Ill or ‘cursed’?

Nisar Ahmad Dharma

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|I|1995

As Tahira’s labour pain grew, she hoped for a boy. A third caesarean was bearable for her but a third daughter meant sorrow, meant a lot of sobbing loneliness, and meant lot of stays at her father’s. Her father, Ghulam Ahmad was battling with a tumour in his right kidney and was admitted in Friends Medical Centre, Delhi. She herself was in Lal Ded (a Kashmiri Poetess and Mystic of 14th Century), the contrasting name given to Srinagar’s only Government Maternity Hospital then.

The warm weather of May, the stench, crowd, lack of space and clamour – all made her dizzy. Her mother and elder brother accompanied her father in Delhi. Her younger brother, hardly ten, was a silent witness to this agony of hers. Her baby daughters Neediya and Mudasira were at her sister’s home since no one at her in-laws was available to take care of them. Squatted in a corner besides the bed, her husband, Ghulam Nabi Rah gazed at her with strained red eyes. Loading bricks everyday into a truck, the red dust seemed to have become a permanent feature of his cornea. (Not many bought those bricks though. Six years back in 1989 when they fled valley, the Kashmiri Pandits [Hindus] had left a lot of unattended houses.)

Amidst ailing women, Tahira was rushed into the Operation Theatre. Everyone was asked to wait outside, sit wherever they could manage some space among the crowd. The waiting hall smelled exactly like a government hospital does in Kashmir, an amalgamation of phenyl mixed with medicines, blood and litter.

Seconds after the anaesthesia, Tahira felt a push beyond the cul-de-sac of this world. Hours later, the pain of a sewed abdomen welcomed her back. She did not know how hurriedly she was shifted from the theatre into the ward since a long queue of expecting, ailing women had to be operated. And the hospital had only one operation theatre, only a few surgeons.

She so expected it to be a boy. As her eye balls moved, she came across a rare smiling countenance of her husband. A deep breath followed with a painful shift of her weight, she finally saw her child lying beside her. A baby boy with auburn brown hair, twinkle in his eyes, moving his head a little each time she touched his cheeks. Tahira’s younger brother stood there closely looking at the new born.

|II|2005

Yasir came into my study with his rucksack filled with books. He was coming back from Chanapora, the place where he lived, after the weekend for his vacation cum tuition. I could see flakes of snow on his auburn brown hair. His Pheran (long cloak used in winters) was wet, and his socks drenched. Finally, December had its first snowfall after a spine chilling week of cold dry winds. I was happy to see both, him as well as the flakes. At last nature had more to offer than just earthquakes that jolted everyone a few months ago. I opened the window and we looked at the sky.

Saab Baya (he calls me by that name), “What if the October earthquake had killed everyone?”

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His questions always started with a ‘what if’. I sneered that if all of us had been killed, then I would have been spared the horror of his ‘what ifs’. I closed the window and asked him to take out his socks. I gave him my Kangri (fire pot) to heat up his Pheran and get ready for his daily tuition. He was in class 5th, studying at Al-Ghazali Model Public School, Chanapora. He always started with English and then followed it with Science. Mathematics wasn’t our cup of tea. So we both had some silent understanding about not to even mention it. He was my perfect academic amigo.

Two hours later, we both were engrossed into our own worlds. He was drawing cars. And I was mugging the quotes of political philosophers to help me pass my 1st year exams in college. Yasir always asked for blank pages to draw his favourite cars. He knew the names of almost every car manufacturer, every car model.

Breaking in, my mother shouted for lunch. We rushed into the kitchen. The kitchen was warmer than my study. It was all steamy there. The window panes had plenty of moisture on them. With his index finger, Yasir was again sketching his favourite car on the glass. My mother had laid the dastarkhan (a cloth laid out on ground to eat food on it). We sat and started gobbling in the hot, steamy rice with potato curry. Some old cricket match was being telecast.

Along with his ‘what if’ questions and drawing, Yasir had a fun loving kid in him. He used to make me laugh with his hilarious antics. As we both watched the game, I saw Yasir playing some sort of a prank on me. He was moving his eyes in a strange way and also shaking his entire body. I did not like the prank a bit. I slapped him hard and told him to stop it. He couldn’t and fell sideways. My mother saw this and immediately took him in her arms. She asked me to give him some water to drink. I was getting nervous now. It did not seem a prank at all. His eyeballs kept twitching. Something bad was happening to him.

|III|1995-2005

After the birth of her only son in 1995, Tahira had expected ‘respect’, some happiness after all. The moment came while she was admitted in the maternity hospital post-caesarean. She had seen her husband smiling since Neediya was born. In the meantime, Mr Ghulam Ahmad, Tahira’s father, was operated successfully in Delhi after his right kidney was removed; removed because a tumour had doubled its size.

Within a decade, Tahira’s daughters had almost learned every dish to cook. Neediya, the eldest daughter was in her late teens. She was a fighter, a witty girl who knew how people felt when she was born and how to change their opinion about it. Mudasira, the younger one was around 15. She resembled her mother in every sense; quiet, peaceful and easily subdued.

Tahira’s husband still loaded bricks every day. His eyes had turned redder.

