Everyone was searching for their loved ones, perhaps reluctantly, as if heading toward a graveyard where the dead ones were calling to us pleading to be buried yet again…
By Sheikh Shahid
Those were the days when I was one among hundreds of helpless witnesses to a family on the cusp of disintegration. Where a father, being thousands of miles away and not having been able to meet his wife and two young boys for years, was ceaselessly crying over phone pleading us to search for his family. It was something heartbreaking. Unprecedented. Unbelievable.
A spectacle of utter helplessness before the fury of nature.
My uncle, Dr Imran did his MBBS from Russia and married Shahifa, a Russian girl there. After completing his course, the couple returned to the valley and within few years they were bestowed with two beautiful boys, Sehran and Rayhan. Due to the all-pervading unemployment in the valley, Dr Imran first moved to Maldives in 2002. After practising there for some years, he moved to the politically-striven Libya. Due to his job overseas, he hardly manages to meet his family.
Owing to Dr Imran’s rural domicile, a good education for his boys seemed one of the demanding responsibilities. The village where he resides has no school at all and the adjoining town also lacks in quality education. So he decided to rent a flat in Srinagar’s posh area of Rajbagh and admitted his sons in one of the elite schools of Srinagar, DPS.
Mother would be doing things for the boys while they would get a better education in Srinagar. Imagine the struggle of a Russian girl thousands of miles away from her home and living with her only two little boys in a place where she is called foreign and with her only hope – her husband, away in Libya!
This is one example of highest sacrifice where parents, especially the mother strangulate every desire for the sake of their children’s career.
Things were going smooth until one September night when the skies ceaselessly thundered, rained, triggering worst flood of the century in valley. That night the Jehlum flowed with an unprecedented fury beyond its limits into the inhabited and uninhabited places alike. Everything that came its way, it destroyed without a favour, without any discrimination.
Thousands were rendered homeless and hundreds lost their dear ones and countless others were injured. But the worst moments were the loss of any contact, snapping of every means of communication. That was a pain in the subconscious, something worst a human can suffer.
Down was washed everything, but hope.
At the very beginning of the rain, her father-in-law had called Shahifa to come home in the village, but she ignored as there wasn’t any slightest fear of a flood. But when one night, the Jhelum roared and crossed over the bunds, Shahifa found her flat enclosed in water from all the sides. She tried calling her friends, but found all communication lines down. She was all by herself with her little boys. They began to move their belongings to the upper floor of the house. The water continued to rise with time.
On our part, we did whatever we could. But there was only little that we could do as flood had rendered every path unviable.
For six days there was no end to rain. Water with every passing day was rising, thus lowering every bit of hope of finding Shahifa and her two boys. No one believed them to be alive as whole of the Rajbagh was thought of completely being submerged under the water because of being on a lower altitude than the general landscape. Our search was in fact the search for three corpses, but no one ever dared to accept that. Those were the moments when days and nights were all alike. We were awake anyway.
As the rain stopped and the water level receded, there was talk of some roads being open for traffic. So we decided to visit Rajbagh. For the first five visits, I didn’t accompany my uncle and his friends. But after relentless search for almost a week, I decided to go along with them.
After a hectic travel, we reached Rambagh from where water was still high up the knees. For a moment I thought that I might faint at the sight. A chopper hovering over our head, causing dust storm, and dropping some pieces of bread in the water below.
Everyone seemed to have lost in his own gamble of thoughts, suffering something unique yet sharing a common disaster. Everyone was searching for their loved ones, perhaps reluctantly, as if heading toward a graveyard where the dead ones were calling to us pleading to be buried yet again.
After walking some distance straight in the water, I realized that we had reached somewhere knowing nothing where we were heading towards. I called upon others to return back to the other way where actually we were supposed to go. After crossing the water we reached onto the bund where water had lowered down to a level.
As I looked around I began to notice the final level to which the flood water had actually risen. The houses were still submerged under the water to the ground floor and people were with their belongings in the first floor. As we kept moving along the bund we reached to a point where the bund was completely destroyed by the water and people now used bricks and some logs to bridge the gap.
It was a serious risk to cross that makeshift bridge but the love for the dear ones had blinded, everyone of us. We crossed the bridge and after some distance I saw a yellow school bus capsized infront of a home with water entering its front and leaving from the sides. At a little distance, someone had parked his car on the road, hanging by a water pipe, running beneath the road.
Walking some feet, a few carcasses were floating in the water on which some crows were plucking at the flesh. As we neared our destination we tried to locate the flat where Shahifa and her two boys lived. After some time someone among us cried in joy, “it is there, with the yellow paint, and it is standing still!”
We heaved a sigh of relief as we were not sure of the building withstanding the pressure of water. A few minutes later someone enquired from a lady about them and she told us that she had seen Shahifa and her boys leaving in a boat that her flat owner had sent. This was something much needed that finally we could tell our family back home, to smile, at last.
Some days later as the mobile phones restored, my uncle got a phone call from Shahifa that they were heading toward home. That was, at last, a happy ending for us.
But everyone else was not fortunate like us. Many others lost their dear ones never to find them again. For them, it is an endless search – as Marquez would have said, “a search in the times of flood”.
(The author is an English Literature student from Thamuna Pulwama in South Kashmir)