ANANTNAG: In 1993, when Karim-ud-din Khan was about to welcome home his wife and their newborn son, he told his aged father, “Now everything will improve and all our miseries shall cease.” His father laughed at his remarks, and replied, “God help us.”
Living on the edge of a mountain on the Pahalgam-Chandanwari road, Karim-ud-Din, previously a shepherd, was all set for suicide in 1993 when his son was born. The debt he owed was doubling each month and he could not see any way to ensure the survival of his family. He had married twice and had eight children. In 1990, he met with an accident that took away his leg and hand, reducing him to a cripple. When he was about to go kill himself by jumping off the cliff, his wife told him that she was pregnant again. “That night I didn’t sleep because another one was coming and I was about to leave all of them to their fate,” Karim-ud-din recalled.
His father, Mohammad Sattar, had migrated with his only son from Machil in Kupwara to Pahalgam upon the death of his wife to live with his relatives. Karim was 14 years old at that time. Both father and son started to work as shepherds. Karim was married in the next two years to a nomadic girl who gave him three girls and later died from a prolonged illness. He re-married and the second wife bore him five children, all boys.
During the tourist season in that year of 1993, he overheard a couple from Mumbai outside his house asking about his name. He swiftly raised himself on one leg with the help of two sticks and walked to the door to announce himself. As the conversation followed, the couple politely told him that they did not have children and would like to adopt one of his children. When there was no answer from Karim – “because I was thinking to give them all my children” – they offered him money. “One lakh and fifty thousand rupees,” Karim told Reader.
Startled and overjoyed, Karim didn’t hesitate to accept their deal without seeking consent from his wife and father. He asked the couple if they could wait a few months until his wife delivered a baby. They embraced him with a hug and handed him three-thousand rupees in advance.
“They were rich and generous,” he said. “They had no idea what it is like to be poor and crippled.”
The couple told him they will come back at the end of that year to take the baby home.
In September that year, his wife delivered a baby boy at her parents’ home. She was supposed to spend six months there as per the custom, but he insisted her to come home. She came back.
After a week, Karim finally broke this terrible yet joyous news to her. “She cried,” he recalled. “I asked her – do we have a choice?”
In November that year, the couple returned and took the baby away.
Karim said that he began to feel very lonely from that day, and always wondered if what he had done was right or wrong. “I sacrificed my son so that my seven children could live,” he justified his decision to himself.
Karim said that the only news about his son came after fourteen years when the couple revisited Pahalgam. They told him if they wished to see his son at a hotel, as the boy was allergic to dust. The boy did not recognize his biological parents and refused to see them. He was startled at seeing a one-legged man and a woman in dirty clothes. Karim and his wife were saddened by the boy’s reaction.
When Karim and his wife were leaving, much dismayed by what had transpired, the couple handed them a photograph. “Looks just like you,” they pointed at the boy in the photograph.
They had named him Sachin.