| Fatima Bhat, who wants to take the first bus to Muzaffarabad to meet her daughter and grandchildren, holds their photograph in Srinagar. (Reuters)
Srinagar, March 31: For John S. Shilshi, the afternoon of January 15 changed the meaning of his job as regional passport officer. It was the day two fidayeen stormed the passport office where he works.
John had just got his transfer order that day, but soon he got a message that he had been made the designate authority for the proposed re-opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarbad road, which had been closed for over half a century.
After the attack there was no office to operate from as the building had been destroyed. So John converted two rooms of his home here into a makeshift office. Fortunately, he had left his office half-an-hour before the attack.
The man from Manipur believes the change in his job was due to the hand of 'providence'.
'It gave me a chance to be part of a glorious history through which divided families would travel to meet each other under my seal and signature. The coincidence is too glaring to be anything other than divine verdict. Had things moved according to routine, by this time I should have joined my new assignment.'
In the months after the attack John was a busy man, clearing requests for entry permits in record time, issuing new forms to aspirants and keeping in touch with his counterpart in Muzaffarabad.
'It is nothing Herculean, but yes, it was a challenge my office has successfully met,' he says.
The officer believes that with time, travel between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad would become a 'more regular and routine affair'.
John is happy that his duties will help bring together broken families on both sides of the LoC. 'It gives you a great feeling once you clear the travel documents of a mother who has not seen her children for decades. I never feel I am away from my home in Manipur. The weather and politics are the same.'
Optimism and commitment to his duty have also made the officer a soothing presence for those who come to him with their passport problems.
'Two-and-a-half-years ago, when I joined here, we hardly had a truly functional office,' John said. Now, he wants to make the passport office a truly fast-track working unit before he leaves Kashmir for his next assignment.