The most popular and dedicated volunteer at SMHS says he used to fall ill at the sight of a funeral just a few months ago
SRINAGAR: A day after Burhan Wani was killed, several voluntary organisations in Srinagar set up camp outside the city’s hospitals. Among them was Social Reform Organisation (SRO), based in Batamaloo area.
A 17-year-old tall and handsome boy with blue eyes and blond hair was one of SRO’s volunteers who pitched in for help at SMHS hospital. Saqib Bashir, known among his friends as ‘Shane Watson’ for his resemblance with the Australian all-rounder, Saqib quickly became popular among patients and hospital staff.
“From driving ambulances to carrying patients to the operation theatre to donating blood, he does it all,” says Javaid Ahmad, founding member of SRO and a PhD scholar. “With his service to the patients here, he has made us proud,” Javaid says.
Saqib has been volunteering at the hospital since July 9. Barring one day, when his 16-year-old friend from the neighbourhood, was killed by government forces, he has been at the hospital every day.
“In all the past 81 days he has been coming at nine in morning and he leaves at 11 in the night. There was one day in August when he did not come to the hospital. I remember him crying near his friend’s grave that day. I could sense he was sad and very angry, so I said nothing,” recalls Javaid.
The next day Saqib reached the hospital at 9am again.
Saqib says he advised his killed 16-year-old friend Yasir Ahmad to not be at the forefront in stone-pelting protests. “I had told him to be vigilant, but I believe it was destiny for him to be martyred,” Saqib says. He remembers how his friend had asked whether he would survive when he was being carried on a stretcher to the operation theatre,
“Inside the lift (elevator) he had asked, Ba bacha? (Will I survive?) Blood was gushing from his wound like from a natural geyser. I tried stopping it by putting my hand on it, but the blood continued to gush. Later that day he died,” Saqib said.
At 17, Saqib is one of the youngest volunteers in the hospital. Before this uprising, he had never seen a dead body or anyone dying. “I would get scared at the sight of a funeral. I would fall ill and then my parents would take me to a Molvi (cleric) who would recite a few verses of Quran to heal me. Now in the past 81 days I have seen almost 25 people dying in front of my eyes. I have carried thousands of people with gruesome injuries to the operation theatre. Death is nothing to me now,” Saqib said.
The death of his two neighbours left a deep mark on his “soul”. “When those two were brought here I was furious as well as sad, but as a volunteer I did my best by donating a pint of blood to them. However, they succumbed. I cried like a baby that day, and sleep didn’t come easily,” Saqib recalled. Since then he did not cry until his friend Yasir died in the same hospital he was volunteering at. “I had grown used to miseries, and tears had dried up, but that fateful day I cried again for my friend who died in my lap,” Saqib said.
Although Saqib has been at the forefront of voluntary work at the hospital, he himself was shot at with pellets on September 5, while he was driving an ambulance.
“I was returning to the hospital when I reached Madri Mehrba ground, where an SSB trooper shot pellets at me,” Saqib said. “I saw the trooper pulling the cork and in a fraction of second I pulled my hand towards my eyes and I was saved from being blinded.”
The pellets entered Saqib’s face, neck and abdomen. His colleague Abid Bhat drove him to SMHS hospital. “He was saved by a whisker,” Abid said.
Saqib was injured at about 5pm and at 7pm, he was again helping the injured. “An injured from Nawa Bazar was brought to the hospital and for him it was again work as usual,” Abid recalled.
Saqib says he remembers the details of every injured patient and knows the hospital like his house. On being asked what drives him to volunteer every single day, he said it was his belief in humanity and his wish to contribute to the cause of freedom.
It was this belief in humanity that made him serve the Amarnath yatris who were brought to SMHS hospital after they met with an accident at Bijbehara. “I saw him helping the yatris and he was treating them like his own. From feeding them food to carrying them to the toilet, he did it all. He donated his blood for a second time in a month to one of the injured yatris,” said a volunteer working with a different organisation at SMHS hospital.
Over the past 81 days, Saqib has formed a “special bond” with the patients. “He is like a blood relative who is always there for you,” said an attendant, Adil, of a pellet-hit patient. Javaid Ahmad, the founder of SRO, said that many boys of Saqib’s age came to volunteer at the hospital but they didn’t stay long. Saqib has continued because of his special “motivational power”, Javaid said.
“Sometimes I am jealous of his skills. His comforting behaviour while dealing with patients has no match,” Javaid said.
For Saqib, SRO is like family. He has been associated with the organisation since the 2010 uprising. “That time I was a kid, and there was not much work to do, but I began to volunteer professionally since the 2014 floods,” Saqib said.