Half Steps

As world readies itself to bid goodbye to Polio for good, Safwat Zargar meets Shabir Ahmad Dagloo, who despite his handicap and penury, voluntarily goes door to door to spread awareness about the disease that has put his life on crutches

Polio-Shabir-Ahmad-DaglooOn a chilly January morning, Shabir Ahmad Dagloo, 34, leaves home early. Through the narrow snaky lanes of old city’s Haba Kadal neighbourhood, where the dirty water in dilapidated gutters is still frosted and shop shutters closed down, Shabir limps stopping every now and then, struggling to find balance.

Breathless and puffing out little clouds of white smoke from his mouth, he knocks at doors and calls out to families, urging them to bring out their little children. Shabir has taken upon himself to remind everyone to give Polio drops to their children, or they would become like him, if they forget.

“I don’t want anyone to suffer or be like me,” says Shabir. Shabir was born in 1979, as the first child of Ghulam Muhammad Dagloo and Rafiqa.

The previous night, Shabir saw an advertisement of polio drops day on television and soon after, he phoned all his relatives and friends, to not forget to vaccinate their children.

When Shabir was two and a half years old, he was hospitalised for jaundice, his liver had swelled to that of a five-year old child. Being underprivileged, Shabir’s mother, Rafiqa, sold her ornaments and other valuables to bear the expenses for his treatment. After sometime, Shabir was recovering, but his left leg was showing signs of weakness. He couldn’t stand on his feet. Shabir was suffering from Polio and this time, Rafiqa had nothing, except prayers. There was no cure!

Sitting behind the seared plywood counter, Shabir, to his right overlooks the street and whenever he catches the sight of a woman carrying child, he hops down quickly from his shop, intercepts, introduces himself, and then advises of polio drops.

“I advice everyone, every time,” Shabir says. “I am an example,” he says, “They get a feel of what polio can do.”

At 9, Shabir was enrolled in Government Boys Middle School, Saraf Kadal, where he studied till eighth standard. His sister, Shaheena, used to accompany him to school and carry his bag, both sides. The teachers at the school empathized with little Shaheena, accompanying her brother every day, and against the norm, decided to give her admission in the same school.

“Would you believe, I have got my education from boys’ school,” Shaheena says, smiling.

After eighth standard, Shabir got admission in MP School, Bag-e-Dilawar Khan, where from he passed 10th class with Grade Two. Six years later, he joined Ministry of Human Resource Development’s ‘Scheme of Integrating Persons with Disability in the Mainstream of Technical and Vocational Education’, where he successfully completed a four-month short term course in transformer fabrication.

I first met Shabir at his decrepit shop, where he repairs and manufactures electrical appliances and earns 1000-1500 rupees a month. Shabir also receives a monthly allowance of 400 rupees from Social Welfare department.

Caved in his father’s three-storied rickety house, the shop remains a source of engagement as well as frustration for Shabir.

The concrete staircase leading inside the shop, are too steep. Everything seems against Shabir. Inside the shop, the light is too dim to observe anything clearly. The succession of wooden and dusty shelves, cramming up old and rusted transformers, stabilizers, coils, meters and burned switches, swallow up walls on the three sides.

There is nothing new in the shop, except some maroon coloured covers of the stabilizers. Time, smoke and dust have tinted a layer of grime on the wooden planks of the low ceiling. It looks the shop has been shut for years and one day, all of a sudden, thrown open.

Few days later, when I met him, he was nestled in the corner of his kitchen, his legs stretched, and his left arm on the shelf of the window sill.

Shabir’s story turns out to be a facsimile of a 50s Bollywood flick; his father works as a salesman for 3,000 rupees per month, his mother is diabetic and needs insulin, his sister is of marriageable age. Shabir has mental depression and takes medicine for blood pressure.

His big eyes pop-out when he talks, the tip of his aquiline nose on his clean-shaved plump face, glitters after halogen light strikes it.

Shabir pulls up the left leg of his trouser and shows me the callipers which he got installed four months back, at a rehabilitation centre for handicapped at Buchwara, Dalgate.

Before leg-callipers, he used crutches for movement. “I was more quick and fast on crutches than callipers. It has slowed me down.”

“The excessive use of crutches had produced infection in Shabir’s underarms and he had developed a slight hump in upper back,” Shabir’s mother, Rafiqa told me.

“Most of his (Shabir) shirts were torn out at underarms because of crutches,” Rafiqa said, “he used two crutches for 12 years.”

With the training and 10-year experience in repairing electric items, Shabir wants money to setup his own business. “I want to earn on my own,” Shabir says.

“How much do you need?” I ask.

“Three to four lakh rupees,” he replies.

“What will you do with it?”

With a slight bend forward, Shabir blurts out in a series of monotonous bawls; “I want to help my parents. I want to marry off my sister. I want to have my own business. I want my father to rest now.”

“Then, I will think of my marriage.”

Once, during our interaction, when Shabir left the room for some time, his mother, Rafiqa told me that when he (Shabir) gets depressed, he smashes everything and out of frustration, breaks everything. “We don’t react at all.”

Unlike Shabir’s luck, his hands are of gold, Shabir’s relative Ghulam Nabi told me. “He is skilled and a quick learner. I can’t bear to witness his helplessness.”

He has appeal to the government to help him out, almost 100 times. “After God, there is government,” Shabir says, “where should I go?”

When I was leaving, he said, “Please get my story on all channels. I fear taking out loan” I promised my best.

Shabir insisted on accompanying me to the street, I tried hard to persuade him, but he held my hand.

Outside, on the street, while I was preparing for a last handshake with Shabir, he hugged me and whispered to my right ear; “I am thinking of committing suicide.”


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