The night that changed everything…
It was 6th September 2014. The water level in Jhelum was rising in Srinagar. Some low lying areas were already under water. South Kashmir was already flooded.
That evening was the first time when an announcement regarding floods was made on the mosque loudspeaker. Everyone was requested to come to the Jhelum/Chuntkul bund so that sand is filled in bags and put as a temporary embankment to prevent water from entering into Maisuma. People were seen emptying their shops in Maisuma, many were helping in filling the sand bags. Some even started to flee with their families to their relatives in Downtown/Soura/Nishat,etc A PNB ATM at Amira Kadal was by chance open even at 9 PM. Water had already reached the parapet of the bund and it was just a matter of time that the extra water would have entered the locality.
We returned home. I had told everyone at home to sleep so that I remain awake and stay alert if something happens. I was using Whatsapp to communicate with my out of station cousins so that I can give any info about South Kashmir to them because communication to South Kashmir was already blocked. At almost 3 AM, water started to enter Lal Chowk through Abi Guzar. Kashmir twitterati had already started sharing pics of inundated Lal Chowk, Lal Ded Hospital and other areas.
I slept only at 6 AM when my parents woke up from their sleep. But that was short lived. Somewhere around 9 AM, an announcement was made that water has started to enter the neighboring locality. In all the nervousness, the electric department cut off the power supply. At the same time, Airtel’s network went down to zero. The last update I got that my maternal relatives had been evacuated because water had already entered their locality. In all the hara-kiri, I couldn’t sleep again. Another announcement was made. This time around it was a request to shift the belongings from the ground floor to the 1st floor. Everyone started to do that. By 1 PM, we had shifted everything to the 1st floor. At 2 PM, we went to the Gowkadal bund again just to see the level of water. Water was already spilling over the Gowkadal gate onto the Chuntkul side. Water entering the localities was imminent but who knew, there was worse in store.
At around 5 PM, water started to come up in our locality. It was mostly because of blocked drainage of one side of our locality. We somehow removed our car from the garage and got it at the highest point of the locality so that it is least affected by the inundation. Another relative called in to know about us. They were evacuated to SMC HQ in Karan Nagar. BSNL had also stopped working by then.
By 7 PM, water had already started to seep into our home. Everyone in the family was monitoring the increase in the level every time. Having dinner already in a disturbed state, we stood on the verandah just watching the garden filled with the murky water. At that point no one amongst us had thought that this is not even a quarter of the water level that is going to surround the house.
At around 11:30 PM, we were still sitting on the verandah of our home. The first cry of a neighbor was heard. The embankment adjacent to our neighbor’s house had just started to weaken. One could only anticipate what could be next. There was no electricity. Only a few lights because of inverters and generators. Hurriedly everyone entered the home. The first thing I did was to close all the windows and doors so that water actually takes time to enter our house instead of getting filled instantly in case water enters. The only source of light for me was my mobile phone while others in the family had a torch. As soon as I closed the ground floor’s door and hurried towards first floor, there were deafening cries of ladies from our neighbors. The embankment had already broken. Water entered into the locality as if a gate had been opened up in a hydroelectric dam. The flow of water destroyed everything that came in its way. Walls were broken, pillars damaged, an iron gate just came out of the pillar. The way water just barged in, I can never forget that sight. It was so scary that not even a Hollywood movie on floods can replace that for me. Considering the height of water in the river, it was understood that the inundation will not be limited to the ground floor alone. I already started to move my books to the 2nd floor now. The closed windows in the ground floor could have given us a benefit of only few minutes. I just once started to look out of my window. Water had already started to come into our lawn over the boundary wall. A sight similar to the incoming waves on the sea shore. From the time, we went to the ground floor, we got only 15 minutes of time and we could hardly shift things. The 1st floor had items from the ground floor as well as its own. I still remember my brother shouting that water has entered the 1st floor now. As soon as I lifted my foot, the water had already lifted the carpet with it. After that, we could hardly save anything other than our lives and food.
At that moment, that one scene of Titanic flashed before me when water enters the corridor of the ship and everyone is struggling to move out of the ship. Similar was the situation. Once the water reached waist level, we left everything as it is.
We were already on 2nd floor now. The water had almost reached half the height of the 1st floor. Surrounded by almost 18 feet of water, we were staring at a nightmare. By the time we could just sit down, it was 2 AM. Aircel phones were working even at that point. I told Dad to call just one of my cousins in Delhi so that our situation is known to every relative of ours outside the state. That one call and within minutes Aircel went down.
Who could have slept? Everyone just was lying down. An eerie silence had already fallen around. Not even single whisper was heard outside. No one was sure whether the next door neighbors are alive or not since the houses were relatively distant from each other. After lying down, I heard a dog trying to swim in the middle of nowhere. Someone who is already in fear, such things give you a panic attack. I didn’t realize when I fell asleep but I woke up with the sound of a neighboring house collapsing down. The inhabitants had already fled 2 days back but the house went to dust.
Can anyone imagine a boat passing through his home? Can anyone imagine a boat moving above the kitchen garden in your house? Can anyone imagine a boat reaching the windows of your 1st floor? No one does, at least I didn’t but that was a reality at that time. Over the next few days, boats were taking out people who were stuck in the locality. Some fled in makeshift boats, either made of PET bottles or some made up of rubber tubes. After 2 days, there were only 4 families living in the whole locality who decided not to leave. We stayed witness to everything. I saw at least 5-6 houses surrounding my home collapsing due to the waters. For the rest, I could hear only the sounds. A staggering 26 houses had collapsed in just a small locality of ours. Though people had already left everything behind. With every collapse, the fear used to increase lest the next will be ours. But thanks to Almighty, that didn’t happen.
Over the next 10 days, I was stuck in my home. I didn’t know how to swim. I moved out of my house for the first time on 15th September. With limited food, limited potable water and limited resources, we had survived almost 10 days. The first genuine outside help reached us after 6 days and they were some youth from the adjacent locality distributing medicines, potable water and candles. In the 6 days in between, I could see helicopters only making sorties from Nehru Park to Airport. Just twice it came around of which once they dropped expired foods and other time they wasted a lot of effort by throwing food in the murky water. In those days, I was literally cut off from the world. We didn’t leave home for 2 reasons. It wasn’t better to be miserable at a relief camp than to be miserable at home. And second, home is where the heart lies.
Once everything was settled, relatives had started visiting. They would weep seeing the destruction around but we weren’t sad/emotional at any point of time later. We had seen the worst, worse than one could imagine of us and by the grace of Almighty we had come out of it.
I could have written thousands of words about the same but then it will go on like anything. I always wanted to write about whatever happened during that fortnight, never got the chance or the desire to do so. But as 1 year has passed on, instead I decided to write about that one night that changed my life forever. I still remember each detail of the time. Even if years pass on, I will never forget it…
P.S. As we observe the 1st anniversary of Kashmir floods, I would like to say to everyone who helped Kashmiris whether they were locals or outsiders during that tragedy needs to be appreciated, irrespective of the quanta of the work they did, a big THANK YOU to all of you from a flood survivor.
THIS IS A PERSONAL MEMORY, PLEASE DON’T PUBLISH ELSEWHERE.