Their son, Yasir, had crossed his 10th birthday. Kashmir had witnessed the worst ever earthquakes in October that year. Fortunately, this family survived it. They were poor but managed to sustain. Yasir was in 5th standard. Thankfully his sisters went to school too. Each morning these three used to walk half a mile to reach the Al-Ghazali Model Public School, Chanapora.

On the way back and forth, Yasir used to literally voice out the names of each vehicle passing by. He had been doing it with dedication, day after day. He had picked up English very well. His teachers were very happy with his performance. His marks sheet always reflected that barring mathematics. Winters were round the corner. It was November with its dry cold winds. Yasir was eagerly waiting for the vacations to begin. He was promised by his mother that he would spend at least a month at his Grandpa’s.

Yasir liked it there. He used to play cricket with his uncle. His uncle used to give him a lot of blank pages to draw his favourite cars, his favourite logos. Besides that, they both hated mathematics.

|IV|2005 onwards

I always wished it was a prank and nothing more. But it wasn’t. It was epilepsy. What my mother and I had witnessed in the kitchen was first of many seizures that followed. They grew in intensity and the medicine did not seem to work. Tahira and I took him to Dr. Sushil Razdaan, the best neurologist in the state. A Pandit who fled Kashmir way before Yasir was even born. He was living and practicing in Jammu.

The next eight years saw Yasir taking a strict course of medication. Medicines with strange names like Lorezepam, Carmaz and a long list.

They lessened the frequency with which the seizures occurred and finally they disappeared.

But I was also witnessing how that twinkle faded in Yasir’s eyes. Partly because of the medication and partly because of how people saw him now. Yasir has continuously been referred to as a lunatic or a curse from Allah for his family’s sins, whenever there was an argument between his immediate family and other relatives or neighbours.

His mind resonated each time he was cursed for his illness. He forgot to draw those cars. He developed a strange aloofness from studies. He had lost himself somewhere between those blank pages and the ones he drew on.

Tahira had become more subdued now. Her life wasn’t any different, it still meant sorrow, meant a lot of sobbing loneliness. Her husband’s smile was again long gone.

From the last few years, I was emailing Dr. Luc Dore frequently. He had been remotely monitoring Yasir’s case. He had even discussed it with his fellow psychologists at McGill University, Montreal Canada.

One of his replies remarked, ‘Dear Nisar, what has been happening with Yasir could be one of the side effects of a long medication schedule. Even though epilepsy is curable, the medicines that a patient takes have some drastic side effects. At times they alter the thinking pattern of the patient. The medicines lower the excitability of nerve cells in the brain thereby affecting normal activity. A patient may have cognitive problems. He may find it difficult to think, remember, and pay attention or concentrate. He may be lost for words, have low energy level. An erratic mood may force the patient to stay aloof’.

Aloof, he was; very aloof. My perfect academic amigo had disappeared in him. I craved for his ‘what ifs’.

|V| Now

It is a cold January morning; Tahira is in the operation theatre, undergoing her fourth surgery. This time it is Hysterectomy. The waiting hall still smells the same as it did 19 years ago.

Yasir is sitting in a corner with his head buried his knees. The first time I saw him in that maternity hospital in 1995, I hadn’t missed his twinkle even though I myself was a kid. Now it is hard to find even with my mature eyes.

|VI| Yasir’s note

The following piece is from Yasir’s diary which he occasionally keeps (with minor grammatical corrections): (Written on 22nd Dec 2013)

The story of my life’s progress, you’ll be thinking who I am. Well I am Yasir, A common man like you. Well, can you answer me one thing? Which part of the life is more exciting? I know you’ll answer teenage. I am going to write some different realistic story of my life.

I was born on 25th May 1995. Ah!! What time it was!! My childhood! I don’t think that any time was better in my life than my childhood. It was a ‘golden era’. During my childhood, I don’t even think any other child is more blessed and talented like me. Every one told my parents, ‘what a bright and bold child you have’. My neighbours always told me, ‘Yasir, you have a very bright future.’ My hobbies weren’t gardening, playing or any other. My hobby was just to study, draw cars and study. My brain always tempted me to some exciting things like the methods of engineering, history of the world and much more. But who knows the future.

In Dec 2005, I was studying in 5th standard. I was on vacation to my paternal, sorry, maternal uncle’s home. When I finished my studies on that day, my maternal uncle and I were watching a cricket match on TV. I was having my lunch. Then suddenly, I saw the colours of blankets changing automatically. I thought that this is happening due to the snow and then suddenly, my ears burst with a loud echo. I was blind and lost control over my body. I couldn’t even see or say anything. I wasn’t able to move my body. You cannot understand what a nervous and fearful feeling I had at that time. I thought that just after 10 seconds I’ll be dead! I still remember that day and I pray to God that no one in the world should have a day like that in his life.

When I woke up, I find myself in a hospital. I was fine and I thought that I am ok and what happened to me was a temporary co-incident. But Alas! Really, Allah is the biggest director in the universe. The disease which seemed temporary for me has kicked me for 8 years now. I don’t remember the date but I was studying in the 6th standard when that nonsense kicked me again. When I was discharged from the hospital, I came back to the school. Our Principal, whom I thought that he’s very kind, said to me in Kashmire, ‘ye chene mirgee ladd shuren hinz jaii’, it means this school doesn’t have the place for epileptic kids.

(Nisar Ahmad Dharma is media student of MERC, Kashmir University)

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