Calamities bring sadness. But there is humor in tragedy. Disaster is a great leveler. It treats everybody equally, irrespective of their social status, and when it comes to rituals like marriage.
In myriad stories of pain and sufferings, there are moments when you both laugh and empathize with your own self, being the victim and a human being who has to report the stories of human beings affected by a disaster. Wading through flood waters topped with floating trash, I listened to many stories of people from the rich and poor neighborhoods of Srinagar.
Sometimes the people would narrate stories which would simultaneously make me laugh and sad; those awkward moments when flood water entered the rooms as marriages were being solemnized, or of those looking for places to answer the nature’s call when two of their three storied homes were submerged for four days in a row.
All such stories threw open to me the fragility of human race. The evolution of man, the creation of rituals, the setting of moralities, the creation of being mannered and sacredness of a place. Calamities violate these man-made boundaries. They bring us close to the days of Adam and Eve. It reinforces us to recall the distance a man has travelled since then. And what went wrong!
Helplessness, not money, not happiness, brings you close to nature. It explains the meaning of selflessness, selfishness and liberation as well. Here are some stories from the streets of Srinagar where a million people turned to each other for survival, triumphing over one of the worst disasters that have hit the region.
The Missing Bride
In the pre-dawn hours, a groom wearing a long white coat with maroon turban appeared in Shaheed Gunj locality to have a wedding feast and take the bride along with him. The wedding party was leisurely squatting around the Tramis (a large copper plate which allows four persons to have their feast together) and munching the delicacies of Wazwan on the first storey of bride’s home.
As the fourth dish was being served, the water abruptly seeped through door gaps of ground floor. It spread over the floor, creating panic among the hosts and the guests.
The water level rose, rose and rose.
The groom, his brigade of relatives and friends, hurriedly stood up and left the dinner mid-way. They grabbed their shoes and everybody started running to save their lives.
The groom ran in one direction, his father in another, bride somewhere else. Disciplined guests and hosts turned into a mob. Chaos ruled.
After four days, the tired groom, his glossy clothes wet and splashed with mud, managed to reach his house located in an uptown locality of Srinagar. When he saw his father, his face radiated with smile.
“Mahren Kate Baba (Where is the bride),” the groom told his father.
The father paused.
“Hatha Tate Tchel Sarie Zoo Bachavith (Everybody ran for life there),” he replied.
“Totie Wan (please tell me),” the son insisted.
“Hatha Mein Cha Pai. Kouse Balaie Gae Agade (I have no idea where she is),” father shouted, much to the consternation of his deprived son.
Bride in Tub
‘M’ had made a lot of preparations for the wedding day. She had always thought to leave her home as a bride wearing colorful dresses in a big luxurious car. She was a simple and innocent girl. Her charismatic smile would make people mad. A curl of hair on her forehead would add grace to her beauty.
All along her years, she had waited for the day of marriage; the day when she would leave her home for grooms house in her costly attire. The day came during one of the recent days of ravaging floods.
Sadly, soon as the groom finished the wedding dinner at ‘M’s house in uptown locality, the streets and alleys were filled with mud water on which a sheet of garbage was floating. M who was wearing the wedding dress, something which she had dreamed of for years, was asked to change her clothes.
As M came out wearing an old pair of kurta and pyajama, there was another surprise for her – a small tin tub was to take her to the groom’s home instead of a big spacious car. M was asked to cram herself inside the tub. Few people lifted the tub while walking through the waist deep water till they reached the dry road. Hurriedly, the groom and bride were pushed inside an unknown car so that they can evade the flood.
After this incident, M is being remembered as Tub Mahryen (Tub Bride) in the locality.
I met him on the sixth day of the flood at uptown locality of Natipora.
Wearing a checkered shirt and neat pants, he seemed to be completely out of sync with the flood-ravaged surroundings. Passing vehicle blew dust storms. Narrow streets stank. Mud cakes and slush were lying all around in the area.
Giving me a wry smile, he raised his eyebrows, “Kia Waney, Mye Kroukh Khander Ze Doh Bronh Yele Sahlaab Aao (I was married two days before the flood struck Srinagar)”.
As the groom brought the bride to his Rambagh residence, the nearby Doodh-Ganga stream breached its embankment, submerging parts of the locality, the lone orthopedic hospital and parts of Barzulla hemming the rivulet.
“I took the bride and some guests to a safer house in Barzulla. By then, the flood has subsided,” he said.
“As the rain kept pounding the roofs, we decided to invite the bride’s relatives for fir saal on Saturday evening.”
The grooms’ side arranged for the wazwan now. The kebabs were ready, so was the tabak maaz and other dishes. Fewer guests had turned up on that rainy evening when the drains began to emit fountains of dirty water.
The guests panicked but wazas (cooks) were the first escapees, leaving behind their kebabs and other dishes.
The groom took 35 children, women and bride to the then perceived safer locale of Hyderpora near Tengpora bridge. Reluctantly, he had embraced the role of a savior.
Sadly, as the dawn approached, the water which had kept the entire Srinagar awake, began to rise there as well, inundating the palatial houses and glossy showrooms.
“I ran towards Hyderpora flyover with the brigade of children, men and women,” the groom said, “we went to a relative’s house. His third floor was over crowded with guests. More began to come later.”
“Sorie Draav Naste Kyen (Everything got ruined).”
Mysterious Plastic Tanks
Near Safakadal bridge, scores of people were trying to catch the flood “booties” flowing along with the gushing waters of Jehlum. The river waters would bring logs, fridges, TVs, wood, poplars, timber and corrugated tin sheets. It was sixth or seventh day since the flood had struck.
Suddenly, three plastic tanks generally used to store water flowing in the river. They became center of attraction as everybody ran to catch hold of the tanks using long wood stick, hooked iron rods or ropes tied to hooks.
