‘It Doesn’t Feel Like Home’: Nostalgia, Nightmare in Kashmir Orphanage

Orphans in Kashmir crave and cry for home in silence while following a captive routine in orphanages they likened with some pokey places.

By Tabia Masoodi, Al Misda Masoom

LIFE inside an orphanage is an emotional roller-coaster—“always testing the tested”—Musaib says without blinking an eye.

The orphan yet to observe his 18th birthday narrates his nightmare that comes to haunt his stay in the house of orphans.

The nightmare starts with an Azaan that suddenly turns into a resounding scream. A siren-wailing ambulance can be heard next in that dusk hour. It unsettles Musaib who leaves his prayers and embraces his mother tightly.

His mother Fozia quickly folds the praying mat, mumbles prayers for everyone’s safety and runs downstairs to make sense of screaming. Musaib follows her like a scared kitten. He then wakes up to an awful reality.

He sees himself in a strange shelter bereft of his mother’s comforting presence. He gets up and prays in the masjid of the orphanage, he now lives in.

The nightmare has been haunting ever since his father’s death in a road accident landed him in an orphanage.

After offering prayers and completing his meals at Iftar, Musaib came back to his room and sat in a corner to study. But his melancholic mood couldn’t let him concentrate. He was continuously drifting back and forth into the past. After trying for a few more minutes to concentrate on his studies, he gave up and left the room for an evening walk.

Strolling in the orphanage courtyard, he wished that he could go out on the street to feel a little freedom but the rules won’t let him. Frustrated by this thought he kicked a little stone and wiped off his tears and came back to his room. But the flashbacks did not leave him.

“I’ve an episodic memory of that incident,” Musaib said. “Even though it was 14 years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. How my father was carried out of the ambulance and how his body was fully bandaged. When I saw him I asked my aunt what happened to him. Why was he sleeping? And she said he’s a little sick and he has to go somewhere for treatment. I was really calm at that time because I was unaware of the fact that life ends, that there is something called death. I did not realise that my father had died and my life’s changed forever.”

Musaib came to an orphanage in Srinagar when he was in Class 5. And now when he’s in his 12th standard, he’s still there—following the same old routine.

Before becoming orphan, he used to study at his father’s academy. But after his death, Musaib was enrolled in an orphanage in Kishtwar but couldn’t make peace there because of homesickness.

“I used to make excuses that they don’t teach well there. So, my mother withdrew me from there and enrolled me in this city orphanage,” the fatherless boy says. “Even here I was not able to settle well and tried to make excuses but then I realised that it is not right. My mother sacrificed her life for me and my siblings. I need to do something good.”

Despite living in the orphanage for the past seven years, the place still doesn’t feel like home for him. “I want to go home and be with my family. On occasions like Ramazan, I become homesick.”

Musaib’s Ramazan for many years has been set on the same timetable. From waking up for sehri to forming a long queue for iftar everything needs to be done accordingly.

The boy spends his Sundays washing clothes and cleaning his dorm. “I always have this thought that if I was at home my mother would have taken care of all these chores,” he said. “Of course, I would’ve helped her but you know that feeling of someone doing things for you. It’s missing here. It’s Sunday and most children of my age would be out there enjoying, playing and shopping but I’m not even allowed to leave this place. I’m not complaining. People here are good. But these thoughts cloud my mind and bother me sometimes.”

Deep in thought, Musaib started to hang his clothes on the rope. Wringing off a cloth a few droplets splashed over his face, disrupting his trail of thoughts and he snapped back to reality.

“We usually play after Asar but today most of us slept and couldn't play,” he said. “It sometimes feels like a jail. I know all the rules are for our betterment. But because of this feeling of being trapped, I feel anxious and depressed sometimes. But then I remind myself of the goals and dreams I have to achieve. What other option do I have? I used to go to the top floor to look outside. The sound of cars and buses calmed me. But now the construction of new buildings blocked my only source of relief at those moments of melancholy.”

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