A Death Knock

One after another tragedies knocked at elderly Zaiba’s door leaving her at the mercy of her neighbours for survival. Aakash Hassan meets the family whose two earning hands were devoured by cancer  

In an attempt to substantiate her story, Zaiba, 75, flips through a bundle of medical prescriptions. After scanning them carefully she tosses them aside, saying, “They are mine. I am looking for my families prescriptions.”

A long pause later, Zaiba suddenly recalls something and said, “acha (okay), I threw them all in the stream. You won’t believe it was a sack-full of reports.”

Zaiba, who lived an ordinary but happy life in Batengu village of Islamabad district till 2001, recalls how her teenager daughter’s swelled foot changed the course of their lives forever. “Lateefa complained of swelling in foot. We thought it is normal and will heal on its own,” said Zaiba. “But we were wrong.”

Next year Lateefa, then 15, was left immovable as her limbs felt weak.

Devastated, Zaiba’s husband Mohammad Subhan Bhat, a labourer, took all his savings and went to Chandigarh for Lateefa’s treatment. “Nobody could make a proper diagnosis of her condition,” said Zaiba.

While Zaiba’s husband was busy with his daughter’s treatment he ignored what his body was telling him. “He started complaining of indigestion,” recalls Zaiba. “But we took it lightly as our concern was Lateefa.”

A few months passed and Lateefa’s condition deteriorated as her body crippled from abdomen below. “She was left completely immobile,” recalls Zaiba.

While Zaiba was struggling to overcome the tragedy caused by her teenager daughter’s condition, her husband was diagnosed with cancer in his food pipe. “It was double tragedy,” said Zaiba.

With father and daughter both bed ridden, responsibility to feed the family fell on Zaiba’s son Mushtaq, a blacksmith.

“I used to accompany my husband to SKIMS for his therapy,” recalls Zaiba.

Mushtaq, then 19, was married and had a one-year-old son. “Whatever he earned was spent on the treatment of Lateefa and her father,” said Zaiba.

Four months after Zaiba’s husband was diagnosed with cancer Mushtaq began complaining of pain in his abdomen.

“While accompanying his father to SKIMS he got himself checked too,” recalls Zaiba.

Mushtaq was recommended a number of tests by the doctor. Once the results came, Mushtaq was shocked to learn that he is diagnosed with liver cancer. “It devastated us completely,” said Zaiba.

For first two weeks Mushtaq kept his ailment to himself, and went about his routine. But he couldn’t hold his aching liver for long. “Finally one day he broke down in front of me and informed about his diagnosis,” Zaiba laments.

Around same time Mushtaq’s wife Farida was expecting her second child.

“I had known cancer only as a curse not as a disease,” said Zaiba.

As time passed Zaiba’s husband’s condition worsened. “We admitted him at SKIMS. I was with him all the time,” said Zaiba.

Within a month Zaiba’s husband breathed his last. “He was gone leaving behind an ailing son and daughter,” said Zaiba.

After her husband’s death Zaiba’s started visiting SKIMS with her son Mushtaq for his chemotherapy.

One day when Zaiba was accompanying Mushtaq to the hospital she was asked by the doctors to get some medicines quickly. “As I rushed out I slipped down the stairs and got injured,” said Zaiba.

The injury to her lips was so severe that doctors had to operate her in emergency.

As Zaiba recovered Mushtaq’s condition deteriorated. Within a week Mushtaq succumbed. “He too was gone like his father,” said Zaiba.

A few days before Mushtaq died his wife gave birth to her second child. Given their financial condition both the funerals were managed by Zaiba’s neighbours and relatives.

“The family was devastated completely,” said Shami Ahmad, Zaiba’s neighbour. “It shocked entire village. We contributed to help the family.”

Devastated, Zaiba suffered a number of health issues post her son’s death. She had to go through at least three surgeries. “My gallbladder was removed,” said Zaiba.

Four years after her husband’s death Mushtaq’s widow, Farida married anew and left her two kids with Zaiba.

“What was I supposed to do?” asks Zaiba, “I got them registered with a local orphanage.”

Both the kids are currently studying in a school run by the orphanage. “I am worried about their future.”

Zaiba’s daughter Lateefa is completely crippled as her lower body is lifeless. After efforts from her neighbours Lateefa was carried outside the house and helped to sit at the veranda.

“I saw something other than my small room after months,” said Lateefa.

Looking blankly at a trial of trees in the distance, Lateefa doesn’t want to be a burden on her frail mother. “With a little financial help I can resume weaving shawals,” said Lateefa with a hope in her voice.

During initial days of her ailment Lateefa used walking sticks to move around.

 “It was then I learned to weave shawls and help me earn a few rupees,” said Lateefa.

However in last few years Lateefa’s condition worsened and she got confined to her small room. “I wish someone helps me so that I can work again and help my mother.”

Zaiba’s source of income is Rs 500 she receives monthly from the Social Welfare Department; rest is being managed by her neighbours.

Zaiba and her daughter Lateefa live in a flood devastated two room mud house and a few essentials and lots of medical prescriptions. “I am suffering from diabetes since last few years. It cost me around Rs 600 for its medication per month.”

Over the years Zaiba was approached by a number of NGOs, but nobody helped her financially, she claims. “They would just bring a few essentials and that is all,” said Zaiba. “I wish my daughter has some work. I am tired of seeking help from others.”

Both Zaiba and her daughter are unsure about their future as survival becomes difficult.

“What can be worse than what I have witnessed,” with grim smile Zaiba utters. “Graveyard has still some space.”


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