A Broken Man’s Odyssey

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A Tale of Endurance, Courage and Social Responsibility

HIS TALE moved my heart; I could barely stop my tears while he narrated his ordeal.

It was a month or so back that I happened to read a story about one Qalandar Khatana, a handicapped person, in one of the daily newspapers. The story gave a sketchy detail of his life and how his legs were amputated allegedly by the Armed forces, some two decades back and how, abandoned by one and all, he had been forced to beg for his living. The story instantly touched my heart and I decided to do something for this gentleman.

 To begin with I shared the story on my facebook profile. One of my friends called me up and offered monetary help for this guy. This encouraged my resolve and I decided to take it to my school friend circle. A network effect soon set in and people who I had not seen since ages chipped in with generous contributions. Within a week or so I had set a permanent rehabilitation plan rolling. It was no use giving him money for a year or two and then he again gets back to his begging bowl, we thought. With enough money to set up a small grocery shop for him, we decided to visit his place to explore other possible avenues for a permanent rehabilitation of this handicapped person.

A day before yesterday I, along with my schoolmate Bashir (who is very good at planning and execution) set out for Kupwara. We stayed at another schoolmate Feroze’s house, who was to accompany us to Qalandar’s village,  in Lolab valley. Early morning yesterday we left in his four-wheel-drive car, as we were told the terrain is too tough for an ordinary sedan. Another friend Bilal (again a school friend) joined us at Kalaroos and we began our journey uphill. Oh My God! It was such a terrible terrain. It resembled more like a dried-up flashflood canal than a road. With steep gorges, ready to swallow us down, on one side and hanging boulders, about to crush us under, on the other, it was a ride to hell. I recited whatever I could remember from the Quran and took deep breaths to compensate for the drop in saturation of oxygen at high altitudes.

The last border post, in the last village, was kind enough to let us pass with a smiling sentry waving us goodbye. I couldn’t make out if it was a genuine smile or there was some mischief hidden behind those long fat moustaches. I just surrendered myself to my destiny and never let the fear show on my face.

Displaying 11061673_974451969267750_5031913288084745320_n.jpgAfter having travelled a distance of seventeen long and treacherous kilometers we reached a place where the road abruptly vanished in front of us. There was no habitation around except for a small hutment. A nomad Gujjar was passing by and we enquired about Qalandar Khatana’s house. He led us to another Gujjar; a handsome young man who resembled a Hollywood actor. He pointed up, I thought he was pointing to the heavens, and said,” He lives up there”. Oh gosh! Not again! I couldn’t see anything except a steep terrain (almost 90 degrees) full of shrubs and a few deodars, here and there. This blonde Gujjar led us onto a small zigzag trek, which couldn’t accommodate more than one foot at a time. Hardly five minutes into our journey and we all were panting like race horses. We had to take a break and then move ahead. I haven’t climbed such a steep mountain ever in my life although I had been an active member of my school mountaineering expeditions. It took us around half an hour to climb, but it seemed like five hours to us! Finally we arrived at Qalandar’s mud-and-wood hut and saw him in person.

He looked very frail and thin. With both his legs amputated knee down, he couldn’t stand upright for long and had to sit down quickly on a log, placed towards a corner of the room. We took turns to go to him and shake hands with him. I still feel the firm grip of his four fingers on my hand…yes! four fingers because one of his fingers had been broken by the interrogators. The dark brown khan suit he wore was tattered at many places. He looked as if he was in his late sixties, but we were surprised to know that he was just 45 years old. The torture, he had gone through, had definitely taken a toll on his physique. Very courteous and sporting a continuous smile on his lips, he offered us food which we politely declined. I couldn’t make much of his house: where did they sleep and where did they eat quite baffled me. There was not a single rug on the floor and we had to be content with a few broken plastic chairs he had kept in his attic. His son’s children, I guess 3 of them, were roaming around with just half of their bodies covered in rags. Except for an old blanket, hanging from the ceiling, I couldn’t see anything worthwhile in the major part of the house. The kitchen, a small extension of the drawing-cum-bed room where we were sitting, could accommodate not more than two persons at a time.

I looked through the window and was surprised to see a small hut, the size of a matchbox, down at the base of the gorge. It was the same hut we had passed by earlier. How does Qalandar ‘walk’ up or down the hill with just two ‘half legs’ and a frail body to support it? It can’t be anything but grit and courage. For a person, who had seen his world being destroyed in front of his eyes and still managed to sport that smile, this mountain and all its height looked too small for him. I enquired about his legs. After a deep, yet meaningful, pause he began to talk about his ordeal. I remember I sighed at every sentence Qalandar uttered, for it was soaked in grief and pain, but that son of the soil didn’t let his sweet smile escape his lips even for a brief moment. He was narrating how, while in the interrogation centre, he was caught praying in the middle of the night by a sentry even when there were strict orders, for the detainees, not to pray; how he had been taken to some high ranking officer who had abused him and his god and had given the jawans a green signal; how a group of some twenty armed forces men had thrashed him to pulp after he had started praying again in front of them; how they finally cut down his legs with knives and just threw him on the floor to die; and how the fellow inmates tied rags around his knees to stop the bleeding. Back home his wife too had been beaten up by the armed forces and she too had a fractured knee. Govt has given a cold shoulder to his sufferings and the social organizations  did not apparently have enough funds to help him with.

Displaying DSC_0656.jpgHis past was not our concern as we had not come to delve into his past, but to help his present. Yet we couldn’t control our emotions and I remember having struggled hard to keep my tears from falling down. I cut short his tale and talked about the ways to rehabilitate him. His son is not mentally fit; hence he can’t shoulder the responsibility of the family. They have neither land to cultivate nor any other source of income. With seven mouths to feed, Qalandar is left with no option but to beg and that is precisely what he does. I felt so ashamed of myself. We discussed possible ways, to rehabilitate him, at length. There seemed to be limited options available for us given his physical limitations as well as geographical and topographical difficulties. The only option we were left with was to arrange for a herd of goats which could be easily reared by the family. We would get him a suitable breed of sheep/ goat after consulting our friends in the animal husbandry department. We would get the herd insured too and bear the costs of annual premium ourselves. Since this new breed is quite profitable, as the herd grows quite rapidly, we expect it to give the family a constant recurring income by way of sale of a few goats every year. Hopefully within this week we will finalize the breed and buy a small herd for Qalandar to feel proud of.

It won’t be a luxurious life for Qalandar but, if nothing, it will at least give him a respectable life to live. He wouldn’t have to beg again . He wouldn’t have to undergo humiliation to feed his family. We are not an NGO nor have we approached anybody except our school friends to help us in this project. If a group of twenty friends can rehabilitate a handicapped person for life, why can’t you too form such groups and do your bit for the society?

-Author can be reached at: gulmarg99@gmail.com

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