When flood deserted Srinagar’s Press Enclave, a lady stayed back only to witness the devastating drive of Jhelum around. A government official by profession, she tells Bilal Handoo her account of awe and agony
As the clock struck 2:30 AM Sunday on September 7, somebody rang our doorbell. That late midnight call created an instant panic. I grew anxious, very anxious.
On Saturday evening, panic had gripped Lal Chowk after the news broke out: Jhelum is overflowing the bund near Abdullah Bridge in Rajbagh. But instead of overflow, I saw a leakage in the Bund. Water was slowly spilling in the area. But the situation appeared under control. My brother told me: “It will take only twenty sandbags to stop the leakage.” But it seemed both locals and authorities had given up well before Jhelum came out of its banks and wreaked havoc.
Everybody on the spot sounded like ‘prophet of doom,’ predicting the worst. Even my brother was a doomsayer for the day: “A devastating flood is going to hit us soon.”
After we returned to our flat in Srinagar’s Press Enclave, I heard my brother telling someone: “Just leave. Rajbagh is about to submerge!” And soon everybody left. Later I came to know that only three persons were left in the Press Enclave: Me, my brother and a prominent Kashmiri photojournalist, Habib Naqash.
My brother woke up to respond that untimely doorbell which appeared both troublesome and frenetic. But before opening the door, he cried out: “Who is this?”
The man outside the door responded in an alarmed voice: “Please open the door. I need the office key.” On the top floor of our building is a newspaper office. The office staffers keep a key of the main door of their office with us to meet any eventuality.
The moment my brother opened the door, he could see a trembling man standing outside along with his equally shivering wife and a kid. “What’s wrong? Is everything alright?” My brother enquired from the man who was out of breath. After a while, the most disturbing words came out of his mouth: “I am ruined!”
The man went on to say how his family had a narrow escape at Rajbagh where water had risen suddenly at midnight and had inundated his house along with the entire area. That poor man could save nothing from his Rajbagh rented residence.
After hearing the man’s account, our worst fears had come true. All doubts had melted away. The flood was indeed on its way. My brother grew restless. He soon left to take stock of the situation. It was 2:45 AM. He later told me that he saw scores of shopkeepers emptying their shops in Lal Chowk. He had seen a stream of Jhelum flowing over Bund near Polo View. Near Hari Singh High Street, he had seen flood submerging houses and shops. In a panic, he returned and told me: “Let’s go to Rajbagh to check the status of our relatives there.”
The moment we reached Abdullah Bridge, we saw the most disturbing scenes. It was as if entire residents of Rajbagh had assembled on the bridge. Those were heart-wrenching scenes, something out of one’s imagination. I could see mass mourning and a poignant picture of shattered lives.
We returned home. And soon my brother left to buy some bread and other essentials.
With the first stroke of light, I could see Regal Chowk filled with the flood. The water level was only rising. And then, at 10:15 AM, the disturbing calm around was shattered by a loud thud. It was earthshaking. As I peeped outside to make sense of the sound, I saw a mighty Chinar down on Exchange road. The ferocious flood had uprooted the giant tree.
The sight set off a wild pulse in my heart. I began thinking: If a mighty Chinar can fell like a house of cards, then the building dating back to Dogra Maharaja’s time — where we are living, can reduce into rubble at any time now. I later realised, the flood had also devastated our mental calm besides lives and properties around.
And then later that day, all hell broke loose when angry Jhelum breached Bund near Abi Guzar facing the backside of our building. Within no time, gallons of water rushed through and filled the Lal Chowk. The fierce flow of flood dismantled fences, buildings and everything that came in its path.
At around 7:15 PM, we heard cries entering our window facing the Congress office: “Somebody, please help us!” We both hurried to our window. The water level by then had submerged the first floor of our building. Outside our window, we saw two non-locals atop a Chinar tree. As the water rose, we saw them climbing higher and higher. They remained stranded on the tree for two days.
Two days after, we saw an NDRF boat sailing around. We pleaded those men to save two stranded non-locals on the tree. They assured help on their return. But they never showed their faces again. It was then a local boatman appeared. We asked him to rescue the non-locals. He did it and dropped them at a nearby building-turned-refuge centre. We could see from our window how much relieved those two non-locals felt.
During those fifteen days, I witnessed many things outside my window. I saw carcasses, wrecked houses, home appliances and articles of every nature floating around in flood. Boats were sailing over Pratap Park, something which I had never seen before.
When all this was happening, the government was nowhere visible. Some choppers made their occasional presence felt. But they rescued those who apparently figured in their list. Rest were shrugged off, as if, they were lesser mortals.
Now, I have lost track of all those events and incidents. I believe, one should have a bad memory for nightmares. Or, there is every possibility of life turning into a living agony.
But this much I remember: Nobody came to our rescue, except locals. Yasin Malik was the first person to reach us with medicines and eatables.
We didn’t sleep during those days. The entire area looked haunted. And since it was a blackout, we lit earthen lamps during night. Locals sailing on boats were our eyes and ears of happenings around. They told us how a rumour was rife about our building being among the list of collapsed structures in Lal Chowk.
But amid all this, I could see death staring hard at us. We simply escaped God’s wrath.