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Of Death, Loss, Survival: Kashmir’s Tryst With COVID Calendar

Of Death, Loss, Survival: Kashmir’s Tryst With COVID Calendar

‘Many people made it, some fell and died while battling. The Covid-19 is the biggest nightmare of any survivor. There are injuries that the past year has inflicted upon humankind and the battle is not over yet.’


Such were the times, recounts Aqib as he arrives to offer prayers for the departed soul of his uncle amid a pervasive gloom in Kashmir’s largest graveyard, one wouldn’t even dare to give a proper farewell to a fallen beloved.

As death kept no calendar amid the pro-anti combat stemming from the watershed years of the late eighties, the dead always received ritualistic sendoff in the valley. And, with mourning becoming a collective affair—“a republic of solidarity”—these grave gatherings over the years came under the radar for being the ‘sentiment breeding grounds’.

“That’s why, perhaps, as Covid terror made us abandon our dead,” Aqib says, as he takes a long look at the tombstone-dotted landscape of Malkhah, “the state decided to deny bodies of slain local militants to their families. Many say it either takes pandemic or war to finish some tough tasks. They achieved what they desired when we were in the middle of a war as well as pandemic!” 

For the state, the big funerals of the fallen militants had become post-encounter “recruitment rallies”. And to curtail this conflict consortium, the proposal was reportedly sent to Fairview in the searing summer of 2018. 

But as the coalition of the strange-bedfellows failed to go against the popular sentiment, the invasion of the “invisible enemy” in spring 2020 only ensured the state order in the strife region.

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But the coronavirus changed more than the community grieving gatherings in the valley. 

“We lost six family members to the covid within 20 days,” tearful Aqib, 30, recounts his personal tragedy. “We’re few members left now and we don’t know anymore how to console each other after every death.” 

It has been a year and the news of pandemic death has not stopped coming. The valley reported its first covid death, of a 65-year-old man, on March 26, 2020.

The demise came a week after a 65-year-old woman was detected as the first person to test positive in Kashmir on March 18. 

The following day the administration imposed restrictions on the movement of locals and public transport. Soon the streets became deserted and people stayed away from each other.

A PPE-dressed Covid worker cleaning the premises of a ward as the ‘positive’ patient looks around. / Photo: Adil Abass for MI

In her kitchen, 38-year-old Nusrat sits with a mournful face. Recalling those harrowing lockdown days — when people started masking up and became compulsive sanitizer users — she says she had no idea that the virus would devour her only happiness. 

After pleading for a child in every shrine and sanctum of the valley for over a decade, she was finally expecting a child in the viral spring of 2020. Once blessed with the child, she could see the purpose of her life finally getting completed. But fate had something else stored for her.

It was during a regular checkup Nusrat’s covid report came positive, and the gestating mother was shifted from one hospital to another, “without any health centre ready to admit her”. 

At last, after a squabble with the administration, she was admitted to the Sub District Hospital, Baramulla. Fayaz Ahmad, her husband, would come to the hospital every day. He would call her, and the couple would get a glimpse of each other from the window. 

But as the days turned into weeks, the second Covid report also came positive. And her hospital stay only prolonged.

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In isolation, Nusrat knitted a sweater and pants for the baby in the womb. “I had a hope,” she recalls with a lost face. “And that’s what kept me going through all the trials and tribulations.” 

Before her due date, Nusrat’s condition worsened in the covid ward. “Sensing the trouble, we had no option but to abort the baby in the last trimester,” says welled-up Fayaz. 

The news devastated Nusrat, and almost pushed her to end her life. Lying on the hospital bed, alone and miserable, she became the petrified picture. 

“Some scars are too deep to heal,” the woman robbed of her motherhood says, while keeping the knitted sweater in the closet. “And that’s what the past year is for me.” 

A Covid patient talking to her family members over a video call from her administrative quarantine centre. / Photo: Adil Abass for MI

While Nusrat lost her treasured baby due to covid complications, many others stood by the side of their ‘viral’ children like a rock. Among them, the mother who stayed as a shadow of her young ‘positive’ daughter in the covid ward of Rainawari’s JLNM hospital awed and amazed all.

These human testing trials surfaced in the ‘lockdown within lockdown’, when the covid had disrupted the celebrated community compassionate ecosystem of the valley. 

And once the isolation gripped Kashmir, it only tested its own resilient culture.

“Last year’s lockdown was deadlier, and far more depressive,” says Shaheen, a homemaker from Srinagar. 

“While it closed mosques and businesses for men, it made women like me vulnerable to distressing indoor life, fraught with annoyed children’s endless trauma with 2G network, and a growing torment of isolation and frustration.”

But at about the same time, when masses had imposed self-captivity to keep their family safe, some Samaritans were out to uphold Kashmir’s traditional spirit. 

While some volunteered to become emergency drivers and covid warriors, others chose to become “untouchable” funeral managers.

“This virus only taught us a very basic reality of life,” says Rashid Ali, a student who came out to impose covid barriers in his community during the peak pandemic phase in the valley, “that human life is a hostage of an unseen force.”

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A PPE-geared health officer ensuring lockdown inside the Covid-designated health centre. / Photo: Adil Abass for MI

After a year, the covid surge has returned to haunt another spring in the valley.

And the lurking sense that the invisible enemy is once again knocking doors has made Mushtaq Ahmad follow a strict schedule.

While getting the clothes from the closet for Friday prayers, he whispers “every moment is precious.” 

After the Friday prayers, Mushtaq, 55, wearing a mask and breathing heavily sits at the back row in the mosque. Everyone congratulates him for the “new life.” 

Fighting for life for months after diagnosed positive for covid, “I thought I am breathing my last but prayers saved me.” 

Despite following the protocol religiously, Mushtaq has no idea how he got exposed to the virus.

“Initially I felt pain in the chest and took it as normal,” he says. But after brought to the SKIMS hospital, Mushtaq was put on a ventilator for weeks. 

The battle of life and death continued for three months. When Mushtaq was put down from the ventilator, there was no one around from family, and “more than covid it is the loneliness that eats you from inside”. He tried to stand up a few times on his own- but couldn’t.  

When Mushtaq tested positive, his friends and relatives were too scared to interact with him. But when more cases were reported in his neighbourhood, fear of covid was shunned as people battled with Covid-19 courageously rather than panicking. 

“There was hope when we saw people recovering in the neighbourhood,” says Afreen, Mushtaq’s daughter.

From the hospital, Mushtaq couldn’t talk to his family on phone. The virus took his voice. Soon the healing process began, and “when I finally got home, I felt like Allah has given me a second life. I don’t know what kept me going, but I believe it is a miracle”.

These tales of death, loss, and survival in times of pandemic are harrowing and heartbreaking. 

“Many people made it, some fell and died while battling,” says Asiya, a nurse working in the frontline. 

“The Covid-19 is the biggest nightmare of any survivor. There’re injuries that the past year has inflicted upon humankind, and the battle is not over yet.”


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