Bahadur on Tree!

Extreme ground situations, especially the floods, have sent people climbing over trees. In Samboora, a soldier from Tral climb up a tree but floods uprooted it and killed him. On September 7, an AP photographer clicked two youth on a tree in Rajbagh. Far away in Shivpora, a non local was also on a tree for three days. He tells his story to Saima Bhat

Prasad spent 65 hours on this tree.
Prasad spent 65 hours on this tree.

In the early hours of September 7, 2014, when the flood water breached all man-made barriers and entered Shivpora locality, fifty-year-old Hari Prasad, a Nepali resident, climbed a Russian breed popular tree outside his single story rented accommodation, thinking that the water will recede as quickly as it has risen. He was wrong! For next 65 hours, the slippery tree-top became his only hope and abode, before he was finally rescued.

Like many others, Prasad, a JKTDC employee and a private guard, too didn’t take announcements made from the local mosques seriously and relied on the past experiences of an octogenarian Pandit lady who lived next door.

But when water started entering Shivpora at around 3 AM, residents started abandoning their houses en-masse. Only Prasad and the aged Pandit lady decided to stay-back, perhaps hoping for a miracle.

Within an hour’s time, when increasing water level forced Prasad to take refuge on the rooftop of his house, he regretted his decision of staying back. “In panic I jumped on the tree hoping that water will get down soon. But it kept rising instead forcing me to climb higher with each passing hour,” recalls Prasad.

By 7:30 AM, water has submerged two stories of the surrounding houses, forcing Prasad to climb to the top of the tree for refuge. “Suddenly it stopped rising any further and I knew that I had made a wrong choice; first by staying back and then by climbing this slippery tree,” says Prasad. “My neighbour (Pandit lady) had assured me that water won’t rise higher than ankle level; that too is worst case scenario. And I trusted her,” says Prasad.

But when water submerged that Pandit lady’s first floor where she was putting up, she couldn’t bear the shock or move to safety and suffered a heart attack and died instantly. “I got terrified when she (Pandit lady) became silent. I thought it is my turn next,” says Prasad.

After a few hours an army boat came to recover the Pandit lady’s body. On seeing the approaching boat Prasad’s terrified face lit with joy. “I cried, I yelled, I requested them to take me along and save me but they didn’t listen to me. I even told them when they are taking a dead body then why can’t they take a living person along. But all they said was they will return to take me along but somewhere I knew they will never return because I was not any officer and neither rich to offer them anything. Same happened. They never returned,” says Prasad.

For next three days Prasad was on that tree. During all these days and nights, he was shouting and crying, “mei paid par hu, mujhai bachaow; be chues kulis paith, mei bachaw (I am on a tree, save me).”

“You see I was shouting in Hindi so that if outsiders might pass around they will save me and in Kashmiri so that if locals pass through they will save me. But nobody came to save me for those three days.” Prasad said.

“And for all those hours, what only passed through my throat was the flood water. I used to take some water in my handkerchief and put my another hand below it to take some pure drops of water, that time I used to console my heart by thinking that the handkerchief can filter this water to some extent. Only that water used to keep moisture in my mouth so that I can shout for help again,” recalls Prasad.

During those 65 hours, when Prasad had one slippery tree between life and death, three unknown voices coming from three different directions kept his hopes alive.

“When I used to shout for help, those three voices used to support me by saying a boat will come and they will send that boat for me. But I knew it was all lie, nobody was going to save me or them because nobody came through our area for those three days. I was 100 per cent sure that I am going to die soon,” says Prasad.

Prasad’s family was in Nepal and he was alone at his rented house that day. Before climbing on that tree Prasad had taken along his mobile phone, which was not working now; a torch, which he used for checking the water levels during night and a red sweater.

He took his sweater off on the very first day and placed it on the top of tree to catch the attention of helicopters.

But helicopters never bothered to notice him or his sweater, they simply flew past him. “It was not easy to stay on that tree-top for three days. I saw trees getting uprooted, building collapsing around me, household goods getting washed away, and structures sink. It was like waiting for my turn. I couldn’t even think of my family as all I saw was death around. And I was sure I won’t make it out alive ever,” recalls Prasad.

But then Prasad’s eyes lit up when he saw a boat, rowed by state police, coming towards him. “They came near and took me along on late Tuesday afternoon. I remember the first thing I asked them was water. I had water and some biscuits and closed my eyes for some time to take a breath of life and feel that I am alive,” says Prasad.

Now after 20 days when Prasad returned to his house, he was told that the boat was sent for his rescue by a local Muslim boy, who himself was caught in the floods.

He was the same boy whose voice was among the three supportive voices Prasad heard during her 65 hour long ordeal. “That boat had actually come to save him but he instead asked them to save me first as I was on a tree,” said Prasad.

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