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AFTER THE RAINS

Picking up the pieces

 

When fate intervenes and snatches our kith and kin, it takes tremendous courage to wipe those tears and face a new day. tsi meets up with some unsung heroes who have tided through grief to inspire and lend counsel, lest destiny betray us too . . .
Issue Dated: May 13, 2007
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Picking up the pieces In the wake of the nightmare...

“When I first handled a measuring tape, it was a guessing game for me to judge the figures on it. I am illiterate, but with the encouragement of friends like Monica behen (one of the many genuine wellwishers), I soon became the bread-winner of my family.” These words are of Shaheen Banu Mohammed Hasan Qureshi, from Faisal Park, Vatva, Ahmedabad, whose husband Mohammed Hasan was killed in the wanton Gujarat riots of 2002. Ever since, she’s had to fend for her children, all by herself.

At present, Shaheen is merely 26 years of age. She grew up in Ahmedabad and when she turned 17, she was married to Hasan, who hailed from Karnataka. In 2000, they moved from Karnataka to Naroda Patiya with their two children – son Nafees and daughter Nazmin Banu. Most of the residents of Naroda Patiya originally belonged to Karnataka’s poorer section of the society. Hasan began a small grocery business there and soon Shaheen gave birth to Afreen, their third child.

Two years later, the Godhra riots occurred. “It was nine in the morning and there was a call for Gujarat bandh. We could sense the terror in the air. Later, somebody told me that my husband had been killed and his body was lying on the road. With Afreen in my arms, I ran to the spot. I saw the rioters dragging my husband’s body and then burning him along with tires and other stuff. I was helpless,” recalls a teary eyed Shaheen. She believes her husband was killed by police firing.

“That whole day I ran from pillar to post, along with my children, in order to protect ourselves from a similar fate. Horrifying screams resounded in the air; heaps of dead bodies lay around. The violence claimed my father-in-law too. At last, we were rescued and taken to relief camps. All of my in-laws returned to Karnataka but I didn’t lose courage and stayed right here.”

“Later, some people came to help us, among whom was Monica from Delhi. She would play with our children to cheer us up and she taught us sewing to enable us to earn money.” Today, Himmat is an organisation being run by the same riot affected women, catering to stitching orders, from that of clothes to car seats. Tailoring is now Shaheen’s means of sustenance and her sewing machine runs through the day.

“I have seen two distinct faces of humans,” says Shaheen, “one destroys us, the other teaches us how to live.” Picking up the pieces She is every woman!

“Her misery is not of the rarest kind in Kashmir. She is neither the lone woman separated from her husband for nearly two decades, nor is she the only female heading a family in a male dominated society. Yet, her fortitude in the face of it all sufficiently qualify her to be a role model for the millions of distressed women across the country. Be it the separation from her husband or the killer earthquake of 8 October 2005, Naseema Bi has met every catastrophe in the eye.

Naseema Bi’s tale of misfortune began in 1990, barely three years after marriage, when her husband, Sobat Ali, slipped to the other side of the LOC from their mountainous Uroosa village in the bordering Uri area of Kashmir Valley. “Men from the forces would beat up youth and many of them ran away, finding the circumstances frightening,” recalls Naseema. “My husband too was among them and I did not know till he crossed over,” she adds. Having given birth to her second daughter in her mother’s house around the same time, Naseema’s wait for Sobat stretched to years. “Thinking he would return in the dark, I would keep awake for several nights,” recalls Naseema. Even after men returned to surrender, she hoped in vain. “This was till the day I heard from a neighbour that my husband had become a thanedar in the Pakistan Army and taken a second wife there,” she narrates, still shy to pronounce the name of her husband. While Sobat was in Pakistan Administered Kashmir, Naseema became the de facto bread-earner of a family Picking up the pieces that included his widowed mother, Aman Bi, an elder sister, Nazma Bi, who never married, and two small daughters. It was then that Naseema took the boldest of all decisions – “I gave up waiting for my husband.”

Like most men in Gujjar communities of hilly areas in Kashmir, Naseema started rearing sheep and cattle to make ends meet. In the 17 years of separation, Naseema has faced several other challenges. “There’ve been times when we felt frightened and sought shelter in the neighbour’s house. But I am grateful to Allah that our chastity remained protected,” asserts Naseema. There was more catastrophe that she was to see after all this and also the loss of her younger daughter to tumour, for a savage rumble of the earth on the fateful October day razed her house and killed most of her livestock. Despite hardships, she toiled hard to get her elder daughter married reasoning, “How long would I live anyway?”

