Last weekend, while surfing through television news channels, Wing Commander Abhijit S Bali, heard a familiar name being called out. To his horror he realised it was where he grew up, where his parents still lived, his home in Srinagar that was being mentioned. A local from the city’s worst-affected locality of Jawahar Nagar, Bali, who is posted in Nagpur, tried reaching out to his parents. After many attempts, a call went through only to hear his father tell him their house had drowned and that they would not survive. Notwithstanding the fact that he dons the uniform and is helping his organisation in Srinagar, with his local level understanding, Wing Commander Bali is a victim. His case makes it clear that in this far-reaching tragedy, there is hardly a segment of the society that has emerged unscathed.
Narrating his experience, he said, “I took the first flight out to Srinagar and then boarded one of the many helicopters flying to Jawahar Nagar. Yes, I saw my house completely submerged. I had given up hope. Still I wanted to go down and at least retrieve the bodies,” he said. It is when he reached the roof of his submerged home that some neighbours pointed out that his parents had shifted to a nearby house. “I saw them and I do not remember ever being so happy and relieved,” he stated. He later managed to secure the army’s attention on to him and get his family and neighbours evacuated. Subsequently, with all forms of communication having crashed in the city, he made a dash for the air force station in Srinagar and has remained there ever since.
Presently, he is helping pilots out in navigating local routes, indicating priority areas, interacting with locals and ensuring that the needs of those like him, who have lost their valuable possessions, are at least provided a measure of relief.
A senior member of the IAF’s anti-Maoist effort, code-named Operation Triveni, Wing Commander Bali is a Mi17V5 pilot who flies over central Indian plains, helping the local police and paramilitary forces. Recounting his experience, he added, “Yes, like so many here, even I am a refugee and have lost my house but at least lives have been saved.”
When asked to comment on reports of locals in his city Srinagar pelting stones on IAF choppers and relief personnel, he responded, “People are angry and tired of waiting but they need not lose hope. We are trying our very best and inch by inch we are gaining ground. Getting violent is not the answer.”