A filmmaker from Pune and his two companions, who were stranded in Jammu and Kashmir when the lockdown was announced in March, have been saved by the union territory’s famous culture of hospitality. The trio is being cared for by the family of a schoolteacher with whom they had initially planned to stay for only a week during their travel.
“It is our khushkismati (good fortune) that we got an opportunity to look after the three travellers from Maharashtra. They are not a burden on us but a part of our home. I have two children but, now, my wife and I say that we have five,” says Nazim Malik, who teaches Urdu in Bhadarwah, which is in J&K’s Doda district.
Speaking over the phone from their home, filmmaker Nachiket Guttikar says that he was on a project to shoot educators such as Malik. He and his crew, comprising Shamin Kulkarni and Ninad Datar, had arrived on March 15 and were to catch the plane back home on March 25. “With the lockdown, all plans came to a standstill. No transport was available and hotels were closed. There was no news of what would happen to people stuck outside their state,” says Guttikar, who has been visiting Jammu and Kashmir since 2011.
Just as they began to panic, Malik’s family took over. “My wife Nazma, and I understood that the men were deeply worried. I also felt that their parents and family members would be worrying for them. It is a great misfortune that a dreaded disease is holding the world in its grip but we had to make sure that, not for a moment, should our guests feel unsafe or despair,” says Malik. The gesture is especially significant against the backdrop of hundreds of families, students and workers being stranded away from home, without food or security, during the lockdown.
When the administration took the three to a hospital for tests and quarantined them for 14 days, Malik and his wife didn’t only keep up a supply of delicious home-cooked food, they also sent their son to live with the three men in the ward throughout the quarantine. “Nazma insisted that our son go with them. The families of our guests would panic if they heard that they were in quarantine but, if they knew that our bachcha was also with their sons, they would be relived,” says Malik.
His friends warned Malik that COVID-19 had no cure and that he was exposing his child to danger. “But, aren’t the healthcare workers also our children? We were also concerned about the well-being of the three men in our care,” he says.
The three Pune residents and the Malik family have developed a bond that, both say, will last a lifetime. The men try to help in the kitchen though Nazma is the one who cooks and Malik shops for groceries. In the field outside the house, they play cricket and spend the evenings with ludo and conversations. “I do not have words to describe the experience. Even when we were in hospital, random people would invite us to stay with them during the lockdown. People gave us their phone numbers and said our parents could call on these if they were unable to contact us. Nazim and Nazma have become our brother and sister-in-law. We have not experienced anything like this ever and are sure we will never see anything like this ever again,” says Guttikar.
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