With persevering endurance, Naseema is everything that a woman or even a man can hope to be – bread-earner, head of the family, and a loving parent. She epitomises a woman who would never compromise on virtue she possesses even if meant empty stomach for days at a stretch. “No woman needs to bow to compulsions,” emphasises Naseema with a downward gaze, reinstating the amount of determination it takes to follow her experience.

Zubair A. Dar Picking up the pieces A greater death

All of Lucknow had descended on the banks of River Gomti to bid final farewell to the martyr. His face bore serenity, as in the wake of a mission well accomplished, but for a black mark on the left side of the temple. It was the mark left by cruel fate that had taken the form of the enemy’s bullet on the night of 2/3 July 1999 in Kargil. Like a fearless son of his motherland, Captain Manoj Pandey breathed his last while advancing to Khalubar as his platoon approached its final objective. The enemy opened fire from all sides but Manoj had not learnt to accept defeat. He ensured that the way was clear for the battalion. Despite fatal wounds, he did not cower and, as observers relate, busted enemy bunkers to his last breath.

Pride of the motherland, yes, but what about the mother who lost her son? Sighs Mohini Pandey, “I am proud of what he did, but then no award can fill the void that Manoj left behind”. Gopi Chand Pandey, father of the hero, who now runs a gas agency in his lionhearted son’s name, says, “My son made me proud. We are fortunate, for there are few families, who even after having lost their only child, are living with their head held high.” Speaking reverentially of the cause of the nation, Mohini Pandey says, “No relation is as big as the one that ties us to this country.” To all those who might be having to contend with similar tragedy, she says, “We should believe that they are not dead, but serving on the borders of our country,” even as her restraint gave way and she stopped speaking.

The grief of the parents who suffered the loss of a 24-year-old son is unbearable to relate, much less to endure. Brother Manmohan Pandey proudly recalls, “Since childhood, he wished to join the Indian Army, and hard work alone qualified him for the eminent UP Sainik School in Lucknow. He even made it to the NDA in his first attempt.” The concerted courage and relentless zeal of the young soldier who entered the Infantry in response to all three options while filling his choice of arms after the completion of training at Indian Military Academy can only be remotely imagined. His sacrifice is not one to be grieved over . . .

Mayank Singh Picking up the pieces Uphaar’s cruel present

Neelam Krishnamurthy on loss

“I lost my 17-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son in the 1997 Uphaar Cinema fire. Leaving our textile business aside, my husband and I gave prime priority to getting justice for our children. I have not slept for 10 years and there is nothing like a social life for us. There has been no celebration of any festival in this house, since my children passed away. Family get-togethers, marriages, outings etc. remind us of our children, who would have been educated, settled, successful and at a marriageable age today.

My family advised me to have another child or to settle abroad, but I decided to stay back for my children. Today, I know that their soul is at peace as they know that their mother is working for them and for the other children. It’s easy to give advice but I want none of it. I don’t expect anybody to truly understand my situation. It’s tough to do what I am doing, running to the court, witnessing money and muscle power rule our nation. I’m doing this for my children... It’s literally a death sentence, which my husband and I are leading. Though I’ve never seen a movie since, I have heard that cinema halls today have proper exit and emergency escapes. I am glad and only wish that the youngsters who go to the cinemas, return home safely.

Megha Jaitly Picking up the pieces Swallowed by the sea

Vijay A.R. is a young HR professional residing in Triplicane, Chennai, a stone’s throw away from Marina Beach. At an age where friends are more like family, Vijay lost his close pal and cricket teammate to the fury of the sea on that fateful Sunday of 2004.

“We were at Marina Beach to play cricket like we did every Sunday and had taken a break after the first match, when the first wave of the tsunami hit. My friends and I scrambled towards the beach as the wave receded, intending to rescue those who were dumped into the sand. We were calling out to autos to carry them to the Government Hospital or the Royapettah hospital when the second wave hit… It was not exactly a wave, it was more like a sudden increase in the level of water but which came on with a lot of force. Many rescuers were washed away and as the waves receded, we realised we had lost Anand, my close friend.

It took us a long time to understand the turn of events. It’s tough to lose someone so close, someone you interact with everyday. I did what most other people, including the fishermen, living in that area had chosen to do – go away from the beach to a relative’s home. It was as much a mental escape as a physical getaway, but I guess the support from friends and family helped. We did more rescue and relief work for tsunami victims sheltered in Madras University, which helped us forget our grief for a while.

We’ve returned to our Sunday matches. Now people who come to Marina, look at the sea at a deeper level, maybe they even fear it. But I don’t; we try to carry on just as usual.”

Tareque Laskar
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017