Author: Saadut
•11:14 PM

Calamities teach us harsh lessons of life that come at a great irreparable loss.

Days of downpour by 4th September was so unrelenting that many courtyards resembled small ponds. Every water channel in Srinagar like the Naal-e-Amir Khan or the internal waterways near Zaldagar, Nawabazar were already filling up, hinting at things to be. 

When the flood channel & doodhganga near Barzulla and Natipora were inundated by early weekend, the state had ceased to exist and it were the locals who took over. Between the left flank posh colonies and the right flank old Barzulla, the left flank caved in first. By morning dwellings there became lakes and the state slept over it. Called up my friend, who had already moved to the second story with his ailing parents, unaware that worse was yet to come. All their rations had been consumed by the deluge and with no help in sight soon, they had to flee their home.

Saturday as the floods advanced, my friends Dr. Javaid (Oncologist) and Dr. Sajad (Ophthalmologist) made a rush to their hospitals and sat there till late, trying to attend whosoever they could (I sat with them there), even as back home flood waters were rising alarmingly. Later the areas of their residences were also submerged. More than eight days into the disaster, tried as hard as I may have, still have not been able to reach Dr. Javaid. 

As the Jehlum in its ferocity was breaching banks, overflowing and invading habitations with all its might, it was between man and water now. The state had assumed a self proclaimed demise, saw local brave hearts rushing to whatever rescue they could, in rickety boats or by tying ropes between street lights and carrying people to safer locations. A policeman in plain clothes was fleeing with his uniform in a travel bag, seeking help from the same volunteers, instead of joining these rescue teams. Soon these rescue efforts ceased for the night with rescue equipment failing against invading waters.

Rashid, the domestic help who had grown up at my uncles place, sat all Sunday pleading with boatmen near Lalmandi for a  boat, to somehow rescue my uncles family, yet failed. I tried all my contacts till the phone networks gave away and the boats vanished. The river and these colonies had merged, with the distinction between river banks and tall compound walls having been erased since.

The lady and her kid at Jawahar Nagar saw a boat rowing outside her window, pleaded the boat man to rescue them. The boatman replied ‘sufarish lagao resuce ke liye. Yahan sirf sufarsih chalti hai’. She sunk back into the third floor of her house. Don’t know if and when she was rescued later. 

Many boatmen of Anchar lake and Khushal sarr offered their boats and oarsmen free for rescue, problem came in arranging to transport these boats to the other side of Srinagar. Some did make it and rescued lives. Those are our heroes.

A local journalist at Rajbagh watched the flood waters wash away everything metal and mass, collapsing walls and cracking buildings. Managed a boat rescue, but did not flee to safety yet. Saved hundreds of others first, till he could and only took a rest when all his energies had been drained. Humans are alive within us.

When waters started rising at Kashmir’s primary maternity hospital, Lal Ded, all medical and health staff fled leaving patients at the mercy of their luck and invading waters. When many infants and newborns died, their parents were forced to wrap-up their corpses like parcels awaiting burial in this flood fury. Patients and attendants survived for days by drinking from dextrose packets, local help came later, government help never. 

For three days my uncle’s family at Jawahar Nagar was stuck on the third floor attic, while waters had risen to their second floor. With three packets of bread, some biscuits and two bottles of water, four people crammed into the attic for more than three days and four unending nights, later sharing one packet of bread with their Sikh neighbor, who was also stuck on his roof top. They saw choppers fly low, cried for help, the crew looked down on them, sometimes cameras zooming over, yet none offered any help. They were eventually rescued on the fourth day by a boat. None of them had slept for those four nights, fearing that a house collapse would sink them into a nameless watery grave.

When a local boatman asked 8000 Rupees from my Delhi acquaintance to rescue his family from Bemina and the tractor guy took them for free from the shore to their safe place at Buchpora, even while his own house was submerged under waters. 

As the waters started rising around the Dal lake, especially near the northern foreshore road, I along with other volunteers rushed to help. As dwellers from the lower shoreline were fleeing in caravans, gathering whatever they could, one dweller told me how they had tried to contact their local MLA for help and how the politician had gone incommunicado deliberately. Many of these dwellers were later put by us in local homes nearby and some in the local school. All this by local community help, with no state support. 

Saw a elderly gentleman in my neighborhood get two large sacks of rice from home, leaving very little for his own family, and distributing them among the affected near northern foreshore of Dal. Further ahead near Buchpora a shopkeeper profiteered in this turmoil by virtually doubling rates for many items, like a vulture awaiting his opportunity. 

The old couple at RajBagh, whose children live in the west, were stuck on the top floor for three days and survived on a few packets of snacks and a jug of water. All their memories and treasures had sunk beneath when they fled for life. With the flood waters inundating all living floors, the elderly uncle, having been sick for long, did not even find any place for his frequent easing. When the Indian rescue teams came their way, they shouted for help, yet none of these teams obliged. Other times their two pairs of hands frantically waved at choppers overhead, yet no heed was paid.  With drinking water and hope of rescue diminishing, the couple feared their end and wept inconsolably in each other’s arms, also realizing that their corpses would never be found.  Eventually by third day afternoon the couple was rescued by some local boys on a ramshackle boat. The only thing they saved were a bunch of old photographs tucked away in her arms.

The first chopper sorties in Srinagar seemed to be group specific, evacuating tourists and non locals only. According to locals, even some early Indian rescue boats sought specific people from this devastation, in many instances at Shivpora, rescue teams somehow seemed to be driven by political or religious divide. A Hindu family refused being rescued while his Muslim neighbor had been ignored; the same neighbor had shared all his supplies with the Hindu family till the rescue boat had arrived. Later both were rescued. 

