By Umar Mushtaq

BUDGAM: Last month in February, Mohammad Shafi Yatoo, in his mid 40s, bought for himself a prosthetic leg at a price of 3 lakh rupees. The money came from selling the gold ornaments of his wife and selling his cattle, which was his source of earning. Eight months ago, Shafi lost his right leg when police fired pellets at him in his hometown Nagum in Chadoora area of Budgam district, some 15 kilometers from Srinagar city. He says he was coming back home from the fields, but the police mistook him as a protester and shot pellets at him.

“I don’t blame them,” he told Kashmir Reader at his home. “It was my fate. There were hundreds of protesters on the road that day and though I was not among them, I was shot at. Yet I am thankful to Almighty that I am not dead.”

The prosthetic leg has not helped much. Each day he prepares himself for the arduous task of learning to walk on the artificial leg. He takes a quick tentative step, supporting himself with a stick. Soon he becomes breathless and wants to give up the effort. But the sight of his wife, children and parents gives him the strength to walk a few more steps. Then he comes to a halt, his face flush with pain. Slowly he lowers himself to the ground, groaning as he does so. “This is now becoming part of my life: this pain and disgrace,” he rues.

Until this year, he was living in one room with his wife and three children. Now his parents have brought the family to their house, where five other families also live. His mother, Zeba Begum, said, “It was disheartening for us to see him living in that small room after he lost his leg. We’re old and have no strength left in our bodies to help him. If we were young and strong, we would have rolled up our sleeves to go out for work to support him and his family.” She sighed as she looked at her son. “All we can give him now is our love and blessings,” she said.

Shafi was making a living by rearing cattle and selling them. He left studies at an early age. Now he has sold his herd, and depends upon the generosity of relatives to feed his family. “Now I am useless and a burden on them,” he lamented.

Shafi has two daughters and a son, all below the age of fourteen. “Without them, I would have given up,” he said.

His wife, Dilshada, is putting all her strength into raising her children and helping her husband. She is quiet and occupied in work all the time.

Though Shafi is now living in a large and decent house, it also makes him feel dependent. He tries to appear cheerful, he tries to be talkative, but it is evident from his discomfort and pale face that there is a great melancholy in his heart.

He says he has no idea what he will do with his life. “But one thing is certain: that the coming days will be much harder for me and my family,” he said.

After a contemplative pause, he said: “Yet there is always hope. It is the foundation of our survival.”

The prosthetic leg that Shafi uses has several disadvantages as compared to the one used by athletes. His prosthetic leg is too heavy and he has to exert himself a lot to walk on it. Even a tremble can bring him to the ground, damaging the leg. “I cannot afford to buy a better prosthetic leg than this, as that costs more than seven lakh rupees,” he said. “I said to myself: let it be. I can manage with this leg.”

Shafi has to visit a doctor every day in Srinagar for sessions of exercise. As he cannot travel in a bus, he has to hire a cab for 500 rupees for each visit. “Doctors told me to rent a room in the city to save money. But I thought of my children. I cannot live without them and they cannot live without me,” he said.

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