In Verse and Wail

  • Insha Latief
  • Publish Date: May 12 2017 2:23AM
  • |
  • Updated Date: May 12 2017 2:23AM
In Verse and Wail

When her husband goes off to work in the morning, the grieving Shahzada Rafiq is left all alone to grapple with the void that is her son’s absence


For much of the past six years, Shahzada Rafiq has been in mourning. Her son Yasir Rafiq Sheikh was killed on August 31, 2010, at the height of that summer’s Azadi agitation that cost over a hundred lives.

Shahzada lives in a small, silent house in Maisuma, Srinagar. When her husband goes off to work in the morning, the grieving mother is left all alone to grapple with the void that is Yasir’s absence. To vent her grief, Shahzada takes to her diary. Over the years, she has spilled from her heart scores of threnodies, songs and letters to her son – all written in neat Urdu.

A picture of Yasir adorns the front page of the brown leather-bound diary. Above it is an inscription: Apni maa ka pyaara beta, Shaheed Yasir Rafiq Sheikh. “His mother’s beloved Son, Martyr Yasir Rafiq Sheikh.”

The next page narrates in heart-rending detail the fateful day Yasir was taken from her. Shahzada would wake Yasir up every morning, but that day she had to take her ailing mother to hospital. She left early, without seeing him. The separatist leadership had called for a shutdown. Yasir was keeping the Ramzan fast, and to pass time, he went to play carrom with a few people from the neighbourhood. At 11 am, he called to check on her, and Shahzada told him she was waiting for the doctors to arrive. That was the last they spoke.

Soon after, a police contingent attacked a group of protestors near where   Yasir was playing and fired pellets at them. Yasir was hit in the abdomen and fell down. Zeenat, his sister, rushed out and took Yasir in her lap. “Daedyas kya wana waen,” she heard him say. “What do I tell daddy now?”

At around 10 to noon, Shahzada’s phone rang. It was Zeenat: “Yasir has been hit by pellets.”

“When he was hit, he feared his father might think he had been pelting stones, so he was worried about facing him. You know, he was not into any politics,” Shahzada explains her son’s remark to Zeenat.

Shahzada and her husband rushed to SMHS Hospital, where Yasir had been admitted. The pellets had pierced his aorta and doctors had operated upon him to repair the damage, but his condition was critical, they were informed. For days afterwards, Yasir was in intensive care. “People would come to see him everyday. Many were unknown to me. They were his well-wishers,” Shahzada says, “My son never did wrong by anyone.”

After a few days, Yasir went into a coma and his condition started deteriorating. Shahzada visited every shrine and saint she could find, hoping for a miracle. On 10 September, Yasir was flown to Apollo Hospital in Delhi. It didn’t do much good: in the early hours of 16 September, Yasir lost the battle for life. He was just 27.

“He was taken by Allah,” Shahzada says. “He left me helpless and set himself free.”

She described her helplessness into a letter to him.

I miss you a lot. Wherever I go, people talk about you. It hurts. We all miss you here because we need you. Your sister needs you. She cries a lot. I am entangled in difficulties. I don’t know what to do and where to go. You tell me Raju, what should I do? Because you are my beloved son.”

A threnody she composed in Kashmiri soon after Yasir’s killing speaks about living with the pain of separation. She’s often heard singing it in frail sad voice.

Hataai waiii yem Yasiran hai wadnevnas, yaarooo

Haere hai wothum bune nai khothum,

waai madnoo

Dushmanen hai vaar kornas, yaaroo

Yem Yasiran hay wadnevnas

Beni tai moj kotha chei wadaan, kotha chai wadaan,

waai madnoo

Daddy kyazi tadpothan, yaaroo

Haq tai hamsai chei cheya chandaan, chei chaya chandaan,

waai madnoo

Dare kaniha wane dewan, yaaroo


(Oh, has Yasir made me cry

He went out and never came back,

oh my beloved!

The enemy, he cut him down

Yasir has made me cry

How your sister and mother are wailing,

oh my beloved!

Why do you make your daddy yearn, my dear?

They are all searching for you, relatives and neighbors,

oh my beloved!

Calling out to you from the window they are, dear)

By those who knew him, Yasir was fondly called Raju. And to the children in his neighbourhood, the handsome young man with side-parted wavy hair was Raju Kaka or Raju Bhaiya. “Raju suited him. Actually, he was a Raju kind of a boy, if you know what I mean,” Shahzada says.

Yasir ran a couple of shops in the locality which the family has struggled to keep going after his death. The flood of 2014 forced Shahzada and her family to shift to another place for several months. She didn’t write much during that time. When she returned, it was to a scene of great destruction. She narrated her ordeal in another letter to her son.

The dirty water has done huge loss to your shops. We are very worried. You pray for us so that we go back to our home.

Sometime later, she wrote him again.

Your shops are being renovated now. You pray for your daddy. You pray for all of us. Who says four years have passed since your death? I still believe you will return home. I wait for you day and night.  

Yasir loved music, and was particularly fond of wedding songs. So, when Zeenat’s marriage was fixed, Shahzada couldn’t but tell Yasir.

We have got a good boy for her. He respects and loves us as his own parents. My daughter will be very happy there. The boy has three brothers, the eldest one frequently comes to our house to meet us. He takes good care of us. By the will of Allah, your sister will be married in a month. And I am commanding you to come home at that day. I will be waiting for you. You have to be here when she leaves this house with her husband. Be here that day. I miss you a lot because you have left me here all alone.

Come Yasir did, or so his mother believes. “I felt on the day of her marriage he visited us because he likes to listen to songs,” she says. “Then, I think he is with us always.”

After the wedding, she wrote him again.

Raju, your sister is in her in-law’s home now. She comes to meet us with her new family. They respect us a lot. She was married in a good way. I am very happy for her. Suddenly, I have become fond of things. She should have a child whom I will name Yasir and I will fondly call him Raju.

As you know, the situation here is very bad. It’s three months of shutdowns now. Shops are closed. Pray for your daddy. I stay at home alone all day. I miss you. I cry a lot, and then I try to calm myself down. I insist that you meet me in my dreams every night. I will be waiting for you because I am your mother. I pray for you to be happy and prosper.

In her letters, Shahzada speaks to her son as if he were alive, gone away from her for only a time. Yet, she is resigned to Yasir never coming back, and that stings her heart, every waking moment.  


Ab akele rehna seekh liya hai,

dil ki baatein khud se kehna seekh liya hai

Mujhe kisi ke kandhe ki zarurat nahi,

tanha tanha chupke chupe roona seekh liya hai

Koi kisi ke zakhmo ko bhala kaise samaj payega,

apne zakham apne hatoon se seena sekh liya hai

Buhat ajeeb hai par yeh sach hai,

ghum ka zeher thoda thoda peena seekh liya hai

Umer bhar saath kisi ka kaun deta hai,

pal pal marna pal pal jeena sekh liay hai

Yunhi umeed dilate hai zamaane wale,

kab lout ke ate hai chod ke chale jane wale?

Udaas dil hai magar milti hun har ek se hass kar,

yehi ek fun seekha hai buhat kuch kho jane ke baad

(I have learned to live alone,

to listen to my heart’s musings

I don’t need a shoulder to cry on,

I’ve learned to cry to myself

There’s none can heal my wounds,

I’ve learned to sew my wounds myself

Strange but true this is,

I have learned to drink the poison of sadness

Who stays by anyone forever,

I’ve learned to live in the moment, die in the moment

Still, they give you false hope,

has ever he returned who left?

Heart aches, but I keep a smile on my face,

this art is all I’ve learned from losing so much)