HOW IRFAN LOST HIS EYE
It is a humid afternoon, he emerges out from a group of young men huddled near the local provision store in the interior lanes of Zakura, turns right across the store, comes out on to his house and walks to the door, listlessly. He has on a shirt of some light material with collar hanging loosely; blue colored jeans and trodden-down slippers. He wears his hair cut short, has a medium height, slender body. His face wears no expression though. It has a sickly pale color. Given the kind of boyish appearance he has, he scarcely looks at the passersby. He hides the glint in his brown eyes behind a pair of mirrored shades. This might give you the idea of someone obsessed with fads. However, the reason is quite the contrary. Behind those dark glasses a poignant story screams to be told, the harrowing experience that has left him completely disturbed. Even those who undergo a traumatic phase in their life can efface the memory of the bad times after a certain period of time. But this young lad can never obliterate the memory of what has occurred to him at such a young age. Unlike those for whom life takes a new course with the sparkling rays of the morning sun, it would always remind him of the incompleteness of his situation.
Irfan Ahmad Sheikh is a 16-year-old boy who lost sight in his left eye after being hit in the eye bulb by a tear gas pellet in the clashes that erupted in response to the gutting down of the Shrine of Ghaus-al-Azzam at Khanyar on June 25, 2012. The incident has changed the entire course of his life. It broke out like an ill wind that blows nobody any good.
Strange though it may sound, Irfan was neither a part of the protests that shook the whole of Kashmir nor did he belong to that area. Irfan, who works as a Salesman in a Courier Service, on the fateful day, as usual left home, hurried to the bus stop and leaped into a bus to Batamaloo. Things were coming along fine for miles together. But the moment it reached Dharamsala, the passengers were suddenly asked to get off the bus. “I left home for work at around 8 o’ clock in the morning. And as usual boarded a bus to Batamaloo. But as we reached Dharamsala, the bus driver asked us to get off as the shrine at Khanyar had been set ablaze and the traffic movement along the route had been stopped,” says Irfan. Since all the oncoming traffic had been restricted, Irfan decided to walk down the road with the hope that he might catch a bus at Nowhatta. However, the streets at Nowhatta had all worn a deserted look. Fearing the worst, he quickly turned towards Rangar Stop, the last alternative route left with him from where he could get a bus. “When I saw the empty streets of Nowhatta, I backed away and turned towards Rangar Stop to catch the bus.” As he reached the spot, fires began to surround the air from nowhere. He was caught in a cleft stick. Nonplussed, he took shelter inside a lane at Dastageer Sahab Chowk. In some minutes the streets were calm again. At this moment Irfan considered it quite a safe decision to wend his way out of the lane. He might have hardly taken one step out of the lane that the silence broke into a huge roar and covered everything. Something hit him in the eye. He at once raised his hands to the eye, to ease the blinding pain. It usually happens when you’re hit by something, you place your hand on the area where the hurt has been done as if it were a soothing cover. His hands were all but soaked in blood and his vision had also begun to blur.
On the other hand, suspecting him of the wild protesting mob, two policemen from the crowd ran to Irfan and beat him about the ribs, according to the eye witnesses. One ran each side. Blood was oozing at the corners of his mouth, and from his nose. They made him roll down the street, but he didn’t utter a groan. Soon he fell unconscious. “All I know is that something hit me in the eye, some boots rolled me down the street with their kicks, and I lost my conscious,” says Irfan in an expressionless tone, as if all his strength were gone. He was carried along the street as though he were a log. The people looking at him were only shaking heads in disapproval when some young lads from the crowd ran to him. They tore Irfan’s body from the hands of the policemen and carried him out of the crowd, screaming. They received blows, sank back, but resisted. The young boys then carried him to the nearby hospital for immediate medical aid.
Manzoor Ahmad Sheikh, his father who had gone to a local court to settle some work was called upon by the same boys to reach the hospital. Little did he know that he had to batten down the hatches. “I got a call from some young lad asking me to reach the hospital,” says Manzoor Ahmad. His mother, Farida, who was busy with household things, also heard her phone ringing. As she held the mobile phone in her hand, she saw Irfan’s number blinking on the display. The call was made by the young boys who had taken Irfan to hospital. Fearing that she might fall into hysterics, she was told that Irfan had received some minor injury in his leg. “When Irfan’s number buzzed on the phone, I screamed his name repeatedly but it wasn’t him. I couldn’t recognize the voice which asked me to reach JLNM hospital to see my son who had been injured in the leg,” says his mother.
