City, One Week After

One week after the worst flood-hit the summer capital, scenes around the city were both relieved as well as remorseful. Bilal Handoo narrates certain scenes after Jhelum calmed down and let people move around

City centre Lal Chowk. Photo: Bilal Bahadur
City centre Lal Chowk. Photo: Bilal Bahadur

One week ago. Sunday. September 7. A similar panic spread on the streets of Srinagar. Unlike today, when the horde (held hostage by floods for over a week at different parts of valley) is frenetically moving here and there to trace their dear ones; then (a week ago) it was the terror of upsurging Jhelum that had breached Bund and started flooding the city centre Lalchowk and adjoining areas. Many flood-displaced families were moving towards downtown, apparently their last refuge and the only unaffected area then. And now the same people are going back to take stock of their leftover homes and their cut off relatives, still stranded at parts of civil lines.

But at a short distance from Lalchowk, cries and wails were heard at the time when instead of vehicles, boats started running on inundated Srinagar roads. Many people had gathered at Dalgate to see: how the sudden flood water (that had breached another bund nearby) was flowing at a frightening pace and volume into Dal Lake. And the result: at Chinar Bagh, people were recording with their cellphones the drowning scenes of one of the houseboats. The inhabitants were crying their heart out. But there was no help. Or, rescue around. Human interventions seemed drowned in the fury of the flood. And those who were watching the scenes were visibly shaken. They stood petrified. Perhaps, each one of them had gauged the intensity of roaring waters and the hell it was about to unleash!

What happened afterwards doomed too many dreams and desires like never before. But what happened wasn’t a big secret that suddenly got surfaced and submerged the city in a jiffy. It was exactly what doomsayers had been predicting for so long: “a dangerous flood is coming!” Eventually, when it did come, it shook State to its core and caught its disaster management off-guard in a big way. (By stripping State completely off, the devastating flood left nothing for the imagination.)

Now eight days have passed since parts of Srinagar submerged. It is following Sunday. The threatening rains have stopped drenching the city. Sun is out. So are people, moving, as if in trance. Everybody follows a huge procession towards civil lines. The water level has receded. Jhelum is no longer furious. It seems calm and composite at the moment. But now, people realise: behind that placid façade lies a devastating ire that did damage beyond repairs. Those who have turned up at the old Zaina Kadal Bridge to see the calm Jhelum flowing below must be mindful of the fact: how miraculously they survived the Volta-face of Vyeth.

Makeshift tents on Bund. Photo: Bilal Bahadur
Makeshift tents on Bund. Photo: Bilal Bahadur

At a number of places, makeshift tents offering food to flood victims have been erected. These local community-run eateries or lungers can be seen in almost every part of downtown. In one such makeshift tent located on the link road between Shah Hamdan Shrine and Fateh Kadal, flood victims are reluctantly going for lunch. Most of them still sitting on shop fronts are looking lost and exhausted. Some of them are clad in night dresses. It seems flood was indeed in a big hurry to render them homeless and throw them on the streets. A few of them move around as if in sleepwalking with uncombed hair, unshaven faces and shabby clothes. Everyone seems to have burdened with their own sense of loss.

But amid sighs, are spines. Spines to restart what troubled waters completely devoured. Hope still lives on in these murky times. Those who are feeding the victims stand out from the crowd. They console, calm and comfort the affected ones. It seems the flood hasn’t washed away everything. Indeed, certain things are too colossal to collapse. “Nature teaches us some hard-hitting lessons,” one elderly person is telling a group of flood victims near Habba Kadal. “We need to pause and ponder. Allah has given us a second chance. Loss of material is far better than the loss of life. Let’s not lose our heart and hope. Not everything is lost. We have survived and we will again survive this torment of nature.”

A little far away, five women are busy washing clothes at a community tap. Each one of them is venting out her share of loss. They rue. They sob. They cry. But they console each other too. It seems they are patients as well as psychologists themselves.

They live near the riverbank. Water had submerged their modest houses too. Two days back, when water level came down, they stepped inside their houses only to witness a trail of destruction left behind by the receded Jhelum. It was mud, filth and clay all over. Under a thick layer of muck lied their kid’s books and school uniform buried. Their kitchen wares, quilts, clothes, documents, certificates…everything disappeared in the deluge.

An elderly mother is inconsolable near Srinagar’s Barbarshah. She wails at the sight of her flood-torn house still inundated in water. But not everyone is mourning loud over what flood ended within a few days. A man wearing white khan dress sitting inside a nearby park is talking to none but to himself! He makes weird (somewhat animated) facial expressions while saying something quite inaudible. A brief inquiry from locals reveals that he is one of the flood victims who lost everything. The aftermath of the flood seems nothing short of tragic and traumatic.

At the entrance of Chinar Bagh, a middle-aged lady is clearing dirt from her family photo album. Behind her stand crumbled households, devastated by floods. People rendered homeless have erected makeshift tents on road. Scenes don’t seem ordinary here. People are running frantically to fetch relief material. Some of them are clearing muck from their homes; while children are busy drying their soaked books in the sunshine. In less than eight days, life in the city is totally off-guard and off-colour.

Radio crossing is abuzz with people trying to march towards Rajbagh. It is the only available route to the locality. Others are still submerged. The flood has defaced the bund. What lies behind are scenes of destruction: washed off the road, vehicles stuck in the mud and stinking carcasses.

Near Abdullah Bridge, people are carrying an ailing man. They say, the man was stuck at his home for the last seven days. Another man had been laid to rest in the morning. People say, his body was floating nearby after he drowned a week ago near TRC.

On the other side of the bridge, residences are still submerged. People sitting on sidewalks look worn out and dazed. Some shops have been thrown open. But instead of selling their stuff, they are either throwing it out or washing it off. “Loss is too colossal,” one shopkeeper rues. “This flood simply ruined us.”

Christian Cemetary on Bund. Photo: Bilal Bahadur
Christian Cemetary on Bund. Photo: Bilal Bahadur

Back to Bund. On the other side of the footbridge. The flood has washed off the fence of Christian cemetery. Many crosses atop graves are visible. The backside of Srinagar’s lower court stands crumbled. A major part of the road leading to Amira Kadal Bridge has been eroded.

And on the other side of Bridge, scenes continue to be grim and grotesque.


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