Insha’s World

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It is completely different from being born blind and going blind. Hit by 350 pellets on her face, Insha Mushtaq underwent four surgeries but has not any hope of seeing again. Back home after nearly three months, the blind star of a festering conflict gives Aakash Hassan a brief about the blackhole life she is adjusting to live in

Insha sitting adjacent to her mother in their Sedow Shopian home. (Photo: Aakash Hassan/KL)

(Insha sitting adjacent to her mother in their Sedow Shopian home. (Photos: Aakash Hassan/KL))

“Please hurry up Dad, we will go home, it pains to be here,” Insha almost insisted her father. “Take me somewhere which is far away from this place. Here my heart pumps fast and I shiver.”

Her parents Mushtaq and Afrooza have brought her to a Peer, a faith-healer, who gives talisman and blows breath, to get her see again. They think the man is a saint, holding magical powers and can undo what pellets have done and what doctors in various hospitals could not even do.

“One week has passed since we brought her home. She was happy to meet people here, but now she does not feel the same peace. She is irritated,” Mushtaq, her father pronounces in torn accent. “After all it is darkness curtailed over her.”

The pinnacle medical care in state and in the India does not see a flicker of light fall on her retina, if there is one left. However, the belief that their daughter will again see has made them restless. They are willing to give any option a try. Their continuous failure in managing some relief to their daughter has made them optimist now that they believe they will eventually succeed.

The visit to the Peer was revealing. In black boggles, a long Abhaya, a scary face, she holds her mother’s hand and takes measured steps out of her home, a place she lived for her entire life. As the doors of their neighbour’s car opens, she is guided to seat and then she starts feeling it as she wants to reassure herself that she is not awkwardly sitting.

Through the woods, green in the fading autumn, on the road that crisscrosses down to Aharbal, in a neighbour’s, Insha finally reaches the premises where the magical Peer sits. From Sedow, their village, it takes a few frightening turns on the slopes to reach the spot that is famed for the waterfall.

“When you lose hope only people with spiritual powers can intervene and beseech God’s mercy,” Insha’s mother, Afrooza says. “Faithful never return empty handed.” Unlike her mother’s blind faith in the miracles and magic of the faith-healer, Insha is a firm believer in God. “It is all up to Allah! None else,” she cuts into her mother’s belief.

The mother-daughter duo at their residence.

(The mother-daughter duo at their residence.)

Peer’s room is lobby lacking windows. His admirers, disciples and clients are sitting cross legged on the floor. Sitting unyielding on his plinth, the Peer is folding the paper on which he has written Taveez. “Hai! Look if they are dancing in the jungle,” he yells at Insha as her parents get her into the room, that looks a hybrid of a court and a dispensary.

Frightened, Insha’s face exhibits a fear. She starts clasping her hands. “He beats everyone and that is how he will treat me,” Insha says, almost in protest. Quickly her mom, reprimands her: “maintain discipline in front of the Peer”.

The peer gives everybody a patient hearing. They narrate their ordeals, failures, problems, health issues. In response, he gives them remedy by lashing them with his wand, perhaps made of some cloth fiber.

As Insha’s turn comes, her mother is ordered out of the room. “To cure,” he says, “you should not have taken her for surgeries.” Now she is even more frightened. He asks her to put down the glasses and Insha’s fear comes true, she receives lashes on her shoulders.

In pain, she cries loudly. He insists her to see through. Nobody tells the Peer that her right eye socket is empty and the eye stuck in the left one is seriously damaged. Her eyes are already in dark. Then tears roll down from her never opening eyelids. The session is almost over.

Insha while battling for her life in SMHS's ICU. (Photo: Ubeer Naqushbandi/KL)

(Insha while battling for her life in SMHS’s ICU. (Photo: Ubeer Naqushbandi/KL))

The scene is unbearable for Nafee, Insha’s 10-year-old younger brother. He refuses to enter Peer’s room. “I can’t witness the pain my sister is going through,” he tells, insisting on every single word. “My parents say she will be cured like this.”

Very attached to his sister, he recalls how he went door-to-door in his village asking everyone “if they have a car available at home”. That was on July 10, 2016 afternoon when Insha was hit by the spree of pellets. Her doctors told the family she had 350 pellets in her face.

“I was running and crying loudly to ferry my sister to hospital,” he recalls and wipes tears on his unkempt cheeks. “We used to do everything together, my sister was my teacher and friend,” Nafee said. “I am much closer to my sister than my elder brother who is studying at madrassa and comes home once in a month.”

On July 10, Insha was studying in her kitchen when she heard sound of firing and cries outside. Amid mounting ruckus on streets, she opened the window to see the happenings. But as soon as she opened it, forces personnel present on road fired pellets towards her. Apparently it exploded quite closer to her face and she fainted instantly. Next time, she regained senses, she was already blind.

“I was never interested in all subjects,” Insha said, “I did not like Social Science but I cherished Science.” She said there was noise and stone-pelting and she had her physics book in her hands. “I dropped the book and looked towards the road that there a pellet burst,” she remembers. That was the last sight before she lost her sight forever. Since then it is dark, whether in Srinagar’s SMHS hospital, Delhi’s Safdarjung, or Dr Natrajan’s Mumbai hospital, she said.

By the time, Insha is back home, the sprawling Sedow village market is shut. It had opened briefly in the morning and then closed down, a routine that eliminated from Srinagar during the last 110 days of unrest.

