Stranded in Valley since March due to lockdown, mother and son from Mumbai say 'Kashmiri hospitality has restored faith in humanity'
As the world is gripped by the coronavirus pandemic and people are consumed by thoughts of their safety and how to arrange for supplies, a mother and son from Mumbai stranded in Kashmir since March due to the lockdown say the hospitality of a Pulwama family has 'restored their faith in humanity.'
As the world is gripped by the coronavirus pandemic and people are consumed by thoughts of their safety and how to arrange for supplies, a mother and son from Mumbai stranded in Kashmir since March due to the lockdown say the hospitality of a Pulwama family has "restored their faith in humanity."
Javed Rashid Sheikh and his mother Khatija say that Nazir Ahmad Sheikh and his family, residents of Pampore's Patalbagh, in south Kashmir's Pulwama district, have been playing host to them over the past few weeks.
The Sheikhs, who'd intended to take in the most picturesque locations in the Valley, found themselves looking for accommodation after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call for a pan-India lockdown on 25 March.
Javed, 28, the owner of a turf ground in Mumbai, said he has visited Kashmir on several occasions and has an abiding love for the Valley. “I last visited Kashmir when I was planning to open up a ground in Chandigarh in September. Unfortunately, the Article 370 issue had Kashmir on the boil so I had to cut my visit short,” he said.
Javed, wanting to show his 59-year-old mother the beauty of the Valley, brought her here on 5 March. The plan was to spend a couple of weeks visiting the most scenic places. “We spent a couple of days at Yusmarg. Then we went to Charar-i-Sharief, one of the Valley's most famous shrines. We also went to Shalimar, one of the famous Mughal gardens, but it was closed.”
This is when Javed got the first inkling that something was wrong. The government had closed all public parks and gardens due to COVID-19. Javed and Khatija initially stayed with a friend. They were contemplating heading home when the lockdown was announced, which came as a total shock.
Javed and Khatija, with hundreds of other tourists and locals, went through coronavirus screening at Jawahar Tunnel. Thankfully, the reports came back negative. They were retested after 14 days. Those tests came back negative as well. But the problem remained.
“We had no idea what to do,” Javed said. “I didn't want to be a burden on my friend, but I had no idea where we'd go or how we'd survive. My mother was even more scared as we were far away from home.”It was while they were living at a friend's place that they got a visit from a government team.
Despite the coronavirus tests coming back negative twice, the doctors asked them to go with them for yet another test. Meanwhile, the friend who put Javed and Khatija up was being pressured to have 'the outsiders" leave.“He kept getting angry calls with people asking 'why are you doing such things?' and 'don't you think of Kashmir's well-being?' We didn't want to be a burden on anyone,” Javed reiterated.
It was when Javed and his friend were pondering their next step outside his home that they bumped into Nazir Ahmed. Nazir, whose home isn't far away from where Javed and Khatija were put up, was passing by. “Why are you so sad?” Javed remembers Nazir asking. On explaining the situation, Nazir, who works in the state's public works department, offered to put Javed and Khatija up until the crisis abated. “He said he'd be proud to have us and invited us around for food,” Javed said.
Nazir opened up his spacious two-storey home in Patalbagh for the mother and son from Mumbai. His wife is a homemaker. They have three daughters and two sons, the elder of whom is married and has a three-year-old of his own. While the family certainly was surprised by Nazir's decision, they respected it immensely.
Hilal Ahmed, Nazir's younger son, said his father cooked three special dishes for the guests that day and that the uncertainty of how things would play out went away as soon as they shared that first meal. Hilal has been sharing his room with Javed and his three sisters have been sharing living space with Khatija.
Javed is all praise for his hosts. “From giving us a place to stay to keeping our spirits up, they've done all they can. My mother has had problems with her teeth, so they've been taking her to different doctors. People like Nazir and his family really restore your faith in humanity.”
Khatija agrees wholeheartedly. “Nazir and his family have made us feel so welcome, it feels like we never left home.”
Hilal said the mother and son from Mumbai have become akin to family and that they “never felt like strangers.” Hilal said he hopes others emulate his father's example "for the sake of humanity and the almighty."
Nazir, for his part, downplays his efforts. “The Almighty bestowed on me with the opportunity to look after them,” he said.
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