Syed Nazakat in Srinagar, Kashmir
There is some flickering reaffirmation of life in the middle of death and terror in the gloomy H-4 ward of Youth Hostel turned hospital in Srinagar. When thirteen-year-old Pervez Ahmed was taken out of the debris of his family house in Kamalkote, a village 24 kilometers away from Uri ten hours after the earthquake and airlifted to the Bone and Joint hospital in Srinagar, he was in a coma.
His father who came with him, was in shock, having lost his wife, a son and other 24 close relatives in the quake, and his son sinking fast.
Two months later, Pervez has recovered miraculously. He is saluting and grinning at visitors and his father is happy to take him back to their tent home. Pervez’s mother, one of his brothers, grandfather, grandmother, three aunts, two uncles, three cousin brothers, two cousin sisters, a maternal aunt-all of them died. Pervez talks of all this without betraying much emotion. It is the bliss of innocence. All the family members were in the house of his ailing grandfather in Kamalkote where all have assembled on that fateful morning.
“Only me and my cousin brother survived”, he says while pointing towards his cousin brother, Barkat Hussain, 26, who is lying beside him in the ward. “But now I am happy to go back”, says little Pervez smiling innocently.
These two cousin brothers are the only survivors among 26 relatives and neighbours who got buried alive under the debris.
Every hour of every day for the last two months, Pervez has thought of the moment when the earth shook.
“I was knocked down and I tried to use my arm to get back up and felt like there was nothing coming in my hand. My body was completely trapped under the heavy debris and I could not see anything”, says Pervez.
It was eight in the morning on that fateful day when Pervez woke up early in the morning and went straight to his grandfather’s home. Muzamil Hussian, 70, his grandfather, was an Imam of the local mosque and was ailing for some time. He made his way along the maize field and past a small playground where a night before he had played a cricket match with other village boys in which he made twenty runs. He says he loves cricket and he is a die-hard fan of Sachin Tendulkar and Shoaib Akhtar.
When he reached his grandfather’s house, the room was already full of relatives. All his aunts, uncles, cousins, relatives, and neighbours were sitting around his dying grandfather. “Grandpa was on the cot, dying. Uncle was reciting the verses of Surah Yaseen, a chapter from the Quran, which Muslims recite near the forehead of a dying person. Mummy was at the centre, serving tea”, little Pervez recalls as he shuts his eyes for a moment.
As Pervez tried to give bread to one of his relatives, the ground shook as if the earth was splitting apart beneath him. Pervez heard the powerful and horrifying sound. Reminiscent of the deep rumbling roar of fighter jet which he is quite used to, the rumble of doomsday lasted for two or three minutes.
It was as if the earth had groaned. There was no time to run to safety. No time to think. The two-story house crumbled like the legendary pack of cards. All the 26 people who were in the house that time apart from Pervez and his cousin brother got buried alive under the debris.
When Pervez regained consciousness he found himself in the hospital. His left arm was totally lifeless and his body severely wounded. He was moaning in pain. But soon he spied another guy in the hospital ward, his elder cousin Barkat Hussian, 26, who like him was critically injured.
At least Pervez was not alone.
“I think I should be dead right now,” says Barkat Hussian, resting after a little walk in the compound of the youth hostel. “But I am thankful to almighty God that he saved me for my family and little kid”, he says.
Barkat got married last year and he has one kid. He is carpenter while the rest of his family is involved in farming. Barkat now says he will be a more devout Muslim. “I have promised to God I would be a good Muslim until the end of my life”, he says, while adding, God is not happy with the doings of people here and that is why he has punished us.
Doctors say that Pervez is recovering very fast, but they are worried about Barkat and if his leg does not heal then they have to cut it off to save his life.
“I still considered my self fortunate enough. You know there are many people right out here who have lost both their legs. I still have one and can work to feed my family. That way I am feeling quite happy, says Barkat.
But little Pervez is sad about the fact that there are no activities here in this hostel.
“I don’t like to lie down the whole day on the bed. I get bored. I like to play but I have nothing to play with, complains Pervez. What Pervez particularly wants is a cricket bat or carom board. Soon after the earthquake, the government and relief agencies concentrated on food, clothes and tents. Games to keep children like Pervez happy were not high on any priority list.
On the other corner of the ward, another quake victim, eleven-year-old Farmida of Kalgi is fighting with her mother who is trying to give her a cough syrup.
“I can’t take this. It is so bitter”, she screams while her mother finally shoves some syrup into her mouth. Farmida has lost her father, brother, four more other relatives, her house and her leg in the earthquake. When I asked her what the government should do for her, she looked around for a while, and then said, “I need a leg”.
There is sorrow in her eyes but not in her words. Sadness and the shadow of tragedy is reflected in the eyes of every injured person who has been temporarily discharged from the crowded city hospitals and brought to the Youth Hostel hospital. But the smiles never leave their faces.
They survive on free meals served by the social welfare department of the government. But the winter chill is freezing. There is no arrangement in the wards to keep them warm. And many say that they purchase their medicines from the market as hospitals are refusing to give them medicine.
Pervez may be better off than other people. Doctors say that his left arm will speedily recover. A regular physiotherapy will let him run and play cricket again and perhaps make half century or a century, who knows someday, as he had planned before he went to his grandfather’s house on the fateful day of October 8.
Pervez waves us goodbye. He asks about our next trip, saying, “If you go to my village tell my friends I am coming”.
(Sahara Time, January 7, 2006)