Srinagar: It is a rare Eid for Syed Mushtaq Hussain, away from his home. Every Eid the 56-year-0ld shawl maker would return home, eager to have home-cooked food after long sales trips to other states in the country. This Eid, his 20-year-old daughter had prepared chicken tikka, he said.
Instead of enjoying the company of his family and the homemade delicacies, Mr. Hussain said he had just eaten premixed rice and pulses from tinfoil. It did not taste great but this wasn’t why Eid was bland, he said. “The beauty of any festival is in celebrating with the family, [spending time with] wife and children is the fun part,” said Mr. Hussain. “I’m really sad now.”
Mr. Hussain is among the 32,000 Kashmiris who have returned to Kashmir following the easing out of the lockdown; and who are currently in quarantine, one of the measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Mr. Hussain began his arduous journey back to Jammu and Kashmir on 18 May in a special passenger train initiated by the central government—after massive criticism of the crisis that had unfolded after the lockdown—to send home migrants stranded in different cities across the country.
When the Modi government had locked down India on a mere four-hour notice on 24 March, Mr. Hussain was in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad city, stuck in his rented room. He had lost all hope as travel had been banned, until an order from the Ministry of Home Affairs on 29 April allowing interstate movement of stranded passengers. “I felt we were facilitated to celebrate Eid with family,” he recalled.
However, Mr. Hussain is still in quarantine in a hotel in Srinagar’s upscale Rajbagh area. “My children were praying for [my return]. They hoped for a miracle,” said Mr. Hussain. “Now, my daughters have also given up hope.”
On 23 May, the Governor-administration in J-K had ordered to mandatorily quarantine all passengers for a 14-day period. Mr. Hussain said that had he known this before, he “would have stayed in Ahmedabad’ instead. “If I cannot celebrate Eid at home, why would I come in the lockdown?”, he said.
Besides being away from home on this important festival, Mr. Hussain lamented not having the option to take a bath. “Nevermind new clothes [for Eid],” he said. “We don’t even have hot water here [in the quarantine facility].”
The lockdown in the Kashmir Valley was tightened ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid, without much official communication.
While Mr. Hussain seems to have accepted his fate, 23-year-old Gafira Qadir has not. After spending “two difficult months” under lockdown in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, where she had gone for an internship, she boarded the train to Jammu “hoping to spend Eid with family at home”.
She was among the batch of fifty-six travellers lodged at the Zakura Boys Hostel of the University of Kashmir in Srinagar’s outskirts, currently designated as a quarantine facility, since 17 May. This would be her first “sad Eid”, she told The Kashmir Walla over the phone.
Ms. Qadir said that she would have made peace with this if it was not for the forty-nine people, from the batch, who had tested negative and were sent home. Ten days after her samples were taken, on 16 May, in Jammu to test for the COVID-19 test, the results are yet to come.
She is content at going back home and a few other people quarantined with her also reached out to the district administration with the issues. Srinagar’s District Magistrate, Shahid Choudhary, had replied in a tweet that owing to the pandemic, neither Ramzan—when Muslims observe a month-long fast from dawn till dusk—nor the subsequent festival of Eid celebrated to mark the month’s end would be “normal”. “Please exert no pressure for sending quarantined home without reports,” he tweeted. “It’s not a normal life.”
She said her mother panicked on their last phone call. “I would be at peace if you were at home,” she recalled her mother having told her. “This is Eid, but it does not feel like that anymore.”
However, without the results Ms. Qadir can’t leave the quarantine facility. “This facility is like a jail,” she said. “I feel like living in a morgue-room: it is small, or maybe that’s how life is like right now.” But this did not mean she would miss out on receiving eidyan–money given by elders as a token of blessings. “I’ll give them my account number,” she said, laughing. “At least I deserve that much.”
Meanwhile Mr. Hussain still has to wait to gift his daughter an iPad that she had been patiently waiting for. “I just wanted to send this gift somehow,” he said. “Even if I stay trapped this Eid here, the gift could have reach her. [But] that wasn’t possible because we had no transport facility.”
This Eid in Kashmir reflects the dystopia of our times. Mosques and markets have remained shut. Meetings are rare, giving a hug to greet someone seems risky. Although lockdowns are not new to Kashmir—this is the second Eid under a lockdown—the coronavirus pandemic has turned the world upside, taluk peth as it would be said in Kashir.