Every chopper sortie in Srinagar had an Indian camera and reporter team accompanying them, at times taking almost half the space in smaller choppers, thereby defeating the very purpose of this claimed rescue and reducing it to a PR exercise by India. Every food packet, every water bottle dropped would be accompanied by nationalistic jingoism ‘see how the great Indian state is rescuing Kashmiris’. Back in Delhi Hindu nationalists and KP trolls were busy declaring us as ‘ungrateful Kashmiris’, not realizing that even in this melee it were more non locals that Indian forces had rescued and flown out to safety. Reminded me of how the same ‘ungrateful Kashmiris’ had dispatched volunteer teams after natural calamities in Gujarat and elsewhere long back, yet none sought media fame or PR. 

To put all speculation to rest, the Indian government should make available in the public domain, details, names and time of rescue of all flood affected they rescued in Kashmir. That would clear a lot of doubts and jingoistic claims.

Every Indian news channels discussion on Kashmir flood would devote major part of their time on ‘Indian army valor in Kaaashmeer’ (guys get that pronunciation of Kashmir right first, please) and relentlessly bash the ‘invisible separatists’. “Where are the ‘separatists?’” Indian anchors would scream, hiding the fact that many of these very ‘separatists’ were in involved in major relief operations across Srinagar, far bigger relief than the massive Indian army had done, yet these ‘separatist relief efforts’ stood deliberately ignored by these channels. When news channels shouted ‘Where is Geelani?’ they would not tell you how he has been caged under house arrest by the Indian state for years now, limiting his communication and movement. Had Geelani been a free man, there is no doubt that local relief efforts organized by him would have been far more systematic and effective than any relief operations by the mammoth Indian state. This even while people like Geelani do not have access to resources and machinery like the Indian state has in Kashmir. 

Saw hundreds of volunteers provide food and medicine to thousands of affected across Srinagar, especially the downtown, north and west of Srinagar, where Indian rescue teams and its media did not bother to attend. Many of these relief camps had banners ‘We don’t need Indian choppers. Kashmiris stand united in tragedy’. Found two of these volunteers, brothers from Tengpora, who had lost their home in these floods, yet were here involved untiringly in rescuing others. They told me nothing was left of their home, yet saw the pain of other affected as greater than their own. 

The biggest tragedy of these floods was when India tried to buy Kashmiri nationalism over packets of expired biscuits and bottles of water; clumsy and meager rescue efforts those were packaged with tags of ‘Indian magnanimity’. A state will pretend to be magnanimous in relief only when they are extending help to non citizens, and by pretending that these rescue operations were beyond the duty of a state, India and its media only strengthened the idea of ‘Kashmiris are not Indian citizens’. Only in Kashmir does the duty of the state to safeguard and rescue its citizens assume the face of magnanimity and largesse.  

Heard two voices today, on the local radio broadcast brazenly lying to public, calming that all major relief camps across Srinagar were supported and sponsored by the government. Their lies did not end here; they even claimed there was no shortage of essential supplies in Srinagar, while we all knew how common people were virtually starving. Ironically these radio lies were being heard by me while I was travelling with a volunteer group in a vehicle across the length of Srinagar and knew firsthand about the ground situation.  

Across many areas of Batmaloo, Bemina, Qamarwari, Anchar, Tengpora, Firdousabad, Habak, Shanpora, Byepass, those I visited during the past two days (13th & 14th ) found all relief camps and efforts were local community driven, all medical camps (except for one near the army camp of Tatto ground, run by Indian forces) were managed by volunteers. Animal carcasses lay scattered even in places where water levels had greatly receded and vehicular movement was somewhat possible.  Earlier morning called the municipal commissioner on phone to tell him about the threat of epidemic from these carcasses and heaps of garbage that had not been removed for days. He assured the same old ‘have taken note and will do the needful soon’ that I had also heard from him some days back. Hollow words, playing again ! 

Over inundated roads people drove vehicles like boats on wheels, desperate to reach somewhere, to rescues families, to carry the ill or gather all they can to survive. And all these roads, crossings, flooded pathways were managed by local volunteers, all traffic management systems had since collapsed and with it the massive police force that this state nurtures and pays, had also evaporated as if in thin air. 

At the Soura filling station saw a seemingly unending queue for petrol, desperate people carrying all they could, cans, bottles or pushing vehicles, thirsty for some fuel. The fuel dispensers looked like fortresses, invaded by ant seeming humans, like a molehill rising in the middle of an industrious queue. And among this queue saw an infamous police officer, known for his ruthlessness, in plain clothes, pretending to be one of us, hiding his face not wanting to be recognized, wanting to erase his other identity momentarily. But we know such faces resume their rough masks once the state starts flexing again. 

In despair even crude efforts come handy. At Bemina and Tengpora people had made crude rafts, of empty plastic cans then tied them to wood planks, of tin sheets tied to inflated tubes, of ladders and planks tied to more tubes, of oars made from ply sheets, oars made from wood panels, even floor wipers turned into oars. And these were efforts of survival by people who had been left at the mercy of fate by an anarchic government. How else would people survive in such places where even nine days after the floods, the water levels were neck deep with no means of communication or supplies delivery? Evidently the government had already written off and forgotten people here and elsewhere. 

On radio heard a senior bureaucrat claim that ‘his government had arranged for and distributed medicine across flood affected areas, wherever was necessary’. Then wondered had ‘his government’ already credited the millions of rupees worth of medicine contributed and distributed by civilians to the affected (including large supplies of medicine arranged by my sister and her friends), to ‘his government’ kitty? Next this gentleman would credit ‘his government’ for the naturally decreasing water levels too.

Have more stories of this catastrophe, but I need to end this page here, hoping that a new day will bring us more hope, more reasons to fight for our lives, more lines to write.

From the sunk city.
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