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And Quiet Flows The Jhelum!

By Mohammad Ashraf

08 September, 2015

The River Jhelum also called Vitasta and in common Kashmiri Yveth, has been flowing quietly through the valley of Kashmir from the earliest times. It is considered to be the “River of Life” for Kashmir. Often one was reminded of the Mikhail Sholokhov’s novel “And quiet flows the Don”. The main character in the novel, “Misha” travels all along the Don River through various upheavals and revolutions. Kashmir’s Jhelum has also been flowing quietly and has been characteristically a witness to all the revolutions and upheavals. Sometimes it has become angry in the past too and especially whenever subjected to desecration. However, in September, 2014 it went totally crazy and went berserk virtually destroying not only the poshest localities of Srinagar but many rural areas also. However, the destructive behaviour of the River was a warning delivered with compassion as not many human lives were lost but property worth thousands of crores was destroyed. If one ponders on the calamity honestly, it dawns on one that we brought it on ourselves by our own actions.

All these years we have not left any stone unturned in destroying the Rivers basins, water bodies, wetlands. We have vandalized its embankments by encroachment. Virtually we drove the River to commit suicide. It is said that if one fiddles with nature too much, it gives a terrible backlash. In spite of our all these ill doings the River has been merciful. We could have ended in a worse trauma with thousands of casualties. It has been reported that this was the worst flood in more than a century.

As regards my personal experience, this was the worst trauma faced by me as per my own memory. Having lived in Jawahar Nagar for more than 50 years we never witnessed its flooding by Jhelum. The worst we had ever seen was water logging due to excessive rains or after a heavy snowfall. The couple of dewatering stations would clear it up in a matter of hours. Very rarely, it remained water logged for a day or two.

September, 2014 was a different story. It rained incessantly in the first week of September. It was virtually pouring everywhere and there were cloud bursts in the catchment areas. River Jhelum was in spate. People were all worried about the flood. The real story started on 6th September. The water level in Jhelum was hardly a couple of feet below the top of its embankments. The same was the story of the flood spill over channel. In the evening of 6th September a cousin of mine living on the bund near Abdullah Bridge came to persuade her father living next door to us to move out but he refused. She told us also but we too stayed put. Jawahar Nagar had never been flooded. I slept as usual in the ground floor. Late in the night my younger brother told me that water was moving on the main road. We thought it is due to some seepage. At 3 am he came down again and said water was entering our lawns and quite fast. I immediately shifted to first floor. I took along only my two lap tops, passport, some important papers and medicine. By 8 am it started entering the house. It came fast and in a matter of an hour or so it came up to first floor and was still rising. We shifted to top hall called “Kani”. However, our relatives in the adjacent house implored us to move there as that was a concrete house only 20 years old. We made a temporary bridge with a wooden ladder and shifted there.

The water kept on rising and stopped only in the evening. There about 20 feet of water all round us. It was flowing like two fast streams on the roads in front and behind our house. All sorts of things were floating in the muddy water.

Next day water had become almost static. In the evening it started receding very slowly. Till third day we did not see any rescuers. Only some helicopters were flying here and there. Some people in our neighbourhood were rescued but the helicopters had such a strong down draught that there were huge waves striking against already soaked houses. In fact the window panes of the hall of our house which we had left were shattered. Had we stayed there, we would all have been injured.

We spent five days and nights marooned in the top floor of the house. It was feeling as if we were staying in a house boat! Luckily we had water in the overhead tank and some rations. But the scariest thing was the continuous boom of the collapsing house. Finally, we were rescued by Army Engineers from the second floor of our house and taken “ashore” in a motorised assault craft. I lost everything I had collected for 50 odd years. Books, photographs, video and audio-cassettes, cameras and lot of other gadgets apart from clothes etc. My relations were surprised by my calmness and composure. Well, I told them I am feeling absolutely free as I have nothing to lose now! What God had given me; He has taken back and freed me of all burdens. He will find ways to fulfil my needs as and when these arise! I wish, all of us have similar feelings and move ahead. Incidentally, other day I passed once again near the Jhelum River. As usual it was flowing very quietly as if nothing had happened!

Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir


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