It was corporal punishment by his teacher that blinded him. Later when an operation returned his one eye, soldiers came and took it away. But that did not prevent the young man from fighting back and reaching amazing heights, reports Muhammad Younis
Almost 17 years have passed since he could see the world for one last time. The eyesight in both of his eyes finally vanished because of a punishment that he was given for something he hadn’t committed.
He is Muhammad Ayoub Bhat, 34, a resident of Zangalpore (Kulgam). He has long tufts of facial hair curling down his chin. If you want to meet him, just utter his name in the area, people will usher you to his 2-storey traditional Kashmiri house. One of the revered residents in the locality, it is not his disability but the authority which most of the people lack the ability of. He is Hafiz-Quran, a person who has memorized the holy book despite being blind. Besides, he teaches the same at a few places, and is a known speaker; he delivers sermons in different mosques.
The story of Ayoub’s disability first started at a tender age of six. It was April 1990, when he was in lower kindergarten (LKG). After lunch, he was returning from his home when he ran into the daughter of his teacher near a stream, gushing before the school building. Both were to cross over a log thrown across the stream to reach school. He allowed his teacher’s daughter to go first. Unfortunately, she fell into the stream, and her uniform got wet. This led her father to give Ayoub a corporal punishment. For about an hour and a half, he was to loop his arms behind the knees and firmly hold his ears. When the punishment ended and he was allowed to restore back on his feet, he found the world before his eyes gone completely dark. He was declared blind.
Ayoub belongs to a farming family that owns a few kanals of land. The lone breadwinner, his father visited every single ophthalmologist in Kashmir but it turned out to be of no help. Finally, Ayoub was operated upon in Delhi, and the sight in his one eye only recovered. By then, the family was completely drained, emotionally and financially. “While I was expected to give hand to my father in stabilising the finance of the family, I turned into a liability,” Ayoub regrets.
With one eye open and healthy, Ayoub returned to his studies. He did his matriculation at Kelam Higher Secondary School, more than a kilometre away.
But the fate had something more in store for him. In July 1999, Ayoub was playing cricket with three other boys in the school playground, when a unit of army showed up at the spot. Iqbal Ahmad, an Ikhwani, who accompanied the posse, caught hold of the four. Hollering at them, he wanted to know the person who, among them, had opened fire during the previous night.
“The night before, a volley of bullet shots was heard in our vicinity but no one was injured and nobody knew whereat it had happened,” says Ayoub. “But the Ikhwan man wanted us to give the details which we didn’t know.”
At that time, Arif Khan, a militant of Ayoub’s village, was being sought by the government forces. The quadruple was at loss to understand why the soldiers, who would play cricket with them, started beating them. “Maybe somebody told them that we belonged to Arif’s village,” Ayoub says.
The soldiers beat the four to the pulp. “We cried out our innocence but it fell sterile on their ears,” said Ayoub, who had been told by the doctors to be extremely careful about his eyes. He received a hard blow of a stick on his head. At that time, he didn’t feel any problem with his eyesight but the next day, when he came to school, he wasn’t able to read anything from the books. Days passed and the darkness before his eyes augmented till he turned entirely blind.
For about a year, Ayoub rested within the four walls of his house. But deep in his heart, he always wanted to do something good for him and his family. Thus he made a resolution that being blind shouldn’t turn to be an obstacle for him from achieving that desire. He got admission in Anwar-ul-Uloom, a seminary established at Dandipora Kokernag in 1931 by a Pakistani teacher Hafiz Chirag-ud-din Qasimi.
It took him five years, from 2002 to 2007, to memorize the Quran. “The teachers would read to me, and I would commit it, word by word, to my memory,” he said. Later, he learned Fiqh and Hadith at Fatehpora. He also did a course in Tajweed – the art of reciting the Quran, at Jammu. His footsteps stretched further to Indore Blind College wherefrom he learned to type, a course in English Braille, cooking and many more things. “I didn’t want to depend on anything. I wanted to live life like any other person,” he said.
All this helped in a rebirth of Ayoub. He walks through his village normally, offers five-time prayers in the local mosque. Once when he was going to offer Fajr prayers in the mosque, more than a hundred metres away, he ran into army personnel on the way. “Their identity was established to me by the way they talked,” he remembers. They asked him to show them the house of Muhammad Maqbool, a neighbour. Without excusing them about his blindness, he conducted them directly, to the destination. “I had a paraffin lamp in my hand as a formality, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t know that I was blind.”
The blindness, Ayoub said, has not erased the picture of his village from his memory. Though he is made familiar with the recent developments by his family, still he knows a number of locations. “I can show you the houses of my neighbours, the place where the stream flows, the shops and many other things,” he says. To move out of his village for sermons or other things, his phone is his closest buddy. He calls someone from the area he has to go to, reveals his location in order to help them pick him up. “I have memorised more than 300 phone numbers.”
Ayoub has adapted to the circumstances to such an extent that he helps his family during planting, cutting and winnowing of paddy.
Ayoub is satisfied with his life. Although his eyesight has gone, he says, Allah has bestowed him with hundred virtues in return. “My faith became my saviour in the times of distress,” he said. “For my father and family, I have finally turned from a liability into an asset.” The family, comprising his parents, and two siblings, is now being run by him entirely.
Ayoub’s zest for knowledge continues unabatedly. He is now thinking of taking a course at Tamil Nadu in Arabic and Urdu Braille. “All the capabilities I am in possession of, I want to utilise them fully, and contribute my bit to the world.”