Wheel, Wails And Veil

In an old city house built a century back live three women from three generations. The nonagenarian granny earns on the spinning wheel to feed her blind daughter and pay for the education of her slain son’s college going daughter. Ruwa Shah and Shams Irfan visit the all-female family to understand how misfortune and tragedy blends generations to survive.

Pic: Bilal Bahadur
Azi. Pic: Bilal Bahadur

Sitting behind a wooden spinning wheel, Azi, who is in her early nineties, works her wrinkled fingers delicately on the thread. Wheel is the only source of income and as well as solace for Azi. It keeps her busy.

Pressed between newly constructed ‘modern’ houses in Safakadal area of Srinagar, Azi lives in a grand but worn out old stone and wood house.

The house is one of the few remnants of Kashmir’s rich architectural past that once attracted travellers and poets. Build by Azi’s father-in-law around a century back the house still attracts people who have eye for elegance. But like Kashmir’s troubled transitions from one ruler to another this house too has its share of woeful stories.

Once bustling with life and activity, this house where Azi first came as a bride, is now struggling to survive the neglect just like its occupants.

It is afternoon and Safakadal is full of activity. People are busy with their day to day affairs. But as one enters the house where Azi lives with her sixty-year-old blind daughter Fehmeeda and twenty-year-old orphaned granddaughter Iqra, life comes to a standstill.

There is no sound inside the house except turning of Azi’s spinning wheel. The wheel too seems to move discreetly as if trying to maintain the stillness of the house.

Life was not always like this in Azi’s house. She too had a life. She too had a family. She too dreamed of growing old with her children.

Azi vaguely remembers the events that left her house without any male member. All that she can recall is her beloved son Ghulam Hassan Sofi, left for work one day and never came back. What is left of her memories is just bits and pieces of her past that both haunt and sooth her.

Azi, a mother of five (three daughters and two sons) spent most of her life helping her husband Mohammad Shaban Sofi, earn a modest living for his family.

Azi with her husband M Shaban and son Gh Hassan Sofi during their pilgrimage to Mecca. 
Azi with her husband M Shaban and son Gh Hassan Sofi during their pilgrimage to Mecca. 

Both Azi and Shaban would take turns to run their small vegetable shop in Safakadal. It was only after 1980’s when Azi, who along with her husband and  son Hassan undertook holy journey to Mecca that Shaban told his wife to stay at home. “I made you work all these years but now it is time for you to rest,” he told her one day after they came back from Mecca. But two years later Shaban died and Azi was again on her own. Her eldest son whom she thought will help her run the house, abandoned Azi and blind sister. He took his belongings and constructed a house for himself and his wife near Eidgah. He never came back. Now Azi had all her hopes pinned at her youngest son Ghulam Hassan Sofi, a professional driver.

Unlike her eldest son, Hassan proved to be hardworking and loyal. Azi was happy that Hassan will take care of his elder sister Fehmeeda who too was living in the same house. The other two sisters Khatija and Rashida were already married and settled.

With Hassan slowly filling his father’s shoes, Azi began to plan things in life. “Hassan had brought smile back on our faces,” said Fehmeeda.

In 1992, Azi,s house got a face lift as Hassan got married. Within a year Iqra was born. Content with change in her life, Azi would spend her time with Iqra. She has completely forgotten spinning wheel, her lifetime companion. But her happiness was short lived. “For first few years Hassan’s wife was okay with Azi and Fehmeeda presence in the house. But then she began to demand a separate place to live in peace with Hassan and Iqra,” said a family friend.

Hassan’s wife apparently was annoyed with both Azi and Fehmeeda. For her they were both “burdens” on her husband’s pocket.


  1. Is that man really a human being! How can he left her old mother, blind sister and young niece, May Almighty show him the right track … Kudos for KL and team for highlighting such a painful story in a good way.. Hope u will keep up quality of ur journalism and would bring out more such cases so that someone, with big heart and big money too, would come forward and assist such a a kind of downtrodden lot of our society for the sake of Allah (SWT)…


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