In Red Zone

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After the initial shock at their area being sequestered for possibly being infested with Coronavirus, it is life as usual for the residents. But the people living in the red zone are trying to adjust with the restrictions and the limitations of movement, reports Tasavur Mushtaq  

Authorities raising a barricade in Natipora after the area was declared as red zone on Tuesday, April 14, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Sitting in her kitchen wearing glasses, Masooda stares at a television screen for the whole day. Surfing channels to watch different news bulletins, her only concern is the proliferative growth of Coronavirus.

Masooda lives along with her husband Altaf Ahmad and their only son Irfana in Srinagar’s Lal Bazar area. The couple are cooped up in their home since the day the first Coronavirus positive case was detected in Srinagar. The only connection with the physical world is their son.

On April 9, the family was shocked to know that Lal Bazar was declared a Red Zone after four cases were reported from the area.  Area’s all entries and exits were sealed. Nearly in tears, Masooda was worried for her son who was out for work. A cold sweat broke out on their foreheads. Altaf, who had been recently operated upon grew more anxious than his wife. Somehow they settled down and dialled the number of their son, who was already on the way back home.

Moments later, as Irfan arrived; he had to help desperate parents to understand the nuances of Red Zone. “I had a difficult time explaining to them what the Red Zone means,” he said.

Masooda had to answer phone calls from her relatives, both close and distant, for many hours till late at night.

The colour is a concept to explain the nature of risk. As per the officials dealing with the pandemic, Red means the areas with substantial numbers of positive cases and so it has to be ensured that the zone sees no activity.

On the other hand, slightly better than Red is the Orange zone which is explained as the areas with a limited number of cases in the past and with no surge in positive cases recently. In these areas, only restricted activities are allowed. However, Green is the area where no Coronavirus positive cases have been detected.

Coronavirus: Chattabal declared as containment zone sealed after several positive cases reported from the area

In the nearby colony lives Owais Ahmad, nephew of Altaf. As the news spread, he rushed to buy essentials for the family. Living with his wife, Maryam and two children, Huzaif and Hafsa, he managed to reach back by the time  the  dozens of roads were blocked by the administration.  “When I heard the announcement that our area is a Red Zone I became concerned,” he said.

He shared the details of the first few hours as he started receiving calls from everybody. “Even people who had not visited me when I shifted to a new home called to enquire about my well-being,” he said.

Before being declared as the Red Zone, Owais still had concerns about the safety. His next-door neighbour in the Alamdar Colony was confirmed as a positive case along with his daughters and nephew. “That was shocking and we were equally concerned for our family as we were for others in the neighbourhood including the affected family,” he said.

While narrating the feeling of having a positive case in your next door and later the lockdown, Owais says, “It was difficult to comprehend what has happened,” adding “for people far away it looks fine, but when it is at your  locality, things change.”

After the case was confirmed in his neighbourhood, Owais says his first reaction was to sit and think about the last 15 days of his stay in the area and the possible meeting with the infected person. “The trauma was to think about each day’s activities. From morning prayers to the evening stroll and trying to remember if I had by any chance met the infected person,” he said.

The next thing, he said, was to remember the meetings with people with whom the infected person had met or his close associates. “It was difficult to remember everything. You meet so many people right from Masjid to the shop and to remember every detail was troublesome.”

Besides remembering his activities, Owais said, the news regarding bread maker turning positive was a shock. “ It was a troubling development. I thought everyone in our colony is infected.” However, mercifully, it turned out that  the news was just a rumour.

Owais had recently shifted to his new home from the ancestral old city house.  At his erstwhile residence, he had lot many things to do with his local friends, but the new place has his family only.

Confined to their home, the young couple decided to discuss their life before marriage and childhood memories. The family watched old TV serials, Dekh Bhai DekhBunyaadCircus and movies of the early nineties. In between they found time in playing Carom, Chess, Ludo, Snake and Ladder game, besides word building and Antakshari. He even started to lead prayers at home joined by his wife and children, followed by recitation of the Quran and reading books of hadith.

A small distance from Owais lives Naseer Ahmad. Born and brought up atMukhdoom Sahab area, Naseer moved to his new house after marriage a few years ago.

After the area was declared Red Zone, Naseer went out and latched the main gate. He talked to his family and it was agreed to manage with whatever is present at the home. His wifeMasarat took the lead to stop him from going out for anything.

“My children were of immense support,” said Naseer’s wife. “Our daughter went out and recorded video urging children to stop their parents from venturing outside.”

For the following days, whatever they had at home, they consumed. The green vegetables were taken from the lawn. “At times I had no idea what I was plucking and one day when I showed it to my mother through video call, she said it is Kretch.”

Overwhelmed to see children understanding the state of crisis, Naseer said they even planned not to waste a single morsel of food. “They stopped eating junk food, did not ask for anything beyond  the regular family food.”

Home quarantined, the family started thinking about activities to keep them pre-occupied under lockdown As they were doing so, Naseer was taken back to childhood days when he along with his friends used to fly kites on Hariparbat. The idea struck his mind and was well taken by his family. They started making kites and later flew them on the terrace. When seen by neighbourhood children, the activity almost became a community affair.

Masarat said she learned a quick lesson in the quarantine. “Soil is the only companion unlike people,” she said. “Whatever you sow, it gives you back.”

Kashmiri medical staff walks in a residential area which was declared as a red zone by the authorities in Srinagar, on 9 April 2020. The UT government has declared 45 areas as red zones in Jammu and Kashmir. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

With restrictions in place, some in Red Zones grumble about the arbitrariness of the label and expressed their frustrations.

Living at a colony adjacent to Lal Bazar, Danish Ahmad, a teacher by profession, said it was shocking to see the area being placed under the red zone without proper announcement. “A tweet was enough for the government to convey to a large population that they cannot move outside,” he said. “It feels as if we are left to die so that rest of the population can be saved.”

Sharing his family concern, Danish’s father recently had an open-heart surgery and he is apprehensive that anything can happen. “I don’t have access to the outside world. Tell me what to do in case of an emergency.”

Terming it as an only cosmetic measure, Danish said there was no official in the area to see whether to go for mass testing or not.“By keeping people inside does not mean you are done with your job,” he lamented.

Sumaira, a resident of Eidgah, also a red zone, has her own concerns.

According to her, a young boy in her neighbourhood fell from the second storey window of his house. Injured, his family went out to seek medical help. She said all the roads were sealed with metal bars. The family took a longer route, sneaked out through a small alley and reached to the main road, where another barricade was erected. Luckily one of their neighbours was coming from her parent’s house but was on theother side of the barricade. This neighbour, according to Sumaira requested her brother to take the injured kid to the hospital first.

“After reaching SMHS in time, the boy survived but what if that car had not come on the other side?” she questioned.

Another resident of the areas asking the question said, “What about other emergencies or for that matter fire.” There was a fire in the belt but a few kilometres away in a green zone.

Lamenting the decision of the government to completely block the roads by permanent fixtures, Adil Ahmad said: “This is a hindrance to the medical and other emergencies. In case of fire or a pregnant woman develops pain, what is the solution? ”

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