A relieved Insha is now feeling hungry. As her mother, prepares to serve lunch, Insha calls her and whispers something in her ear—perhaps a request to escort her to the washroom.

“I am learning to walk. Don’t worry. In a couple of days, I will be able to reach to washroom on my own,” she tells her mother, visibly upset by the sudden reaction from her daughter. However, she smiles to hide the pain the sentence echoed:  “Don’t worry my daughter you will get well soon.”

Insha’s aunt helps her to reach kitchen and makes her stay. Her mother hands her rice in the copper vessel. “She is learning to eat on her own now,” Afrooza says, “initially it was very hard for her but she is adjusting now.”

Eating slowly, Insha is in her deep thoughts, till her aunt sitting opposite to her enquires, if she needs something. But her smile with missing front tooth gives her mother sense that she is recalling her past. “See what they have turned my daughter into,” Afrooza laments, eating slowly, “No wealth and no word from world can compensate me. They have put bullet inside our whole family, a bullet that will be hurting me here and hereafter.”

Finishing her lunch, she breaks her silence and begins to talks. Her aunt says when she was fine she barely used to talk to anyone. Thus replies Insha, “I talk more now you know because I feel lonely and frightened otherwise.”

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Slightly past lunch, Insha’s junior school-mate reports to her home. For all these days she said she was desperate to see her, talk to her.

“We used to travel in same school bus” she says. Insha only smiles and nods in affirmation. It took her a bit to recognize her by voice, a situation she is facing quite frequently now.

“My life has changed now; it is all shadows and dark,” say Insha, “It doesn’t matter where I am as it is same everywhere. But I feel little relaxed when someone talks to me. Otherwise it is frightening”

“I have gone through worst phase of pain that cannot be expressed,” Insha said, almost emotionlessly. “There were number of surgeries but that hardly returns ones eyesight, isn’t it?”

Insha knows she is not the only child blinded by the conflict but she is aware that she was the most talked about. But she still aspires to become doctor and treat people like her, wounded and blinded by conflict. “But who goes to school without eyesight?” she asks abruptly. It forces a new calm in the room. Nobody has the answer.

Regardless of the situation she is in, Insha says, her blindness has bestowed her many friends. The list includes some doctors, activists and some journalist, who visited her, and spent time with her in the hospital. She recognizes them all by their voices. After her eyesight was lost, her hearing is improving and it is the main sense that she is honing for recognizing people.

“There are many good people who spent time with me and brought me gifts when I was in hospital,” an almost smiling Insha said. “I just wish someone could give me eyesight for a day. I want to see them.”

To the utter pain and the ocean of questions bubbling within, there are no answers. But she seems to be her own conscience-keeper. “I have stopped to think over it,” she said with a blank face. “As much as I think, it hurts more and more.” She does not tell it, but she seemingly is emerging into a tough person who will learn to live with pain.

CM Mehbooba with Insha @ AIIMS.

(CM Mehbooba Mufti with Insha @ AIIMS.)

With massive media attention in Srinagar, the government finally flew her to AIIMS in Delhi and later to Mumbai. By then, she was already the blind star of a festering conflict. Then, VVIPs started queuing up. After many fortnights, Mushtaq said, even Chief Minister Ms Mehbooba Mufti came to see her.

Insha remembers that visit, that brief interaction between the ruling lady and a blinded girl.

“Are you upset with me?” Chief Minister asked her.

“No, why should I be,” Insha said she remembers saying, “But where were you for last two months?”

“I will give you my own eyes,” Chief Minister had told her.

“Why should you gouge your eyes and give it to me,” Insha remembers telling her from the bed. “Only I know what it is to live with darkness.”

She has not changed her assessment since then. She believes that it is completely impossible and incomprehensible for people with eyes to understand even an iota of the darkness and the life in it. “World doesn’t know how it is to live in darkness that too when you have seen every color before,” Insha insists.

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In Srinagar, the doctors at SMHS, already working uninterrupted in the operation theatres, had removed some of the 350 pellets Insha received. Then she underwent three surgeries in Delhi and one in Mumbai. Her father says the government supported her in managing the medical bills and the local administration is sympathetic.

Celebrated ophthalmologist, Dr Sundaram Natarajan, who is vitreo-retina super-specialist and has treated many of the pellet-blinds told Kashmir Life that lot many people, some from US and UK, requested him to operate her. “I was hesitant operating her (because) there was no light perception. She had brain injury and then meningitis, brain infection,” Dr Natarajan said. “Some people wanted to sponsor her treatment of retinal transplant—artificial retina—costing around Rs 2 crore but that treatment is not eligible for any injury patient.”

Insha’s retina, according to Dr Natarajan, is in a very bad condition. “She suffers from other eye complexities like vitreous hemorrhage, hemorrhage behind her retina and choroid detachment,” the doctor said. “Her surgery has gone well. But pellet has sliced part of her retina. One third of her retina is missing. So whatever was there, we cleared the blood and put the retina back. Let’s hope for the best.”

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Almost exhausted, the chirpy Insha fell silent. It was painful to see her bidding adieu from the same window that changed her life.

“I want to ask them just once what was my fault and what they achieved by doing this to me,” Insha said in one of her departing utterances. “I wish God puts them through the situation I live in.”

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