Whenever an alley dog barks in the dead of night or a vehicle pulls off a road near her house in south Kashmir’s Shopian town, Hajra abruptly wakes up from her deep sleep and peeps through the weather –hit window of her mud house to see if her son has returned.

Next morning she narrates it to her husband who gives an earful as furrows deepen on his brow --“He won’t return now why does this not dawn on you? He must be dead if not killed…”

After that a strange quiet falls on them , lost in thought, almost as if they have lost consciousness. It is only after their young widowed daughter -in- law enters the room that they return to the present.

During the fall of 1991 when the mighty Chinar trees, as Hajra recounts , in the turmoil infested valley had started shedding their leaves, her elder son Javid Ahmad Gandroo(20) who was pursuing graduation in a local college was preparing for his exams . Dressed in new black trousers and a blue shirt, one afternoon he left for college and went missing.

The family searched for him in every nook and corner of town but in vain. They first suspected him of crossing the border along with other local boys to join the insurgency. But after a few months the family got it confirmed from local militant commanders as well as the police -- who had already registered a missing report-- that he had not joined any militant outfit.

“Our life turned upside down we lost everything with him. Sometimes I still feel as if he is sitting on the window sill dangling his sturdy legs and taking swigs of noon Chai (salt tea) mixed with Sattu ( roasted maize flour) from his tea mug,” says Hajra.

Hajra who takes anti -depressant medicine to keep herself going survived a paralytic stroke after her son went missing.

India’s public broadcasters-- Doordarshan and Radio were the only source of information in the early nineties. The regional language bulletins aired by these two channels would mostly be a reportage of violence and killings taking place across the Kashmir valley. Hajra would also keep a watch for such bulletins --particularly listening to radio as the family did not own a T.V set-- with a pounding heart fearing that the list of the dead read by the news reader would include her son,

“Although I stopped listening to news on radio after some time, how could I stop waiting for him?” She asks.

For more than a decade Hajra kept his clothes safe —washed, ironed and neatly folded in her old wooden cabinet hoping that someday he would comeback.. But in 2005 when a devastating earthquake rattled Kashmir on the Line of Control (LOC), Hajra after hearing the poignant tales of survivors donated her most prized possession to them.

Javid shared a unique and special relation with his younger brother Showkat Ahmad (15 then). They, according to their father, were more friends than brothers. Showkat could not sleep a wink for many days after the disappearance of his elder brother and there was a conspicuous change in his behavior.

“He was usually shy and calm but after this incident he started throwing tantrums” said his father Gh. Mohmmmad Gandroo, a retired class IV government employee.

Showkat slipped into depression and time failed to assuage his pain. On the insistence of some close relatives, Showkat got married in 2000 but he could not get over the loss.

He started falling for drugs. First he took sleeping pills then opioids and other types of psychotropic drugs. Soon he became a die-hard drug addictand died in October 2014 leaving behind his young wife and three children.

His wife Fahmida ekes out a living by working as a sweeper in government Sub District Hospital, Shopian on the paltry emolument of Rs 2000 per month.

“We are living a hand to mouth life. It is so very difficult to manage things on such a scanty income” said Fahmida.

In conflict zones people who went missing mysteriously are rarely foundalive. Hajra finds some peace in her grand children and craves the attention of the government to pull her and her family out of near destitution.

(Gulzar Bhat is a Srinagar based independent journalist . He writes and reports on conflict, human rights, development and migrant issues)