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Rediscovering The Neighbour

As the contagion finally started its spread to the Kashmir periphery, the affected population has started reviving and re-understanding the traditional support structure within their own ecosystem that had compromised over the years, Umar Mukhtar, Farzana Nissar and Samreena Nazir reports

Women of a particular neighbourhood using a clay oven (Tandoor) to prepare the bread for the meal.

Ishfaq Ahmad, 35, a shopkeeper of Ratnipora Pulwama used to follow Standard Operating Procedure and Covid19 protocols to ensure his safety. By late April, one day, he woke up to body aches and high body temperature. Sensing something was wrong in such times, he quickly went for a Covid test.

To his bad luck, he was positive. He had no idea where he contracted the virus. He called his home and asked them to not touch any of his things, citing his results.

Once home, in self-isolation, Ahmad stayed away from his elderly parents, wife and sister. In the following few days, some other family members began to show mild symptoms. They all tested positive.

“We all were in separate rooms,” he said.  Now the real crisis began. There was no one to cook and wash. “Unlike Srinagar, there are no home delivery services available in rural areas.  There is no one to deliver  medicines other essential items.”

This is the main Srinagar city called the downtown where congested housing is the norm. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

However, neighbours came to their rescue.

Every morning they dropped four hot water bottles, bread and milk on the outer fence of the house. They also cooked meals for them at home and delivered them on disposable plates.

“Moreover, whatever I need, medicines or anything else I just have to make a call”, said Ahmad. “I had read a lot of reports where I had seen families and individuals were left on their own and no one came to their help. I am thankful to my neighbours who stood by our side at this crucial juncture”

At Hospital Gate

At village Srandoo, 3-km from main town Kulgam lives the family of Barkat Ali Bhat, a contractor.  He is under home quarantine since May 1. Prior to this, Barkat Ali’s mother, who is suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), was admitted to JVC Hospital Bemina for eight days. After returning home, Barkat, who accompanied his mother at the hospital, felt hot and sweaty.  But the symptoms worsened and he, along with other family members got a rapid antigen test done, and the tests came out to be positive.

Following days were not easy for the family. Srandoo was soon declared as a micro containment zone by the district administration.

“Fortunately my aged mother tested negative and was shifted to a relative’s home,” Barkat said. “Unlike Srinagar and its peripheries, there is hardly any NGO working on ground during this pandemic. I had already arranged an oxygen concentrator for my ailing mother from a religious organisation in Anantnag, otherwise, it wouldn’t have been possible in this crisis”.

Although living few meters away from Primary Health Centre Srandoo, Barkat claims that he has received no medical help so far. “We were left to Allah’s mercy. No one from the administration or hospital staff visited us to provide medicines or other basic necessities,” he said. “We are bound to stay indoors, but in absence of any external help, is this possible?”

Food Key Concern

Cooking food is another biggest challenge faced by home quarantined Covid-19 positive families. In parts of central Kashmir, volunteers have come forward to help the distressed with food and other amenities, but these home delivery services are not available for people living in rural areas.

The last few days have been disturbing for the banker Abrar Ahmad and his family at Janglat Mandi Mohalla in Anantnag.

After Abrar tested positive, other members contracted the infection and developed moderate symptoms and were advised by quick quarantine. His wife, a dentist by profession and two-year-old daughter tested negative and were sent to her maternal home in Jammu.

“My sister and mother have intense body pain, so my father used to cook for us. But now he has also started to experience some symptoms. I am worried what are we going to do now,” Abrar said. “Good nutrition is critical for Covid19 patient’s health but for families who don’t have anyone to cook, maintaining a healthy diet is very difficult.”

The Neighbour

For some similarly fated families, good neighbours have proven to be a great support. Bilques Jan (name changed) from a village in Kulgam is all praise for her neighbours who tried every possible way to help her during the quarantine. Bilques along with her husband and two kids had tested positive for Covid19 with mild symptoms and were under home quarantine for a fortnight.

“I could cook myself but we couldn’t leave the house to buy the items required. My neighbours used to call us after every hour and ask if we need anything,” Bilques said. “They even used to buy us essentials like milk, meat, roti etc. I am grateful to them.”

Stigma Returns

In many cases it was observed that fearing judgment by society, a lot of people are reluctant to share the Covid19 test results. Jimmy Bhat, a Covid19 patient from Anantnag, admitted that stigma is attached to the infection. “People think that the virus is a disgrace to them, so they start hiding their diagnosis,” Jimmy said. “Not only uneducated ones, but I have also seen many literate people concealing their test results.”

Ariel view of Srinagar city during the lockdown in view of corona virus on Saturday 4 April 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

At Reshipora village of Kulgam, Ghulam Rasool’s family is in a state of mourning after losing their female head to the virus. Many members of his extended family had tested positive and were hospitalized. However, except his wife, everyone else recovered. Normally, Mohalla Committees in Kashmir serve the grief-stricken families and their visitors for three days, but owing to the virus Ghulam’s family had to cook themselves.

“Although people did not visit us, the immediate family members and close relatives were present. We decided to serve them in disposable plates and glasses,” Ghulam’s son said.

Two Friends

Majida and Suhani’s bond is another instance of how Covid hit families manage the quarantine time.

For a week, Suhani wakes up with Majida’s call who tells her how many breads she has to buy for the family has been quarantined for the past week. Suhani, who is Majidas best friend as well as a classmate walks on crutches. But she religiously tries her best to fulfil every requirement of her friend’s family.

Majidas family, however, was abandoned by everyone around because her brother who works at a bank is said to have carried the Covid19 into the locality. A day after testing positive for Covid19, they were denied milk by the neighbours where they used to buy it for many years.

Noisy Nights

It has been more than a month since the vibrating sound of an electricity generator has become a part of life for the Andrabi family of Panzath village in Qazigund. The head of the family, Ghulam Mohidin Andrabi, 90, has been put on oxygen.

In the last week of March, Andrabi while planting some ornamental seedlings with his gardener felt a strange body ache and back pain. Since Andrabi is aged and had been standing there for hours it looked like fatigue. But during the night when Andrabi suddenly complained of breathlessness, the whole family panicked and rushed him to the hospital. His oxygen level had fallen very low and doctors suggested the oxygen concentrator to the family.

The following day, the family arranged an oxygen concentrator and a generator to make the concentrator work without any fluctuation. After a few days, the family heard of a testing camp in a school of a nearby village and took Andrabi there for a Covid test. Meanwhile, the whole family experienced severe symptoms like severe cough, exhaustion and difficulty in breathing. After two days, when someone was sent to collect the report, he was told that his sample is missing.

Among all the family members, Andrabi’s daughter in law, Syed Rihana was the worst hit.  This created the problem as there was no one to manage the domestic work for the family.

The following day when Andrabi’s daughter who had come to see her father tested positive along with her whole family, this made the family go for RT-PCR. The whole family tested positive except for Andrabi himself who didn’t test as he couldn’t move out of his home. The youngest son of the family, Haider, 21, put a handwritten note on the gate, which read Home Quarantine Please Maintain Distance.

“We had to suffer for almost 11 days when getting cooked food was a challenge but every day someone among us would get a call from our relatives or neighbours asking us to collect the food at the door.

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