By Muzamil Jaleel | Srinagar | House number 354 in a narrow lane in upscale Jawaharnagar in Srinagar has the silence of a grave — and only the dead as its inhabitants: the family of Bihar native and tea-stall owner Jitender Shahe who sits on the pavement outside and mutters, “there is nothing left, there is nothing left,” as he watches volunteers from a local gurdwara bring from inside the bodies of the ones he loved.
Wife Renu Devi (40), 10-year-old son Amar Kumar, 20-year-old daughter Priyanka Kumari, 18-year-old daughter Saraswati Kumari, his brother Milan Kumar along with his one-year-old son Anshu Baba. The bodies are taken to Rangreth in the city’s outskirts for cremation to the cremation grounds in the city — in Batamaloo — are submerged. Shahe’s sister-in-law Khushbu and 13-year-old daughter Sweety are yet to be traced.
It’s cold comfort but Shahe isn’t alone. The entire Jawaharnagar looks like a city afloat as The Indian Express navigates its narrow lanes on an inflatable boat. House after house tried to stand up to the flood’s fury but couldn’t and so crumbled upon itself, debris sealing off each entrance. Everyone has a question that no one wants to ask: like Shahe’s family, are there other bodies inside?
The answer will take a while coming given the slow pace at which the water level is dipping.
While 23 bodies have been fished out of submerged neighbourhoods in the city, scores are still missing. The state government is still not visible in the city where local volunteers have stepped up their efforts to search for the missing and provide food to the trapped.
Near the Polytechnic College in neighbouring Gogji Bagh — an old Srinagar locality where houses built in British era still dot the streets — a few Fire Brigade vehicles are trying to drain the water but their two small pumps sputter uselessly in the six-foot-deep water.
Around noon, the J&K government sends a few top officers who decide to cut a breach in the bund, an embankment that divides Jawaharnagar from the flood channel on its south. Work was still going on until late in the day.
Tariq Ahmad Wani (25) has come all the way from Chadora in Budgam. A contractor, he carries several bottles of drinking water, packets of biscuits, ready-to-make food and blankets for the family of his friend Ravinder Singh Saini. “I had been trying to reach him (Saini) ever since the flood hit us. Last night, I received a message from him, a desperate message for help,’’ Wani says. “I knew he can’t move because of a childhood injury. He has very old parents.”
Wani says he doesn’t know Saini’s house number but knows the lane even if the roads are submerged. Deep inside the lane, Saini and his wife see the approaching boat. When they see Wani, their faces light up. Saini’s parents look out of the window on the third storey of the house, the only one that’s escaped the water. “My son has been unwell for three days and there is no way to take him to a doctor,’’ Saini says. “We can’t move out because my parents are scared to leave”. Barely 20 m from the house, the boat meets a huge pile of debris from a collapsed house. Water and food are handed over to the Sainis after a risky walk over the top edge of a wall that stands on one side of the narrow lane.
Farther on, dozens of CRPF personnel ferry supplies over hurriedly rigged rafts made of empty fuel drums arranged underneath a large plywood sheet. They row with makeshift oars and bare hands. The flood submerged their camp, they have taken refuge in a neighbouring house under construction. The tops of a Gypsy and two small trucks are barely visible above the water. A few more houses lie collapsed. One has the name plate of its owner: Dr Altaf Hussain, a noted pediatrician.
Another boat passes by carrying four briefcases all streaked with mud. “This is the only stuff that I could dig out of my house,’’ says the man on the boat. “A few packets of important papers, certificates of my children and a few souvenirs. I risked my life for this.”
A stray dog paces from one corner of the roof of a house to another. There is no way to reach it.
Near the DAV school, Jawaharnagar’s biggest landmark, only signboards of shops are visible. A dozen people in a blue and white motor boat are trying to rev its engine with little success. Its motor has died, two men try to push it ahead with large sticks but the boat is too heavy to move.
A dozen metres ahead, a man appears at the window of a three-storey building. He is Ali Mohammad of Ghoshu in Kupwara who had been living on rent in the building with his wife and two children. “We will stay put till the water recedes,’’ he says and he asks for water. “Boats of volunteers come through occasionally and they give us drinking water and food. We are fine’’.
The Jawaharnagar junction where three roads — coming from Ikhrajpora, Haft Chinar and Lal Ded — meet is a lake. The flat where this reporter lived for most of his time in the city is under water. The families of a judge and a lawyer were rescued by volunteers eight days ago. Two houses belonging to the local grocery store owner and a garment businessman have collapsed. There is no sign of the park nearby, the steel fence that divided it from the road is submerged.
A man stands alone on the roof of his house. “The real magnitude of this tragedy will be known only once the water recedes and we see the road again. There are a lot of bodies hidden under this water,” he says. But he talks of hope as well, tossed into the flood like a lifeline. Like the story of a Sikh volunteer who turned his turban into a rope to rescue a Muslim woman from a nearby house. “Everybody helped everybody,” he says.
Courtesy: Indian Express