Yellow foliage scattered on the roads had announced the advent of autumn. Harvested rice fields were turned into makeshift cricket pitches by children. On the shopfronts, adorned with Pherans (traditional cloaks), people were discussing Kashmir's un-ending politics. Winter was approaching. But before that, floods.
I reached Kashmir two days after the floods hit Srinagar. Although I don't live in the city--which by then had turned into a large lake--Srinagar has been an important part of my life. Srinagar is the city where I spent most of my childhood at my mother's place. Most of my friends are from the city. Its streets have always been nothing short of a lively maze populated and full of events--where the quotidian sunlight is fierce and tropical, the shadows hard and short. But the city I visited this September was different. It was desolate--almost ominous--and completely unrecognisable.
Floods had turned Kashmir into something different--something unknown to its people. Although, life in Kashmir has always been hard, being a perpetual state of conflict, but the flood had managed to dither the sheen of the city. People needed help. The flood had taken away a key part of Kashmir--its rich memory. By then the real extent of the damage was not known. Inflatable boats patrolled the city streets, picking up marooned people from the interiors and taking them to the dry lands.
For days, I went to places that were affected by the flood. The sight was surreal--no different than any apocalyptic movie. The hospitals wore a desolate look, roads--once busy with traffic--were filled with floating carcasses. The streets that had witnessed an unending cycle of protest and killings were now submerged in water. Strange melancholy had engulfed Srinagar. People had taken shelter in small tents dotting the city roads. Heaps of stinking garbage and rubble was lying on the road.
I went to a village which didn't have water for almost four days. The only fluid they used were oral dehydrated solution packets given to them as relief. People hadn't eaten for days. With the state being completely absent, it was the local volunteers who came to the rescue. Despite being warned five-years-ago by flood control authorities, nothing was done by the government to take necessary provisions. The state had no flood forecasting and monitoring systems. The only announcements made were by locals from mosque loudspeakers.
Often called 'misguided', young Kashmiris came out of their homes--leaving their families behind--and helped people whom they didn't even know. They were students, stone throwers, protesters, journalists. Everyone.
I remember seeing young boys, girls, women and even the aged, helping stranded people come out of their houses on makeshift boats. Wooden planks and mattresses were tied with ropes and people were being ferried on them. It was all so dramatic.
"It feels like an ironic independence," a friend told me after seeing no police functioning during the floods. I couldn't disagree. There were only people--rescuers and victims--all working shoulder to shoulder. People worked as a well-structured unit as the administration continued to remain missing. What was on the streets was an unknown army, wading through chest-deep water and rescuing people through every means possible. Today, the same heroes have gone unnoticed.
What the valley faced during the floods was horrible. Kashmir had turned into Venice--contrarily horrifying. It looked like a brutal war had been fought on this land, leaving its streets abandoned. Thousands were affected. The waters carried with it death and years of valued possession. But above those muddy and stinking waters, Kashmiris found a new courage and hope. As Kashmir battled the swelled Jhelum and its fury, a real victory had already been established; people helping people. Together they overcame the worst and fought the odds.
When I was in Kashmir during the floods, a certain thought about my land echoed inside me. What will happen once the water recedes? Where will the people go? As expected, these questions remain unanswered. It has been more than three months since the devastating floods. As state administration remains busy working for the state elections, which are due to end on 23rd December 2014, the flood victims have been forgotten.
Nothing substantial has been done so far by the administration for the rehabilitation of the people whose houses were damaged, or had collapsed, or had been washed away. Thousands of the affected families still continue to live without proper shelter.
The floods took around 300 lives and left thousands homeless. Hundred days after, the city which submerged isn't the same.