranchi and other places in India. “I needed money to travel,” says Bader. “I swear, for five months I literally didn’t take off my shoes. I was continuously on my toes,” says Bader.
Bader frequently visited local MLA for help, but he consoles himself saying that ‘he was not in power then otherwise he would have helped me’.
He has also met then member of the parliament, Mehbooba Mufti, who promised him to raise his missing son’s issue in the assembly. “But nothing happened.”
The documents available at District Commissioner office, Islamabad, mention that Maqsood, who cannot hear or see properly, stands ‘missing’ since 2007. “FIR was filed by his father who reported to police that time that his son is not mentally fit,” said an official at district office Islamabad.
The officer also adds that during last coalition government, the local MLA, who was a minister then, had demanded a CID investigation into the case, but CID refused to carry it saying, “Maqsood is missing.”
Since then Bader sticks around Rajbagh selling roasted maize cobs every year, hoping that one day he will come across his missing son. “I am hoping for a miracle,” says Bader.
Besides earning Bader respect from traders in Parimpora Mandi for his struggle to find his missing son, they also go soft on him viz-a-viz payments for stocks etc.
Bader recalls how he and his family were preparing for Maqsood’s marriage when he went missing. “He was engaged recently. We were getting clothes made for his marriage,” says Bader as he breaks down. “He used to weave carpets during winters and work as labourer with me in summers. He was my companion. My partner. I miss him.”