Brothers have always taken an extra-step in ensuring that their sisters survive respectfully. Zubair Sofi tells story of a family that returned from the brinks of destitution many times and eventually became healthy economically only because the homemaker had her brother around
In non-descript Naninora village in Sumbal, lives a family of eleven members: four daughters and five sons, and their parents. The large family has survived massive challenges and is trying to survive despite odds.
They live in a small house, just two rooms and a kitchen, trying to help each other, and live. But living in this part of Kashmir isn’t easy; it is an everyday struggle with both poverty and family feuds.
Every morning, one of the rooms of Farooq Ahmad Kalweatho’s small house starts buzzing with activity, as Shabnam, 18, her sister Afshana, 16, and her two brothers: Feroz, 12, and Arshid, 9, sit behind a handloom and start weaving shawls. Their delicate hands play with colorful threads, used in making Pashmina shawls.
But this small house, where they literally rub shoulders with each others for space, didn’t come easy. “We were thrown out by my uncles after a family feud,” recalls Shabnam, who now shoulders family’s responsibilities.
That was 2001. As they had no place to go, they started living with their maternal uncle, their mamu Farooq Guru in Bemina, Srinagar, some 35 kms away.
After spending two years there, Shabnam’s father decided to live separately instead of being burden on his brother-in-law. “I was aware of my financial condition, but it was need of the hour,” said Shabnam’s father.
But the decision needed to be backed by finance, which he lacked. “I worked hard to construct a small make-shift hut opposite Hajj House Bemina,” he said. “It was simply a one small hall, barely enough for everybody to sleep.”
Arshid and his younger siblings were born in the hut, five in all. “I always tried helping my mother,” Shabnam said. “After my school I took care of my siblings, too.” As family responsibilities mounted, Shabnam couldn’t continue her studies.
It was at this stage that Shabnam and her younger sister Afshan started learning the art of weaving Pashmina shawls. “We wanted to support our father financially,” said Shabnam. “My father struggled to manage our expenses, so we had to drop out of school.”
After spending thirteen years in the hut, the floods of September 2014, forced them to leave. As the waters took away their shelter and forced them to live under open sky, the subsequent developments by the government pushed them away.
“We were thrown out by the municipality,” Shabnam said. “SDA took over the land.”
Helpless Farooq asked each and every relative for shelter, but didn’t get any encouraging response.
Then, Farooq approached local Auqaf in Bemina that helped him with some money. This money he used to buy a tent which he pitched on a footpath in Bemina.
“It was really embarrassing for me to keep my family especially my daughters on the road in a small tent,” said Farooq. “The tent could accommodate only four people.”
“You cannot imagine how we managed our lives for these four months in such a cramped space. It was embarrassing and highly inconvenient,” Shabnam said. “My father spent sleepless nights to secure us from the worst.”
“After floods, it was like starting life all over again,” Farooq said. “We lost everything we had as we couldn’t retrieve even a single belonging.”
To avoid an untoward incident Farooq approached his and sought his help to purchase a house. He
gave them Rs 2.5 lakh. Though insignificant for purchasing a house, it still was a good start. His wife Gulshan sold whatever little jewellery she owned.
With this much money in hand, Farooq revisited his brothers in Sumbal, and purchased the ancestral home, they once jointly owned. “It was a proud movement for my family.,” Farooq said. “Though it was in bad condition, but at least my family was secure now.”
In 2015, when the family shifted to there, they were shocked to see its dilapidated condition. Its walls were perforated and nobody had bothered to fill the gaps.
Under a roof, now the challenge was to survive and provide for such a large family. Shabnam and her younger sister decided to earn.
“By now we had mastered how to weave a Pashmina shawls,” said Shabnam proudly. “But without a loom we were helpless.”
Once again their mamu helped them by funding a handloom, now the primary source of their income.
Gradually, Shabnam Shabnam decided to engage her other siblings too. Her younger brother Ferooz proved a quick learner.
Now, Ferooz starts his day literally at the crack of dawn. He spends a couple of hours at the loom with his siblings, and then moves out in a load carrier to collect used items from door-to-door.
His younger brother Arshid, joined Shabman at the age of seven, was taught by Afshana. It took him a year to master the technique of weaving a shawl.
Their mother is suffering from cardiac problem so Arifa 14 takes care of the kitchen.
“We long to live like other children,” Shabnum said. “All of us start our day by doing work, we don’t dream like other children do. But we never let or wishes to grow.”
Shabnam and Afshana were good badminton player in their school but they couldn’t hone their talent.
“I like to play cricket but can not play,” Arshad said. “For me sport is a luxury that I cannot afford because my family is not well.”
The weak financial condition forced all the first four siblings to leave the studies at the initial point of their careers.
As the family started to stabilise, both financially and physically, their father father fell ill as they lacked resources to manage his treatment. Their Mammu was there to help.
Guru took tgheir father to Delhi, spent nearly Rs 1.5 lakh on his two surgeries.
“We promised our uncle that we will repay him every single penny,” Shabnam said. “We will work hard no matter what happens.” Since then, the family puts in extra hours at the loom.
Interestingly, it is Guru, their Mammu again, who gets them raw material and sells their products. “We get a fixed price for our labour and efforts,” said Shabnam. “But we are happy. At least we have work.”
Collectively the siblings owe their uncle Rs 4.5 lakhs, an amount they are so keen to pay, gradually.