Nadira Ajaz walked from Fateh Kadal in Srinagar old town to the Deputy Commissioner’s (DC) office to try and make two phone calls — one to her son in Riyadh and another to her daughter in Delhi. She was driven to tears with worry — she had not spoken to her children since the communication lines went down.
At the DC’s office, an employee was sitting on the small front lawn, with a working cellphone and a register. In the notebook he had more than 175 names of people who wanted to use the phone. But, with more calls coming in than going out, only 23 people had been able to make phone calls.
Upstairs, there were two working phones — one helpline and an employees’ phone that had also become a helpline. The rooms were crowded with people trying to contact their family members, children, parents on Haj.
The cellphone of Sajid Bhat, the employee, rang continuously. He said the office was handling 500-600 calls a day, and despite starting at 8 am, they were in office till 12.30 am, making and receiving calls on behalf of others. “My phone rang till 2.30 am. People were calling from abroad, trying to find a way to reach their relatives,” he said.
Another employee in the office, Junaid, said, “People are desperate to reach someone. They walk here from different parts of the city since these are the only two numbers working in the district. It is difficult.”
Officials had publicised the numbers through radio and television, hence the continuous incoming calls. Most of them were from students asking if they could come home, the employees said.
Runiya Amin walked an hour and a half to the DC’s office to speak to her son in Chandigarh. The queue moved slowly as men and women had to take turns to make calls. Each person was allowed to talk for 40-50 seconds, “just to let them know that we are alright and we have supplies,” she said.
Seeing the queue, some people left, deciding to try their luck the next day. However, getting to the DC’s office was not easy. Vishal brought his mother on his Scooty to call his sister in Delhi. “They had said on the radio they would not not stop people going to the DC’s office. But we were stopped at so many places,”
The crowd grew as the day progressed, with men and women walking in from all parts of the city. “Eid is in a couple days, I wish they would allow us to use our phones that day. Do you think that will happen?” they asked each other.
DC Shahid Iqbal Choudhary was not in his office.