Kashmiri Boy’s ‘Oxygen Zakat’ Comes As A Breath of Fresh Air For Valley

Azhar Malik during his welfare work.

At a time when many NGOs and welfare bodies are managing the oxygen crisis in Kashmir, a Srinagar Samaritan is singlehandedly arranging oxygen concentrators to the needy whose number is surging as the second wave is becoming vicious.

AMID the barrage of calls ringing his cellphone inside his home, a jetlagged man is busy filling the backseat of an unknown car with four oxygen cylinders and dozens of PPE kits. It’s been weeks since his routine starts and ends with the same activity. The car is bound to travel towards another city hospital where three members of the same family are gasping for breath.

As soon as the tyre screeches the empty roads of Srinagar’s Shivpora area, Azhar Malik, 24, is back at his home-cum-office, attending more panic calls and jotting down the address of a distressed father, a son and a mother, all imploring to save their loved ones running short of oxygen.

Azhar’s oxygen drive started with a different kind of “struggle” when this London-returned boy’s lucrative life changed into a young man trapped by his necessity of wearing a stuffy PPE kit, a double layer of surgical masks and a face-shield, inhaling his own exhalations and dwindling outside the Intensive Care Unit of Srinagar’s Chest Disease (CD) Hospital.

His contented life made him a witness of a new journey that started on a devastating note, and continued with moments of relief and rest occurring rarely and fleetingly.

In March 2020, when the invisible enemy ambushed the lockdown-ridden community, Azhar was unaware that his role would evolve. Many gasped for their life inside the crowded wards of Kashmir and one of those helpless people nursing themselves was Azhar’s mother.

His mother was finally discharged from the CD Hospital’s Emergency unit where she fought contagion for seventeen grueling nights. By the time she came home, the trauma of disparity and helplessness had already changed her son.

“I witnessed more than a dozen deaths in one single week,” Azhar recalls his dreadful time in the hospital.

“Many of those unfortunate people didn’t have their loved ones by their side because they themselves were either fighting the virus or they had abandoned their dead. It was disturbing scenario.”

As months passed adamantly, nothing much was happening in his life except coping with anxiety. “Everyone deserves a respectful end,” Azhar says. “I wasn’t making peace with those people not having a dignified end.”

But without letting the anxiety cloud his vision for a longtime, Azhar came across a social media post—eulogising an unknown Samaritan who had been burying the Covid casualties and delivering essentials to the families devastated by the pandemic. This boosted his morale.

And as the destiny had pre-inscribed for him, Azhar soon turned his fallout phase into an overwhelming motivation that gave rise to another Kashmiri Samaritan besides NGOs, who cared for his Kashmiri “sons and daughters”, as Azhar terms his countrymen, irrespective of their age.

But unlike the previous pandemic phase, this year Azhar isn’t witnessing overwhelming calls to dig graves or arranging funerals for the dead but he’s busy attending oxygen crisis.

“The situation is far more vicious than what it looked last year,” says Azhar before attending another SOS call. “This year we’re receiving more calls from the families informing us that their millennial children have died. It feels terrible.”

But without focusing much on the distressing death data, Azhar is planning to buy new oxygen concentrators as the second wave is gradually getting lethal in the valley. “I already arranged almost 20 oxygen concentrators, some of which had been passed on to Kashmiris gasping for life in Delhi,” he informs.

Back home, whenever his phone buzzes up with a distress call in the middle of night, he delivers the required essentials on his own to the patient’s house.

“Life isn’t always about rest,” Azhar says. “These are vicious days that can only be managed if we plan to stand together. Otherwise, this would be another lost cause,” says Azhar before updating his twitter status with an emergency SOS message for Remedesivir medicine.

Amid the current unprecedented viral wave, the Samaritan had been a constant visitor to the Chest Disease hospital, searching for a life that could be saved.

“The worst cases are currently admitted in CD hospital,” he says. “I’m planning to arrange everything for a patient, if their family isn’t available or are themselves being treated for the virus.”

It was when Azhar finally came across a twitter page, SOSJK for the same cause which a few days down the line had not only saved lives but has also put a satisfaction in the young Samaritan’s heart.

“The page has been uploading the SOS calls for patients that were in emergency need of medicines or oxygen cylinders,” he says. “It was through there that I came across the overwhelming state of health infrastructure in Kashmir and decided to do more help on my own without throwing people to be dependent on the government or these hospitals.”

After saving lives with his welfare works, Azhar has now started his new initiative “Oxygen Zakat”, that allows people to donate this year’s Zakat in form of Oxygen cylinders or donations for buying the same.

“After many months of brainstorming and discussing the Zakat issue with few Muslim scholars, I’m finally ready with this initiative,” says Azhar. “And what’s the biggest Zakat than saving a precious life?”

But when Azhar was yet to provide Oxygen cylinders to the needy, there were many families in his locality that were devastated by the early outbreak of the virus and were being constantly neglected by local welfare bodies.

For the same, he started a Whatsapp group and added a few privileged people in it. “And within three days, all those families were provided enough so that their basic demands could be fulfilled,” says Azhar with a smile on his face. “Almost 5 families were benefited through that Whatsapp group.”

Besides this, he had also ferried a Covid positive patient in his car without fearing for his life. “Unfortunately she couldn’t make it as her lungs were already damaged enough,” recalls Azhar.

“Later, I transported her coffin to a cemetery in Downtown and arranged a few people for a dignified funeral as that lady had no one except a juvenile son. I believe everyone deserves a respectful end.”

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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