- Ambica Gulati
One of those milestone days, September 7, 2014, when nature decides to speak without words, but the grim scene of the land speaks in untold ways. The news was talking all about the floods, devastation and problems that Kashmir’s low-lying areas or near water ones were facing. But sitting high up in the green mountains of Gulmarg, it was only a virtual reality. Coming down to catch the flight to Srinagar, we left much before time as we didn’t want to get stuck anywhere. But we were unprepared for the devastation we saw as we came near Bemina. The networks were down, so the mobiles had stopped working. Meenakshi and Rita, my companions, and our young driver, Sabraz, were all trying to remain calm. We had put on songs earlier but as the Scorpio reached near the pockets of devastation, the songs were switched off. In one area we saw people sitting and watching the water. And then the police told us that ‘sailab aaya na yahan’, the floods have come. Somehow the human mind is so dense, it just doesn’t sink in how deep the troubled waters are. Until you hit the bottom.
Along the way, we saw people had taken shelter in a petrol pump, cows and all. And then we reached Bemina and it was all the shock we needed. The police and the locals were guiding us to turn back to Gulmarg but I think the four of us were more inclined to reach the airport rather than turning back with our tails tucked in so to speak. In retrospect, I think we were just plain lucky.
Sabraz actually said that the water was scaring him and Meenakshi was trying to find a way to connect to our hotel, The Khyber, but all lines of our phones were down. And to top it, Sarraz’s Aircel phone didn’t have balance, so we couldn’t speak though that network was working.
It was at Bemina and then through all the twists and turns within Srinagar, that we saw the real destruction. The water had seeped in thigh high. People in the old town were wading through to come out to the dry patches. Women were sitting on the steps with small children. A lot of displaced people were riding over buses. Many were living in trucks. Women were holding hands, carrying small backpacks trying to get out of the water. Only SUVs and buses were plying and that too with great difficulty. We saw people making log rafts to sail into their homes and bring out some supplies and this distance was just a seconds walk in normal times. Water seemed to have taken over paradise.
Luckily the weather was clear. There was no more rain but who knows how long the supplies would last or how much time it would take for the waters to recede. There was an angry mob throwing muddy water on the cars. We did not see any relief camps.
Reaching the airport, through the backyards of Srinagar, winding roads and all, people laden on anything on wheels, it was nothing short of a miracle that we reached the airport without mishap. And then we thanked God and man alike for this grace and blessing.
Sabraz had another guest to pick up before he headed for the safety of the hills. And we sat at the airport, eating our sandwiches and drinking coffee. It was a sombre security staff which ushered us through at the fastest speed possible.
Flight was delayed as search and rescue helicopters were flying in at priority. But we were safe in Delhi at 6 o’ clock. And home by 8 o’clock, our families, having watched the scenes at home and unable to connect with us, giving all of us a hot cuppa.
And there’s a lot I have to thank my friend Suman Sarkar, we became friends in 1999 when I had just entered into journalism. He would train me on newspaper reports as I had begun with a wellness magazine and after 15 years I figured out what he had been talking about journalism as a grand service profession. It is your message which makes the way for a better society. I know one day soon I will return to the paradise called Kashmir. And this time the mountains will be smiling–once again.