REVIVED LETTERS

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 After years of huge reliance on the modern tools of communications, Kashmir is gradually returning back to the age-old tradition of letter writing, reports Muhammad AR

The unprecedented telecommunications blockade in Kashmir since August 5, has left almost a million families in the restive region disconnected. This has led people to adopt the pre-telecom and internet modes of communication by sending letters and deploying messengers with a “word of mouth”.

Although these modes of communicating are time consuming and considered pretty dull, but that is where it is left to, for now. Kashmir is literally reviving and rediscovering the past.

During the second week of the now-a-month old lockdown, a Srinagar suburban family was desperate to communicate with the in-laws of their daughter who was supposed to get married on August 20. The families live just seven kilometres apart.

GhulamMohiuddin, the family head said that due to the emerging situation, then, the family wanted to convey to their daughters’ in-laws about some changes in the marriage schedule. “After making several unsuccessful attempts to reach out to the family, I wrote a long letter addressed to them beginning with the apologies for failing to come myself,” he said. Mohiuddin handed over the letter to the driver of a Srinagar Municipality vehicle who was in the locality on a cleaning drive. “The driver took the letter and got a response as well, the next day.”

For the first two weeks the restrictions remained very intense blocking the public movement. Although the restrictions were eased afterwards, however, the residents said that communicating with their relatives in different districts was still very difficult.

On August 23, a Srinagar resident Nasreena, said that she developed some complicacies. Nasreena is 15 weeks pregnant.

“I wanted my sister on my side for a few days,” Nasreena said. “But the problem was that it was nearly impossible to reach to her as she lives in a south Kashmir district.”

Nasreena’s husband, Abdul Hameed said that she wrote a letter to her sister and he, then, handed it over to his neighbour, a journalist. “I had heard that only journalists are allowed to move during the restrictions.” The journalist not only delivered the letter but brought her sister along with also.

The communication blockade has added to the miseries of the people to such an extent that many families came to know about the demise of their relatives many days later.

A Kashmiri family was putting up in a rented accommodation in Zakir Nagar (Delhi). The building, housing their flat, caught up a massive fire in the second week of August.

A day later, a group of Kashmiri students came to know that a Kashmiri family admitted in Holy Family Hospital in Delhi was in need of assistance. “We rushed to the hospital and found the head of the family dead, his daughter badly wounded while his wife had received minor injuries,” one of the students said. Their family in Kashmir were unaware about the tragedy.

The students made several attempts to reach out to their family in Kashmir but failed. Finally, they sent one of their colleagues to Kashmir with the message.

In another incident, the students said that a Kashmir doctor in Saudi Arabia was travelling home on Eid and had booked a hotel for a night in Delhi. “He died in the hotel room of heart attack and his family in Srinagar came to know about his death four days later.”

On August 10,Ubaid-ur-Rehman, a resident drove to the Srinagar airport to drop his brother for a flight to Delhi. As Rehman was turning his car back, he heard two airport officials talking about a working internet connection in a residential colony, just outside the security gate of the airport.

Without wasting time, Rehman rushed to the colony, knocked several gates and finally landed in the house where a broadband connection was available. The house inmates, he said, let him in to access the internet following an exchange of apprehensions and a slew of enquiries.

As soon he accessed the internet, Rehman received texts from a South Kashmir friend, Syed Muzammil, studying in Europe, on the mobile messaging app, WhatsApp.

After exchanging pleasantries, Muzammil sent hm a Whats App voice note for his family living around 20 Kilometres south of Srinagar. “After spending some 15 minutes at the house exchanging texts with friends and other relatives living outside the state, I drove to the residence of the friend.” Rehman asked the family if he could come back with a message for his friend, to which they replied in affirmative with a “pleasing smile”.

“I manoeuvred through the Kashmir highway taking different lanes and by-lanes, avoiding the police and paramilitary barricades and reached the house. I was lucky that the authorities had relaxed the restrictions for some time on Saturday,” Rehman said. Muzammil’s mother, after listening to the voice note turned emotional and started kissing the phone. “She was overwhelmed and sought blessings for me.”

“She then recorded a voice note full of prayers and blessings for her son and ended with: YettiChukhTattiChukh, KhudahThaewnaeySalamat (Wherever you are, may Allah keep you well.” Again, Rehman drove back to the house and sent the mothers voice note to Muzammil.

The story of Rehman did not end here. Since that day, Rehman has been able to connect at least four families.The complete communication blackout has left the families of the students and employees working outside the valley distressed.

By the time Rehman drove back to deliver the message of Muzammil’s mother to him, he (Muzammil) had spoken to another friend, Zubair Khan, working in a Western European country.

As Rehman sent the voice note, and was readying to leave, he received another voice note addressed to the sender’s mother. “It was Zubair Khan.” Khan lives in the outskirts of Srinagar in Zakoora area. After promising Zubair that his message would be delivered to his parents, Rehman left for home.

Early next morning, Rehman drove to the residence of Zubair. Immediately after Rehman was let in, the family could not even think about what Rehman narrated.

“The whole family was ecstatic. Brothers and sisters of Zubair assembled around me to know what the message was,” Rehman said.

Zubair’s family like Muzammil’s turned emotional and recorded a voice note for their son. Rehman said that by the time he decided to drive to the house near airport to access the internet, the authorities had snapped the internet connections to the locality.

Kashmiris travelling from Delhi said they receive scores of letters from students, businessmen and other professionals for their home.

“I met over a dozen Kashmris at the airport who handed over letters for their families in different parts of the valley,” Asrar Rashid a medical doctor who travelled to Kashmir recently said. Rashid said that he has been able to deliver just six letters so far that were for families in central and north Kashmir.

Like Rashid, tens of other Kashmiris have carried letters of Kashmiris from mainland India to their relatives in Kashmir. In absence of any telecommunication system, the inhabitants mostly prefer to visit their relatives in person and enquire about their well being. Families say the absence of the internet has resumed formal communication within the family. “After a long time, our members are not busy with their cell phone in the corners,” Fayaz Ahmad, a Srinagar resident, said. “Now we talk to each other, more often.”

Since the phone and internet had literally replaced all other communication systems, it added to the crisis. Department of Posts hardly is able to deliver if it is not a speed post. Even the Couriers Services are not functioning.

A Kashmiri doctor in Kuwait  would manage the life saving medicines of his mother from Bangalore on-line. In days ahead of Eid, he could notice that the supply reached Srinagar but could not be delivered. He left his pregnant wife and a minor kid in Kuwait and flew to Bangalore, got the necessary medicines and then reached Srinagar. After spending a night with his mother, he took early next morning.

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