Shahid watched the rain pelting down, from the first floor of his house at Naik Bagh, Nowgam, with a sense of foreboding. It was the fifth day of the incessant rains and there was no let up in its ferocity. He called his friend and relatives in different parts of Srinagar to know if they were safe and sound. The phone network was fading as the waters began to engulf the mobile towers and Shahid couldn’t contact most of them.
The water level in Jhelum River was rising, mounting fears of an imminent flood, but, so far, everything was fine. It was Saturday and the water slowly began to overflow from the river into the city. Shahid Bhat, a businessman by profession, lived in a flood-prone area and he had already built a wooden boat for the family of his four members, for the “worst-case-scenario”.
Shahid and his family went to bed after dinner but no one slept a wink.
“I was pacing about in my room, peering through the window frequently to see if the water was coming,” Shahid says while reminiscing about that night.
His window looked into an alley and he could see people moving outside with hand torches. Shahid sank back in his bed, his eyes wide awake.
It was at mid night that the waters began to sneak into the ground floor taking the family off guard. Shahid was startled out of his sleep by the loud banging at his door. His mother was shrieking and telling him to wake up.
“My entire body became stiff and I couldn’t move my limbs seeing the way water was rushing inside our house,” he says.
He somehow summoned the energy and began shifting his household stuff, with the help of his parents and younger sibling, to the first floor of his house. But they soon realized it was futile to waste their effort on carrying these things to the first floor. It was a matter of saving their lives first before they could care about anything else.
“I had this inkling that this wouldn’t stop in the ground floor,” Shahid says. “I rushed to my garden in the knee deep water to latch on to my boat and save my family.”
He, along with his younger brother Sajad somehow managed to get his parents onto the boat and began wading through the treacherous waters.
“It was difficult to row through the rough waters,” says Sajad, who works at Telephone Exchange Department.
“Our boat tossed against the walls and the floating cars but somehow we managed to keep the boat afloat.”
All through this ordeal they heard cries of people from their rooftops yelling to be saved.
“People were beseeching us to save their children but I was helpless. Our boat didn’t have the space to fit another person,” says Shahid with a palpable tone of regret.
The family reached the safer shores near Nowgam bypass and Shahid asked his younger brother to take his family to a relative’s house in Sanat Nagar while he would try and rescue his friend Younis who was stranded with his family in his house near Shahid’s. But his mother wouldn’t allow him to go back to the raging waters lest something happens to him. Shahid assured his mother that he would be back with them once he rescues his friend.
Meanwhile, it was Shahid’s father, Habibullah who came to his son’s rescue and allowed him to go back and find his friend.
It was just after dawn, the faint light making the houses distinguishable, that Shahid located his friend’s two story house, its ground floor already under water. Younis, who was in the last floor of his two story hose was relieved to see his friend come finding him.
“I can’t describe how I felt after I saw him in that boat,” Younis says about his childhood friend Shahid. “I along with my family had given up all hopes of coming out alive from our house before my friend came as a Messiah.”
Younis and his parents like hundreds of others had been caught napping by the flood waters unable to fathom whether to leave their houses or stay put. When the water entered their house, they made their way to the second story of their house with a few eatables that they could salvage from their kitchen. And when the water was making its way up towards them, they waited with bated breath.
Soon all four of them made their way to the same place where Shahid had left his family. From here Younis called his uncle, who lives at Bagh-e-Mehtab, and asked him to take his (Younis’s) parents into his house. His uncle came rushing in with his car and took the couple with him while Younis joined his friend in a rescue mission that would last two days.
Both the friends made their way back to their locality and started ferrying the marooned people to safety. For two days they rescued more than 250 people in their boat, both locals and non locals, tirelessly. They fed on whatever they were offered by the rescued and kept doing their job
“It was imperative to not to waste any time as there were many people that needed immediate rescue,” says Shahid. “Had we not made haste there would have been a few casualties in our area.”
But everything didn’t go smoothly. As they were rowing towards one house in their locality, their boat overturned and both the friends fell into the icy cold water. Thankfully, somehow they managed to get back on their boat and began the rescue operation with the same zeal and vigor.
While they went from house to house to rescue people, there were many who decided not to leave their houses. The duo even managed to get hold of some food items like biscuits, fruits and water which they duly carried to those who were stranded.
After the floods subsided and water retreated, the two friends took it upon themselves to clean their neighborhood along with few of their friends.
Having risked their lives to save precious lives, both of them are now engaged in relief distribution which they managed to procure with the help of few well-to-do people.
“There are people who have sacrificed their everything for the flood affected,” Shahid says. “But everyone has to contribute in whatever possible manner to help revive Kashmir.”