Too dark for a cameraman
KARACHI: Four and a half years after he was injured in the Nishtar Park blast, photographer Shoaib Hasan Siddiqui is able to walk again, but he is unable to earn a living for his family.
He can communicate but with effort, leaving his brother, Junaid Hasan Siddiqui, also a photojournalist, to recall the horrid images of that unfortunate day in a talk with Dawn.
Shoaib was among the 80 people who were injured in the suicide blast that took place on April 11,2006, in the annual 12 Rabiul Awwal congregation at the Nishtar Park. In the end, his family was happy to see him alive, after his name was initially placed among people who died in explosion.
Fifty-seven people were killed in the suicide attack. Shoaib, there to capture the scene for two newspapers he was working for at the time, was hit by ball bearings in his right eye, apart from suffering other injuries. The right side of his body was paralysed.
“I saw Shoaib bhai on TV holding his right eye:” Junaid recollects his memories of the day. “I rushed to the Civil Hospital where I was told Shoaib had died.”
As Junaid searched for his brother among the dead bodies brought to the hospital, he got a call from a friend at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC): Shoaib was alive and at Jinnah.
Junaid reached Jinnah, found his brother and found him wanting to quickly pass on some important personal information. “He told me where he had kept the cash, where he had kept the keys, etc,” Junaid says.
Fortunately the worst case scenario that Shoaib Siddiqui had feared was avoided. Instead, confronting him was a long period of uncertainty and pain and anguish.
In search of the best possible care for his brother, Junaid shifted Shoaib to Liaquat National Hospital the same night. He also informed the Pakistan Association of Press Photographers (PAPP) and it was on PAPP’s request that Shoaib’s treatment expenses for the three months at the LNH were borne by the Governor of Sindh, Dr Ishratul Ibad.
Shoaib underwent three surgeries at the LNH for removal of ball bearings. However his right side was totally paralysed.
One surgery followed another, and after the third, Shoaib drastically lost weight as also sensation in his left side. Doctors said he had slipped into a coma and there was little they could do other than advise him physiotherapy. They asked for the patient to be taken home.
Over the last four years Shoaib’s condition has gradually improved, even though he is still heavily dependent on others. The impact of his condition on the other members of his household has been immense and there have been moments in the past four and a half years when his 72-year-old father, a retired school teacher, has sought solace in feigning indifference to the plight of his son.
If what had happened to Shoaib was not bad enough, big father suffered another cruel blow when another of his sons, Zubair was electrocuted at his shop a few months ago. He left behind three young children.
The story of the Siddiqui brothers’ personal tragedy is also a story about the local photojournalists’ struggle for a living. A few days before the Nishtar Park tragedy, Shoaib had been laid off by his chief employer, an Urdu daily. And while he still worked for a couple of evening papers his total income from these two jobs was a meager Rs9,000. He, his wife and their three children lived in a joint family in Azizabad.
Junaid filled in for the injured Shoaib initially providing images to the two evening papers Shoaib worked for. But that was hardly a permanent arrangement even though, to its credit, one of the two papers did honour the agreement for two full years.
Consequently, the burden on the sole earning hand in the joint family setup has increased, and its effects on all the dependents are quite obvious. Before his injury, Shoaib’s three children Zohaib, who is now 16 and studying in class ninth, Sadia, 13, and Asad, 7, were all enrolled in private schools. They now go to a government-run school in Azizabad.
With his meager resources, Junaid is taking care of his parents, six children of his two deceased brothers, two sisters-in-law, his wife and a younger brother. After resisting his parents’ wishes for many years, it was only recently that he got married.
His hopes are now pinned on his younger brother, 20-year-old Zain. “He is in the first year of college, and I have kept him away from all these issues. I want him to complete his education.”–S. Raza Hassan