Love in the time of pandemic

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For 27-year-old Shahid Ahmad and his fiance Rabia, the last one month has been full of anxiety. The duo hasn’t met each other for over 35 days now. Slated to get married in July this year, the duo says that only twice in their seven-year-old relationship they haven’t been able to meet each other for this long.

The last being in 2019, when New Delhi revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s limited autonomy. Fearing protests the central government put in unprecedented curbs, including snapping all forms of communication within Kashmir and to the outside world.

“That was painful, at least today we can talk,” Ahmad said of the duo’s inability to contact each other. Landline phones were restored after a couple of weeks, however phones started buzzing again only after over two months, “We did not own a landline, and contacting her was an impossible task,” he recalls.

When he could not bear separation from his beloved anymore, he took a hard route of reaching her locality. “There was a harsh curfew around, she is from uptown, I am from Zakura. The journey to her area was risky as there were forces personnel at every metre and the distance was about 20 kilometres,” Ahmad recalled.

To get a glimpse of Rabia, he pretended to be a delivery boy. “At that time we weren’t engaged so it was not right to meet her, so I took a chance of acting as a delivery boy and entered her home. It worked, she was happy and surprised,” Ahmad said with a smile.

Owing to the region’s conservative nature, in Kashmir relationships outside marriage are frowned upon, however in the past few years couples have started to exhibit love with cafes and gardens often turning into meeting points.

With everything shut, Ahmed was left with no option but to take the dangerous route of visiting his sweetheart’s area, “She has a huge family, if they had spotted me, back then they would have killed me,” he said. However, as luck had it, the day he met Rabia at her home all the male members were not at home.

Come 2021 and Ahmad is in a similar situation. Kashmir valley has been under a lockdown for over a month now and people have largely stayed indoors as everything is shut. Lovers have found it hard to meet.

However, some like Ahmad have been creative and used different excuses to meet their partners. Among them is a couple from Srinagar outskirts that meet every morning for a walk on the picturesque Dal lake, where restrictions are often less harsh.

Sanna and Hamid like many others on the foreshore road spend their mornings watching the lake and sunrise, “A lot of couples meet here, some even exchange gifts, while at the beginning it was sort of surprising. Now it has become quite normal,” said a local Nisar Ali from Nishat. “Earlier couples would spend evening time here, now they are here as early as six in the morning.”

For Hamid and Sanna though the morning meetings have become routine and the only way to meet each other, “It would have been extremely difficult for us to meet, given there are no excuses to be made for going out. Morning walk is the easiest thing to do,” said Sanna with a smile.

During the 2019 siege, Hamid was not able to meet Sanna for months and was not lucky like Ahmed, so he instead wrote her letters, “I wrote one letter every day, sometimes two in a day, however, I was not able to send her those, so I showed her them once we met after 67 days,” Hamid said as Sanna nodded.

While couples like Sanna and Hamid have been lucky to find a way to meet each other, others living miles away from each other are finding different means to meet. One such adventurous man is Mohammad Adil from Srinagar.

Adil, who is engaged to a woman from Anantnag, took everyone by surprise when he donned a PPE kit to meet his wife-to-be. “There was a test drive going on in her village that day, she called me and said that we could meet,” Adil said. Without a second thought, he entered the test centre, a park where health care workers took samples.

Adil also posed as a health care worker to get a glimpse of his love. “It was soothing to say the least, the fifty kilometer trip on my bike was worth it. We also spoke for five minutes,” he said with a hearty laugh.

While it remains to be seen for how long the lockdown in Kashmir will continue, the fact is that lovers will find ways to meet.

Some of the names in the story have been changed to protect their identity.

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