By Sidrah Roghay
Shahabuddin—fondly remembered as Zalzala Khan may have turned 10 today. I hope he is alive, happy and going to school. Lots of kids born poor don’t.
Zalzala became quite a celebrity when he was born—mere hours before an earthquake rocked the entire Kashmir Valley on October 8, 2005. To many he gave hope—that despite calamities life must go on.
He was called the ‘Earthquake Boy’ by many journalists. Much like the Saleem Sinai—the protagonist of Pulitzer Prize Winner novel ‘Midnight’s Children’ who was born at midnight—right between August 14 and August 15—when the “clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting.”
Like Saleem—he made it to national and international headlines. Here is what Reuters had to say about him.
His mother gave birth just moments before their home collapsed in the earthquake that ended more than 73,000 lives in Pakistan, and 1,500 in Indian Kashmir, and rendered over three million people destitute. Mohammad Sajid, the father, described how he and a midwife had carried the mother and child outside, with the roof falling, walls collapsing and ground shaking.
“We named our son, Shahabuddin, a few days after the quake but the villagers like to call him “Zalzala Khan”, as they say his birth on that terrible day was an omen from God that life would go on,” Sajid said. Zalzala means earthquake in Urdu and the healthy baby boy was the couple’s first child.
Neighbour Mohammad Iqbal said that Shahabuddin was testimony to new life emerging from the ruins of the quake. “His parents don’t like us calling him “Zalzala Khan” as it reminds them of the destruction. But he has given everyone the will to live on,” Iqbal said.
Twenty other neighbours in the small hamlet of Pore died that day. They are buried in a graveyard surrounded by pine trees close to Sajid’s two tents. The highland community lives a narrow, twisting rough track through the mountains, a few kilometres (miles) from Garhi Habibullah, one of the worst-hit towns in North West Frontier Province’s Mansehra district.
“His birthday will be simple on a day of mourning for us,” said Sajid, a tailor, as he hugged his son sitting on concrete debris of his former home. Sajid has received a cheque for 150,000 rupees ($2,500) from the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (Erra) to help him rebuild his house.
Meanwhile he’s using the roof of his old house as a floor for the tents in order to prevent waterlogging.
Like Saleem, Zalzala became a memory—faded in time. I couldn’t even find his picture on the internet.
But with his name, and the time he was born at, he has become “handcuffed to history”— much like Saleem.
Zalzala, I hope and pray you are doing well.
- The blog post borrows phrases from novel, Midnight’s Children