Two tanks were floating almost in the middle of river; one was close to the river bank. People tried to catch the two but they failed. One person was able to cling to the third one with the help of his iron rod. The mysterious plastic tank was heavier than usual. More people came for help and somehow managed to get it closer to the banks.
The onlookers and catchers were curious to know the cause of tank’s extra weight. After all, it was a precious catch that had come after toiling hard. As they removed the lid off the tank to unravel the mystery, a stomach churning stench came out which confused the spectators.
“It is filled with faeces,” one person shouted, “throw it back into the river.”
The plastic bags tied at the top came down with water too. Crowd presumed they might be filled with some costly items. One person caught hold of a bag and in a hurry opened it.
“It contains human feces,” he screamed.
“Ye Na Kahn Yem Lefafe Ya Bag Rateuv (No one should catch these bags)”.
A few days later, I talked to a survivor who came out of his inundated home in Karan Nagar.
When the flood submerged his two storied house, he climbed to the third story and was there for a week.
“The bathrooms on ground and first floor were inundated,” he told me, “the only space to pee was either a tank or a plastic bag. People chose one among the two.
Cows on Loudspeakers
In the poor neighborhood of Padshahi Bagh, the night of September 6 presented a typical Hollywood flick based on 2012 – end of the world. The surging waters showed no mercy, smashing houses, cowsheds, garages and vehicles. The violent waters even washed away livestock, humans and dogs.
Few days after the flood, a woman told me her cow and a calf were washed away in floods. She was wailing over the loss. Miraculously, just moments after the loss, two cows arrived in the courtyard of her home from unknown location; their eyes were open and their tongues were dangling out of corners of their mouths.
The woman is now the owner of two new cows.
On the same day, as the water kept rising, the first priority of the residents was to save their cows and calves.
The water filled the two storied houses. Residents were finding it difficult to locate a high rising place for themselves and livestock. The high mosque in the locality was the only such structure. It was gloomy all around. Cows and humans were screaming for help as the flood water kept pounding everything. The inhabitants herded the cows to the first floor of the mosque.
The cows did not stop. Suddenly, due to commotion, the loudspeaker of the mosque started functioning. It was too frightening for residents. The loudspeaker multiplied the intensity of cows’ wails. The water kept rising and it flooded the first floor of the mosque. The residents, already scared by flood, wailing and screaming, had no time to decide the escape strategy.
They filled the sandbags and placed them on the staircase of the mosque leading to first floor to give it a shape of walking ramp. One by one, they held the ropes and took cows on the first floor. But the wailing of cows continued even as they were shifted to safer place. The residents took shelter on the second floor. Both humans and cows kept praying for their safety.
Ringing Door Bells
M Ahmad had just offered his morning prayers when the door bell rang on September 7 in the elite Shivpora locality of Srinagar. The ring did not stop.
“Asalamualikum. Barai Mehrabaani Darwaza Kholey (Greetings, please open the door),” the bell shouted.
Ahmad, an aged man wearing a traditional Kurta and Pyjama first thought it was the milkman. Then he thought there was some emergency. The doorbell was continuously pressing to open the message.
“Awus Ha. Ekeis Minutes Kar Qaraar. (I am coming. Please stop ringing)” Ahmad shouted back.
As he slowly walked towards the door, the bell continued to relay the message.
“Zaharbad Chui. Woutus Ha (Curses. I am coming),” Ahmad said as he reached the door.
The moment he opened the door, the water came gushing in.
The Gold Bag
When the water began flooding the streets in uptown Tulsi Bagh locality on the morning of September 7, the panicked residents began to flee. A woman shrouded in a black cloak from head to feet crossed an inundated street to scale a nearby wall towards Amar Singh College, knowing the water had not just reached there.
The woman, in her mid-forties with a hooked nose, was carrying a big black bag. She had kept it close to her chest like a baby in her mother’s lap. The woman could not scale the wall. A 10-year-old-boy was standing next to her. She asked him to hold the bag and tried again.
As she succeeded, the boy was unable to lift the bag and hand it over to the relieved woman, despite repeated attempts. This made the woman nervous.
“Hata Ath Manz Ha Chui Mye Jaadad, Ye Diu Waapas (It contains my gold jewelery. Return it),” she screamed in a fit of rage.
The boy was confused.
“Hata Ath Manz Ha Chui Mye Jaadad, Ye Diu Waapas,” she shouted again.
Aspiring Groom on a Rescue Mission
My friend, sporting a stub, came from Middle East, 10 days after the deluge turned the Srinagar city into a large lake. He was getting married in October. He had dreamed of becoming a groom since his childhood. Now, he was preparing to get his bride from an uptown elite locality of Srinagar.
However, he had never thought that he would become a savior to salvage her bags and suitcases of her fiancee after water flooded their home. After reaching Srinagar, he took a team of volunteers along with a boat and reached the home of his fiancee, only to find it abandoned and submerged in six feet deep water.
As he waded and entered the iron gates of her fiancee’s home, two woman sitting near the window of the first floor of their house spoke to him.
“Kehen Rooudukh Ne. Yemene Ous Khandaer (They lost everything. Their daughter was getting married).”
“Mein Che Pai (I know),” my friend replied gently.
A friend accompanying the rescue party joined the conversation.
“Yohie Gove Mahraaz (He is the groom),” he said.
The two ladies were dumbstruck.
“Walie Chai Kappa Chauyu (Come, have a cup of tea),” the ladies said.
“Bae Kunisaat (Next time),” the aspiring groom responded.
These stories were written by Wasim Khalid, a journalist in Indian Administered Kashmir during the devastating Kashmir floods of 2014. The article was first published on Rumbling Reporter, Author can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org