'I am hopeful he will return one day'

ON every celebration when the Khan's take to the dining table, there is a spare plate of food. But for last 12 years, nobody has used that food. The 70-year-old mother of the family, Sarwa Begum, serves food for his son, who has gone missing in 1995.

"I am hopeful he will return one day," says Sarwa with a sparkle in her eyes. "I know that one day he will suddenly knock at the door. That's why I keep the plate of food ready for him," she adds.

In 1995, the 27-year-old Jaleel Ahmad Khan left his home, at Shahkote Uri, for work. He didn't return and his mother has been waiting since then. "In the morning, I gave him tiffin along and told him to return early in the evening," Sarwa says. "I didn't know that he wouldn't return ever. That was the last day I have seen him".

The family started its search from the police station. "We went to every jail and security camp in the Valley to search for him," says the distraught mother. "But despite our all efforts, we couldn't trace him".

Sarwa is unawares who has picked up his son. In 1999, the family got news that their son has been killed. "We rushed there but that was not true," says Sarwa. Six tears after his disappearance the hope of his survival returned the family when someone told them that their son has been spotted in a jail in central Kashmir's Budgam district. This news marked the beginning of another search. "We started to look for him again," says the mother. "This time, we scanned every jail and security camp of the Valley but this too didn't yield anything".

The tragedy for the old parents of Jaleel didn't end with his disappearance. Three of Jaleel's older brothers -- Mohammad Yaqoob, Ghulam Hassan and Javid Ahmad -- married and settled their own separate homes leaving the old parents and their youngest son, Fayaz Ahmad Khan to fend for themselves. Forced by the circumstances, the 20-year-old Fayaz took a menial job at a local quarry. However, in 2004, he came under a boulder and was rendered crippled. And then the earthquake, in October 2005, shattered every wall of their house.

... contd.

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