For 30-year-old Shuaib Muhammad, a Gurgaon-based 3D design team leader, till Sunday morning, the flood situation in Jammu & Kashmir was just another headline. By that afternoon, the headline changed life, as he knew it, forever.
Having rescued not only his pregnant aunt and her husband, Shuaib also ensured his parents’ misery of having remained stuck inside their 60-year-old house in Srinagar’s Jawahar Nagar for over three days was put to an end. If that meant sailing in a makeshift boat which capsized within minutes of boarding it, swimming through animal carcasses floating around in 20 feet deep water, making his father sit atop a pole and himself standing atop a floating roof with his mother clutching on to the pole wire, hoping and waiting for a rescue boat for over two hours, then so be it.
Shuaib’s story may well be one among the countless where citizens decided to stand up, unaided, to face nature’s fury and fight for their loved ones. However, coming as it does, despite an unprecedented rescue and relief effort spearheaded by the armed forces only accentuates the magnitude of the unmitigated disaster.
“We were able to maintain contact with my parents till Sunday afternoon. But since the link snapped, I kept trying and did not succeed. By then the news was out that Srinagar too was facing the flood fury,” Shuaib recalled, sitting in a relative’s house in the city. At 2:30am on Monday, having spoken to his sisters, Shuaib, along with a friend from the valley decided it was time to go. Not that they had a plan in mind. Having landed early in the morning, he spent the entire day trying to make it to Jawahar Nagar. When he finally did, seeing the devastation, he did not know how to proceed. Finally that evening, he spotted a man on a boat. He told him of his pregnant aunt and parents and they agreed to make an attempt at rescuing them first thing in the morning. “Abidbhai helped us in getting my aunt and her husband out of the house. I got down and chose to remain with my parents,” he added.
Even though his house was stable, he saw they had hardly any ration or potable water left. “They were collecting the flood water, filtering it with a dupatta and drinking it after boiling. There were animal carcasses floating around, they saw them, they knew it was harmful but what option did they have?” Shuaib said. Despite having no option in sight, Shuaib knew they had to be pulled out or they would have fallen sick and that would have made matters worse, perhaps irreversibly so. It was then that he spotted a young boy with a ragtag boat. A champion swimmer and a regular participant of boat pulling regattas in his schooling years, Shuaib quickly drew a floating plank made an oar of out it and his boat was ready to go. And it did sail with himself and his parents onboard for about 200m from his residence. “One of us tilted and the water ingress, which was anyway taking place, fastened and in no time it capsized. We were in the water,” he recounted. Hopeful of swimming and rescuing his parents, Shuaib, to his horror, realized he could not swim. “The water was full of sediments, it almost made moving impossible,” he said. Thankfully, his father latched on to a wire he somehow found. Shuaib and his mother too followed suit.
For the next two hours, they remained there, seldom speaking, only praying. The fear of hypothermia drove Shuaib to order his father, a retired engineer in J&K government, to sit atop the pole. His mother, a retired school teacher stood with him. Soon an army assault boat spotted them and picked them up.
Coming to terms has not been easy. Questions over the future of their home, their settlement, their city and the tragedy itself continue to haunt Shuaib and others like him. The resultant anger is hardly hidden.
“Tell Omar to keep tweeting as our homes break and we sink,” said a young man in Srinagar’s Mahjoor Nagar, who along with his family was waiting to be evacuated from his house. “Only the army is around to help, no one else there including the local government,” said an elderly woman, who was the only one from her family to have been rescued.
“It has gone viral on social media-based Kashmiri fora how all our politicians seem to have been buried by this flood. I totally agree. If there is anyone who can claim to have stood up for Kashmir today, it is the people of Kashmir and the army,” mentioned Shuaib. Drawing a parallel to the turnaround in Gujarat post the 2001 Kutch earthquake, Shuaib said, “I hope Modi is able to make a Gujarat-like situation in our state too. I am shy of admitting that I have high hopes from him.”
It is said there is hardly a Kashmiri on earth who has emerged unscathed from this tragedy. For Shuaib and his family too, having escaped out alive and that their house is still standing is hardly worth any joy. “My uncle, Suhail Ahmed Malik, is missing from the Anantnag district for over a week now. All efforts to reach him have failed,” Shuaib said. Looking towards the 10 feet deep water that even till date, engulfs his home and his locality, he said, “Wait for the day it clears, everyone will be shocked at the thousands of bodies that are rotting beneath the still water.”