Accompanied by her sister-in-law, the helpless mother rushed to the hospital which was already brimmed to the door with those injured in the clashes. It was because of the rush, it took her a long time to know the whereabouts of his son who had been shifted to SMHS and much longer to make her way out of the hospital. “Due to the heavy rush of the people in the hospital, I had to wait for a long time to seek the whereabouts of my son who I was told had been referred to SMHS.” As she stepped out of the premises, she received a call from the same voice directing her to reach to the main road of Rainawari as soon as she could. Eventually she met the young lads there who had saved the life of her only son out of the jaws of death. Thereupon she was informed that Irfan had been taken to SMHS. Since buses weren’t allowed to wheel along the route, the boys stopped a private vehicle, made the chauffer understand the circumstances who then agreed to take Irfan’s mother and aunt to the hospital. “I can’t thank them enough. Had those boys not come to the rescue of my child, God knows what would have happened.”
As Farida, accompanied by her sister-in-law made her entrance into the hospital, she met Irfan and his father near the exit door. The doctors after having examined him made a diagnosis that he had a penetrating injury and referred him to the Department of Neurosurgery, SKIMS, Soura from where he was shifted to Medical College Hospital, Bemina later on that day. “Soon after I received a call from the boys, I rushed to the hospital where I was asked to refer my son to SKIMS, Soura,” says Manzoor Ahmad. The doctors at the Department of Neurosurgery, Soura before having him referred to Medical College Hospital, Bemina for evisceration put in his report card that a tear gas shell had hit his left eye, the lateral wall of maxillary sinus, resulting in the hemorrhage of the left eye globe. However, due to the non availability of senior specialist doctors at the Medical College Hospital, Bemina and also because it would have taken them a great deal of time to operate, they put off the surgery for the next day. The following day Irfan underwent six hours of surgery at the Medical College Hospital, Bemina from 12 in the noon till 6 in the evening.
When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions. On day fourth day at the hospital at around 2 o’ clock when Manzoor Ahmad and his wife, Farida went downstairs to have something to eat, her leg got stuck in the iron railings that had been put up on the open drains to avoid anything untoward. As the news spread within the precincts of the hospital, a swarm of people gathered around for help. And it was after an hour and a half that the railings were cut leaving her badly injured. She had a narrow escape nonetheless. While on the other hand, at their home in Zakura, the eldest sister of Irfan suffered injuries in her leg when a boiling tea container fell from her hands.
Swollen face with difficulty opening mouth, Irfan had to spend 12 days in the hospital. And the medical bills came at a cost of roughly 30 thousand rupees which his father, Manzoor Ahmad Sheikh, being in difficulties, borrowed from different people.
Irfan Ahmad Sheikh, 16, is the youngest child of his parents. Irfan has been a real fun guy who would always wear a smile on his lips. “He has a great sense of fun. He would make the people stand on their toes at every wedding party of which he is a part,” says one of this neighbors. His has two elder sisters, Nusrat and Ishrat. His father, Manzoor Ahmad Sheikh, works as a helper in a private company while his mother, Farida spends her time at home. Irfan passed his matriculation in 2010 from a nearby school, Albert Educational Institute. Later, in 2011 he took up arts as his subjects and sought admission in Government Boys Higher Secondary School, Soura as a regular student. But when he rose to class 12, he chose to continue his studies as a private student. “Shifting from regular to private mode was my own decision. I didn’t want to study as a regular student,” in a tone of despair, not wanting to further expound the statement. When choosing to study as a regular student was purely his own decision, then why did he have to work as a Salesman in the Courier and Delivery Service? It was one of those days when he would spend the day faffing about in his room, his mother insisted him to find himself some job to help supplement his father’s meager income. His father had earlier asked for a loan of rupees 4 lakh from two different banks, two lakhs from each bank for the renovation of the one storey house they live in. The bank would deduct the monthly installments from his salary. “It was me who insisted him to help his father who had to pay off the huge amount of loan,” sobs the mother in distress. In the present inflated market where families complaint of expenses coming to more than income, how difficult might it be for Manzoor Ahmad Sheikh to get along those wages.