Memory

The day Jhelum, the poet’s muse, went loose…

Feeling the 2014 deluge of Kashmir a thousand miles away

 

Doha (Qatar): The river, which has always been an inspiration to poets and lovers alike, a river which has quietly flown through our magical city since time immemorial, a river which has seen bloody violence and traces of happiness too, a river which provides livelihood and home to thousands, suddenly, just suddenly, decided to take over the dry land which we called home. And it did, within hours. My magical city had magically disappeared. My home, which I used to brag about, was part under water and part on the mercy of Allah.

Rains for days are not new to Srinagar. In fact, water-logged streets were a new kind of a playground for the children of the city. However, this time, the water didn’t just log the roads. It logged carpet draped drawing rooms (usually out of bounds for children), soft and cozy sitting rooms, stuffed kitchens, overburdened store rooms, lawns decorated with roses and tulips, almost everything which is cherished by all. The otherwise calm Jhelum didn’t stop there. It rose and rose and rose, till all the people who loved it, were on roof-tops staring at death.

I was not in the city when it drowned. I am still not there. But I felt short of breath, same as a family who saw their everything floating in the muddy waters while sitting helplessly on some dry elevation.

Two days before the fateful day, I picked up the phone and called my father, as usual. It had been raining for a couple of days. “Ruod chune thape tullan (The rains have no plans of stopping). Danger mark gow cross (It has crossed the Jhelum danger mark),” said my father, casually. I, sitting miles away in the rich part of Middle East (Qatar) also chuckled. Little did I know that it would be my last chuckle for a long time to come.

I didn’t call the next day. I still wonder why I didn’t.

On the day when Srinagar was all Jhelum, I got a call from home. I couldn’t hear anything except cracking sounds. I tried to call back. I didn’t connect. I tried calling using the internet. I didn’t connect. After a couple of hours (by then Rajbagh and Jawahar Nagar were cut off), my father managed to connect. “Aab chu pakaan. Magar Khuday kare sahlye. Mein chune basaan aise ache andar (Water is flowing but I don’t think it will enter our homes. Allah will have mercy on us),” said my father, who was clearly not telling me the truth. Before I could cross question, the call got disconnected.

The next time I got any news from home was a message from my wife saying that they were safe on the first floor of the house!

Like a freaked out monkey, I started walking round and round in my room, trying to connect with my loved ones. For like an hour or less, I was in contact with my wife on Whatsapp. In the middle of the conversation I got a call from my wife telling me to call a rescue team so that our neighbors (who have a couple of children) could be rescued. The desperate attempts of my family members to pose on the first floor with happy faces were epic fails. She couldn’t tell me that they needed a boat!

The last thing which she sent me before the total blackout, was a picture of my mother with a fake smile trying to cheer my one year old daughter. They were on the first floor balcony, with water just a feet away.

For the next five hours I didn’t think about the surely raising water levels. I only though about the message from my wife which said, “We are okay. Water is increasing but we are Okay on the first floor. I don’t think it will increase more.”

In the meanwhile, someone created a page on the social networking site Facebook by the name of ‘Kashmir Flood Information Channel’. For the next four days, it became the only channel which connected me to my inundated home. However, it had a flip side too. Most of the people posting on this page were outside Kashmir when the tragedy was going on. People, freaked out and worried to death, posted anything and everything!

Water in Bemina, 10 feet! Ya Allah Reham!

Water level in Rajbagh, two floors! Ya Allah Reham!

Floods take over my area! Ya Allah Reham!

Does anybody have information about xxx area. Please tell me. I have no contact back home.

Bodies floating! Ya Allah Reham!

Houses collapsing with people inside! Ya Allah Reham!!!!

I have never seen the phrase ‘Ya Allah Reham’ (Allah, have mercy on us) being used by so many people at the same time. It was as if all were in some kind of a trance.

Thousands of posts, with less information and more panic began to emerge. It became fodder for a nervous breakdown. Soon, the blame game started too. The rescue information also became complicated like the political situation of Kashmir Valley. Different story altogether.

During this electronic mayhem, I got into touch with an old friend, based in the UAE, who is married to my next door neighbour’s daughter. We began consoling each other. And the consoling went on till morning. It stretched till next day!

A page was created within a page. Some people from the part of the city I live in, Qamarwari, created a page dedicated to the particular area. Now, there was a whole colony of us consoling each other. Nobody really knew what was actually going on back home. But I knew that my place and people would be in trouble as the now ferocious Jhelum (over) flows just behind us and the newly constructed colony in front of our old settlement was actually a flood basin. I kept quiet, and so did the others and allowed the consoling to go on.

Finally, on the third day of the flood, information started to pour in, saying that loss of life and property is only being reported from the worst-hit areas of the city, Rajbagh and Jawahar Nagar. Suddenly, out of the blue, my brother, based in Hyderabad, called and said he spoke to some rescue personnel. The person told him that everyone in Qamarwari who has a two or three story home is ‘safe’. I was back to square one. The last message from my wife, about three days ago, conveyed the same thing: ‘Safe’ on first floor!

More hours passed. How? I have no vocabulary to describe how. They just did with my finger on the ‘enter’ button, refreshing the ‘channel’ every two minutes.

I get a message: ‘Spoke to my wife just now. They have been rescued and taken to a safe place’. My UAE based friend sends me this with a smiley! I forgot the reaction or maybe there is no reaction to such a news. It was neither good nor bad. It pointed towards ‘active’ rescue operations in my area however, there was no guarantee that my family was also on a life-saving boat.

I asked my friend, even before congratulating him, “Does she know about my family?”

He replied, “I was about to ask, but the line got disconnected.” I was left in a limbo again. I began counting my sins. I prayed and prayed and prayed as the list of my sins was uglier and deeper than the floods. I started a one-sided conversation with Him. “Don’t punish the innocents for my sins. I am right here. Do whatever you want. Spare them,” I said without opening my mouth.

I repeated the prayer so many times that I began to say it wrong, all fumbled up. Again I went through a couple of hours which I don’t recall.

I again received a smiley. Two, this time. The message was in between them. “She called back. She is at her relatives place. She told me that Mir Saheb’s family had gone to Nigeen yesterday only.”

Again, I had no reaction. I was neither happy nor freaked. I just bowed and thanked Him. But to be as honest as possible, this was third hand information. I knew my neighbor had no reason to lie or maybe crack a joke in such a situation. Still, I was divided into two. A kind of split personality.

And to add to the confusion, my brother refused to ‘celebrate’. “How does she know. And first of all who is she. If she is married why is she living with her parents?” Clearly my brother was more in a soup than me after asking about her personal life.

I dozed for a couple of hours…. It was Fajr time as I could hear the Muezzin calling. Clearly I had lost track of time as I didn’t know what day it was. My phone rang. It was my father.

Ais che saarey theek paith.

(We are all OK).

I have heard this statement before, a lot. This time it sounded different. It felt and smelt of life!


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