I lost my Dad to COVID-19

Mohammad Yousuf Bhat, a progressive, well-read and liberal man, who was editor and owner of Urdu weekly newspaper Awami Moazin, lost his battle with COVID-19 on May 30 in Srinagar

Representative Image
Representative Image

Gulzar Bhat

As the second wave of COVID-19 swept through India in April this year, disturbing images showing people scrambling for oxygen cylinders and hospital beds went viral on different social media platforms. While the hospitals overran with patients, the government was caught off-guard.

The statistics suggesting daily caseloads crawled across the bottom of television screens. The newspapers remained filled with the obituaries of people who had succumbed to the baffling virus. The hair-raising pictures of cremation grounds and cemeteries in Delhi and UP made people go weak in their knees all over the country.

My father, Mohammad Yousuf Bhat, who was always up to speed on every important national and international development, was very much disturbed by the manner in which Central dispensation was handling the crisis. He would point out that the government had badly botched up the job of providing immediate medical attention to the affected people.

However, little could he have imagined that he himself would be the next victim of the ferocious virus. On May 30, we lost him to COVID-19.

Mohammad Yousuf Bhat, Editor and owner of Urdu weekly newspaper Awami Moazin
Mohammad Yousuf Bhat, Editor and owner of Urdu weekly newspaper Awami Moazin

Daddy, as I would call him, was the editor and owner of Urdu weekly newspaper Awami Moazin, which he started way back in 1995 along with his journalist friend Abdul Gani Hafiz. Daddy did not have an illiberal bone in his body. He remained associated with progressive movements and was a great sympathiser of the subaltern. He was a major influence in my life to develop interest in politics, books and literature.

He was a well-travelled man. Circa 1978, before my birth, he travelled to Moscow and spent a few months there. During this time, he developed an interest in Russian literary giants like Alexandra Pushkin, Maxim Gorky and Fyodor Dostoevsky. He had the Urdu translation of Gorky's ‘Mother’. Leo Tolstoy's ‘Anna Karenina’ is still lying on a book shelf in our home. The works of great Urdu poets including Sir Mohammad Iqbal Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir and Faiz Ahmad Faiz were already available with him.

Many progressive Kashmir-based bards, who wrote in both Urdu and Kashmiri language, including Shayam Lal Pardesi and Mohidin Gowher, were his close friends. He had the distinction of meeting with Kaifi Azmi, the doyen of Urdu poetry and father of prominent and Bollywood actress Shabana Azmi. Ace Bollywood actor A. K Hangal, remembered for his cameo in cult classic ‘Sholay’ visited him while on a trip to Srinagar in the 1980s.

Our rented flats in Srinagar and Jammu were always full of political leaders, journalists and activists.

While political debates and discussions would go on for hours, Daddy himself served the guests with different dishes and Kashmiri delicacies. He was an ardent foodie. Kashmiri cuisine, particularly ‘Gadi Batti’ (Fish and rice) was one of his favourite dishes. He himself would cook and serve his friends. Black tea and coffee had been his favourite beverages. Whenever he was in Delhi, he used to visit Indian Coffee House and would remain flocked by friends.

I must candidly acknowledge that it was he who for the first time took me to a cafe at posh Connaught Place and placed an order for cold coffee with with ice cream. I loathed the beverage but feigned enjoying it. Daddy, however, savoured every mouthful.

Because of him, I got a chance to meet some top political leaders and journalists of the country on several occasions. In one of the functions, perhaps a book release function, in Delhi, I got an opportunity to see the-then Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral from a close distance.

When Daddy fell ill on May 18, we shifted him to a nearby hospital in Shopian. He was unsteady on his feet. His oxygen saturation level plummeted to 45. I had never ever seen him so weak. The doctors at the facility put him on oxygen and he remained in the facility for two days. As his condition did not improve, the doctors referred him to Sher-i-Kashmir Medical Institute (SKIMS), a tertiary care hospital, in Srinagar.

Inside the hospital, I saw a well-nigh dingy corridor leading to the COVID-19 ward filled with distressed attendants. Some were bawling their eyes out while others were consoling each other. The unknown attendants in a fraction of time, became friends and shared each others’ pain. They were hoping against hope.

The doctors put Daddy on high flow oxygen. He was given steroids and Remdesivir injections. Almost after a week, he showed a significant improvement. But unfortunately, on May 29, a few hours after midnight, his oxygen saturation levels declined again and he started sinking. As doctors raised their hands, we surrendered to faith.

At around half past 4 in the morning, he bid us good bye for the last time. Immediately after his death, there was a flurry of condolence messages from his friends addressed to me.

Now, as I'm grieving the loss of my father, the harrowing images of the cremation grounds and graveyards of Delhi and UP come live in my mind.

Rest in Peace Daddy!

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