Suffering in silence

November 29, 2012

Karachi, Pakistan

By Akhtar Soomro

Arriving for my trip to Edhi Home, I met an elderly man working as a driver sitting outside the building. He assisted me in entering the building and introduced me to the lady in charge. She welcomed me and let me in by crossing an iron grill gate separating this place from the outer world.

As I walked through the huge corridor housing a row of rooms, each consisting of a bath, windows, square holes in the roofs for ventilation and an iron bar door. In these rooms resided elderly women, victims of mental illness, children missing from their families and victims of domestic violence.

Beams of sunlight fell on walls adorned with graffiti drawn by the patients – depictions of amulet charms, inspirational quotes, a drawing of three girls holding flowers in their hands, a peacock, even a short letter requesting the reader to inform someone of something.

From distant rooms came echoes of children reciting the Koran, a voice of a woman hypnotically praying to God, dispersed sounds of murmuring, humming, wailing, crying mixed-up with giggling, all fractured by the noise of iron door hinges and grinding wheelchairs.

While passing through the halls I was stopped by many young and elderly women, their chins up to stare into me with their sad eyes and murmuring lips, wanting me to listen to them, and their tale of how they came to this.

Mothers bewailing their sons who left them, just wanting to go home to see their loved ones. A daughter recalling a father who took her for a ‘spiritual healing’ and left her here. A wife complaining her husband divorced her only on his mother’s wish. Children missing from their families brought to Edhi center having never even known the outer world. Some of them were yelling and touching my chin to listen to them as I sat with them. They wanted me to hear them over and over again in the hopes that their voice might reach their loved ones – and that one day they will finally come to take them from here.

After working a few hours there, I took a break to preview my pictures and notes before leaving the place. I asked myself ‘what am I supposed to do?’ as they see me as their supporter and want me to hear them, their pain and misery, and expect my help in doing something for them. But I was there on an assignment to photograph them and get paid for that. I am not a healer, nor a humanitarian tasked to solve issues – as they were expecting from me.

I was in the middle of that terrible feeling when a distant vocal spread through the halls and instantly stole my attention. I grabbed my recorder and moved toward the voice coming from the corridor. A young lady walking slowly while singing….

In the search of life, I have come so close to death
when I thought of this, I got nervous, where have I come

I was going on a journey, which had no destinations
What I did tried all my life, but was not successful

In search of one happiness, how many sorrows have writhed me
When I thought of this, I got scared, where have I ended up?

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