Horrors and Heroics

History’s unprecedented floods have not left the stories of horror alone, there are thousands of instances in which the heroics of youth created a new generation of role models. R S Gull details instances in which individuals’ opted extremes to manage the safety of their families

A middle-aged man taking an elderly person out of the submerged area. KL image

On September 6, panic gripped Rajbagh after the news of overflowing of Jhelum spread in and around the area like wildfire. But till evening that day, the upsurged Jhelum had calm down a bit making locals believe that the fury of flood has spared the area. But all notions fell flat when around 3 am Sunday morning, the flood reached at their doorsteps triggering panic, wails and cries. The ferocity of waters was such that only handful was able to flee, while scores remained stranded anticipating their near end.

That Sunday morning a government teacher, Hamza Ahmad was able to flee, but he lost contact with his stranded wife and only son. Three days after Ahmad with the help of local volunteers rescued his stranded family members who were on the verge of near “collapse”. But then not everyone was as fortunate as Ahmad.

As the government is collecting details of the catastrophe that decimated Kashmir, heart-wrenching stories are in circulation: a father lost his own life while rescuing his son; a young bride in her bridal dress being laid to rest as an anonymous victim; a mother, apparently a construction worker being fished out and buried by villagers with her dead son tied to her back.

In Jawahar Nagar, one of the worst affected belts, floodwaters tearing apart the house while the women were applying Hinna to the would-be-bride whose would-be groom is now missing. In a Kulgam village, a minor being accidentally fished out alive from the local torrent but unable to talk for the last three days.

Officials put the recorded deaths at less than 248 across the state but people say it will spiral up once the water is drained out from Srinagar localities. “I saw bodies floating almost daily,” Qaisar Ahmad, a rescue and relief worker who remained busy in Bemina-Batamaloo belt for four days said. “There are a lot many houses which have crumbled down.” Bemina is still marooned and rescue operations are still going on.

But the horrors of history’s biggest flood did not stop at inundation. The terror started when people started fleeing from dangerous to safe zones only to find they are in the swirl of it. Khursheed teaches at state’s Institute of Management and Public Administration (IMPA). As Jhelum swelled slightly before midnight, he cleared his ground floor of the belongings at his Nowgam residence and fled with two sons and wife. He took refuge at Jawahar Nagar. Minutes after, the flood washed into their kitchen and the family left again. “It was a competition with the water currents,” Khursheed said. “I won by reaching the IMPA complex first but flood followed me there too.” Eventually, the family managed its flight to distant Naseem Bagh.

There are instances in which families fled from one locality and changed shelters thrice but were eventually inundated at places they considered most safe. In a relief camp at Barzalla is an extended family of three sisters and a brother. They were busy at a wedding at Kakpora when flood overtook them and washed away the house. They took refuge in Mehjoor Nagar where another sister lived but fled when it was inundated.

“Similarly, the remaining two houses at Natipora and Nowgam were dismembered and now we have this relief camp as our collective address,” Zareefa, the eldest of the three sisters said. “After I came out of the mosque on Sunday I could feel an inch of water moving and by the time I reached home, barely 100 ft away, half of me was in the water,” recalls horrifically Nazir Tramboo, a top businessman and a resident of Kursoo Rajbagh. “My son literally dragged the kids into a parked SUV and rushed out. I closed my eyes fearing the imminent death of my progeny. By the time, he rang me up from

Nishat (almost 8 km away) we were on the third floor of the house.” Army choppers reached him a day later but he dreaded to dangle in the air and was eventually rescued by a boat. Mrs and Mr Farooq Jan lived with their ailing daughter and granny at Nowgam. “As the water started streaming into the house, my husband gave me an option to leave with the ailing child or stay put and take care of my mother,” Tahira said. “Mother and I were alone in the house when water started inching into the second floor, the fear caught hold of me yelling for help the neighbours managed our window-to-window evacuation and the daughter-mother was rescued.” With levels comfortably down, the Jans’ house is stinking like a gutter. They have moved out for the time being.

Well before the Jhelum started gushing in anger, its torrent tributary Doudhganga inundated the Bone & Joint hospital in Barzalla. It also hit hard the civilian inhabitation around. Sheikh Zahoor was frightened. He sent his two daughters to their aunt’s posh Cooperative Colony on the airport road. A day later, somebody informed him that the Colony is in deep waters. “I was in tears, I decided to get my daughters home but when I reached the area, it was an ocean, chin-deep,” Zahoor said. “A young man saw me in a challenging mode and followed me. We created a floating sheet and first rescued the kids, then we used a bigger plastic tub and water tank to move out the aged and the women.”

Instances of individuals risking their lives to manage basics for their marooned hungry families are going to be the new role models in the valley. In Solina, a Congressman is a new hero who managed comfortably getting his ailing father to the attic of his house and then swimming out to get his insulin and finally tearing the tin-sheets apart and seek the rescue.

A Bemina man swimming to the nearest medical camp for his son’s medicines and a techie fabricating a ragtag boat to save his ailing parents and keeping them on top of conductors of an electric pole when the ‘boat’ turns turtle are the new symbols of valour. A boy even flew a rescue boat from Sweden to get his parents out to safety only to hear the army had done it while he was in transit.

Will the horrors of this crisis force course correction in the development of deluge? Can the new heroics inspire a new generation of activism? Answers shall come once Srinagar starts rebuilding itself.

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