The Lost Halos

Arshid Malik

September 7, 2014. Muddy water gushed into almost every house in Srinagar city, especially the low-lying areas as also other parts of Kashmir, as if dying to meet its forlorn lovers – the inhabitants of the city. Maddened by a strange fury these waters inundated almost the entire city within a couple of hours. It was the dead of the night and people, after recovering from the “shock” started calling out for each other, for help. The meeting was torturous. While the rendezvous lasted for a good fortnight as the waters receded, people who had managed to flee the waters started flocking back to check on their properties and most were disgruntled at the sight of what awaited them – ruins and more of them.

It was only a week after that people started rebuilding – their hopes and houses. It took a lot of courage to make it happen but people did manage. With the minuscule relief from the establishment it was people’s own grit which helped them stay afloat – not in the waters, but the fluidic disenchantment and hopelessness.

The general sentiment that flowed around amongst the population in Kashmir around the floods was that of “retribution” with every one saying that “we” were punished for our sins and all, followed with strong feelings of community and compassion for each other. This sentiment was bravely exhibited by the masses in Kashmir during the floods, with people from downtown Srinagar and other districts of Kashmir, which were not affected by floods, risking their lives to salvage people out of the ruins that their homes had turned into. And the same feeling flowed over into the post-flood saga. I, for an observer, was all too happy to see people helping each other out, trying to rebuild each other’s homes, sharing food and laughter over horrendous stories from the flood “apocalypse”. I was filled with nostalgia which was to be worn out sooner than I had ever anticipated.

With Srinagar city entering into a mass-rebuilding phase, concrete mixers, bricks and stones everywhere the “halos” of Srinagarities started to wither and wane. The sentiment of community and compassion was soon replaced, or should I say retracted, by a strange kind of self-involvement, a perjury of kinds where people cared only about their personal selves. Every household was involved in rebuilding its “fortress” as if trying to cut off the sight of the passers-by. Isolation from community was the new idiom. Self-interest ruled and by all measures people forgot about the relevance of retribution in the post-flood scenario.

What passed by me during the floods and immediately after the floods, the immense sense of community and compassion was not the actual story but only a trait of survival. Kashmiri people had returned home. They have abandoned their spiritual home a long time back and I guess they never want to – return to their nativity, their cultural refuge, their holy cave which await their return. Disappointment.

Today is the 5th of September and we are only a day or two away from the tragic day one year back in time, an anniversary of sorts, and all we people care and talk about is the relief package promised to us by the government – the very government which does not even care about whether we exist or cease to exist. Why don’t we stop hankering after an ill-promised relief package which may never show itself and instead focus on our lost “halos”.

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