Thirty-seven-year-old Junaid Ahmad Wani popularly known as Imtiyaz, lives on the banks of the Dal Lake in Srinagar. He is well known in the area as the man who has overcome many hardships and has broken the taboo of being physically disabled. It has been a gruesome journey of life for Imtiyaz, ever since the severe Tuberculosis (TB) attacked him.

However, instead of rueing his fate, and despite all the hardships he experienced after he became physically disabled Imtiyaz thought of starting his own business. With the help of his father, Ghulam Rasool Wani he bought a Shikara. As a boatman he wanted to earn enough for his family.

Starting one’s own journey takes courage, and Imtiyaz had plenty of that to overcome any hurdle. His life has not been easy, when he was just three years old he had a high fever, which eventually was diagnosed as Tuberculosis (TB).

“Because of my family’s poor financial condition, we didn’t have the money for the treatment I was supposed to get at that time. Soon the TB afffected both my legs and left me disabled,” recalled Imtiyaz.

After being confined to the four walls of his house, for nine years, he finally started working with a tailor. He recalls that he was in pain while sewing clothes but continued as he needed money. However the meagre salary earn was not enough to meet the needs of the family.

“Due to the low earnings from tailoring I thought of switching to the Shikara business, as it was my ancestors’ profession too. But as it required thousands to buy a Shikara, my father had offered me his savings,” said Imtiyaz.

“Finally I succeeded in buying my dream boat, and decided to paddle the waters of Dal Lake to make my life better. Under the wide blue sky and in the fresh and freezing waters of the Dal, I wanted to explore the world”, he added.

On the other side, the Dal is subjected to inflow of the untreated sewage, and solid waste. While the Dal Lake appears pristine in the Srinagar city where tourists throng, on the other side it is a mix of mossy swamps, thick weeds.

“For me it’s difficult to paddle the boat through the Dal because of the thick weeds” he complained, adding “the government spends a lot of money to clean the Dal but is not able to clean it properly”.

“Imtiyaz is one of my friends, I always have fun with him and the same time I also learn the lessons which are helpful. Often, I get irritated by the locals’ conservative nature and comments they pass,” said Sajid Maqbool.

“Imtiyaz has a sober and salubrious nature. His self-confidence and spirit boosted my morale, and inspired me to dream big, and have the passion of making them come true,” added Aadil Hussain another admirer and friend of the boatman.

There is a famous saying in Kashmir “Asav ne, te lasav kith paeth, (if we do not laugh, how will we live?)”. Imtiyaz seems to have that as his motto.

“My son suffered as a child, some children started bullying him and so he stayed indoors. He was depressed and did not smile. Finally Imtiyaz decided to go against all odds and he started working with tailor master”, recalled Ghulam Rasool, his father.

Now as a boatman, Imtiyaz rows the Shikara on the waters of Dal with dedication and passion. “The government never approached me with help to start any business whereas they should have offered a hand. All that I have is because of my father, and my own dedication. Nevertheless I request the Government to help me as much as needed so that I can buy a new Shikara with more space for carrying more passengers which can help me to deal with the growing inflation,” said Imtiyaz.

His honest and candid personality has earned him a fan following. “Many times people have forgotten their belongings inside my Shikara, and I returned all their belongings. Once I was carrying tourists from America, and one of then forgot his expensive camera in my shikara, which I returned to him. He was so touched and emotionally and just hugged me,” recalled Imtiyaz.

Harkats chey barkast, goes a famous Kashmiri saying, it means, move and you will be blessed, Imtiyaz is a living example of that.