‘Mujhe ghar bhejo’: In rising Delhi heat, homesick Kashmiris holed-up in tiny flats plead for evacuation

A collage of rooms, flats in Delhi Kashmiris quoted in the story live in, along with an anxious selfie of a stranded Kashmiri (Photos arranged by KM)

Srinagar: “F*** this place, I want to go home,” blurted Sibtain Haider, a producer with Entrepreneur Magazine on how was he putting up in his one-room apartment in India’s capital city during the current lockdown.

Sibtain, 25, started his job around six months ago. Known among his Kashmiri friends as a creative but lazy character, Sibtain knew media and entertainment industry was the only place where he could fully use his ingenuity and skills with the camera.

But since the coronavirus lockdown, this Srinagar born lad feels “frustrated and jailed.”

“I have lost track of time, I have to check what day it is. My sleep schedule is all disturbed,” says Sibtain who currently puts up in a small 1 bedroom-kitchen apartment in Jamia Nagar area of New Delhi.

The magazine that he works for has halted publication during the lockdown which was extended till May 3 on Tuesday.

As his two Kashmiri flatmates left for their homes in the nick of time before the lockdown was first put in place last month, Sibtain called over his friend from Mumbai to stay with him as he did not want to be alone.

Once in a day, he says, he goes out to fetch milk and vegetables.

“My father is very angry with me for not leaving for Kashmir in time. I have stopped watching news because it increases my anxiety,” he said pleading “mujhe ghar bhejo, ye job to fir se aayegi (Send me home, job can wait).”

Around 34 kilometres away from Sibtain lives Sheikh Irshad in Dwarka. A 36-year-old sales consultant with a multi-national company based out of Gurugram, Irshad originally hails from Jawahar Nagar area of Srinagar.

His current home though is a small Low Income Group (LIG) DDA flat with a hall, kitchen, and a bathroom all scrambled in around 12×15 space.

Irshad has been living in the flat for around three years now. He doesn’t have an AC but he had never felt the need for owning one.

“My office cab used to pick and drop me home. Workplace was posh and centrally air-conditioned with good, fresh food available 24×7. Now I’m stuck in this jail of a room 24 hours a day,” says Irshad, whose company has provided him the logistics to work from home.

Until last month, Irshad was among the best performing employees at his workplace.

But now, he says, his focus on work and daily life has drastically changed.

“While work from home is an option, it is an uncomfortable one for me. Imagine I’m on a client call, scratching my body because the damn mosquitoes and the heat are literally drawing me crazy,” he said.

The room Irshad sleeps, eats, and works is roughly 6X12 feet. Irshad’s staple diet these days are pulses and rice.

“I cannot move out. I am in a cage. Main tang aagaya hun (I am sick of it now), I want to go home,” he said.

As mercury has started soaring in Delhi, the ceiling fan in Irshad’s room remains on day and night.

“I was okay until I was going to office, all focused on my work. Never bothered by the heat. But this lockdown has really changed everything,” he says.

Before coronavirus flipped the world, Irshad was planning to take a long leave for his marriage, which was on the cards in July 2020.

“Now, all of it seems impossible,” he says.

While Irshad and Sibtain are examples of thousands of anxious working Kashmiris in Delhi, there are those who are stuck in the capital just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Dr Burhan Hameed, 24, who accompanied his uncle for some medical treatment last month, is one of them.

This young doctor was supposed to join SK Institute of Medical Sciences in Soura, Srinagar as a Junior Resident by April 20.

But far away from home, stuck in a rented apartment in Rohini area of north-west Delhi, Dr Hameed is at his wit’s end.

“Like many Kashmiris here, I too am desperate to reach home. Some of us are ready to be quarantined in Kashmir if that is what is needed. All we want is to get out of this place. It is not just the lockdown. The heat and living conditions are making it very difficult for us,” he says.

Dr Hameed is also concerned about him further extending his joining at SKIMS considering all air and road traffic is suspended till May 3.

“I had my ticket booked for Kashmir for April 15,” he said.

Divisional Commissioner Kashmir PK Pole clearly stated that it was not possible to bring back stranded Kashmiris for now and they all should stay where they are.

 “Then we have to evacuate non-locals in Kashmir as well. It will be fraught with risk. I request people to stay safe wherever they are. If any assistance is needed, they can call our Helpline Numbers (24611210, 24611108, 24615475),” he said.

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About the Author

A journalist by chance with over five years of experience in reporting, editing, and bucketing local, national and international content for my current organization. I have covered education, health, politics, and human rights. I like working for a daily, though I occasionally try my pen in long-form to connect personal narratives with history.

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