Alumni Oil

My story of survival during the floods brought tears to many. Alhamdulillah many could understand what a lot of people went through during these floods. My experience was something that I cannot forget — and should not forget.

However traumatic it might have been, I have to be thankful for a home to be able to go to. There are many who are homeless and with no income today.

No I am not doing a news reporters job here.

Anyone who has been following the Kashmir floods information in news will have access to this information. What I want to write today about is a gesture of kindness that has filled my heart with gratitude.

So here is the story.

My blog post has been viewed by a lot of people – from all places of the world – many Kashmirs and many many non-kashmiris. After reading my story, one of my classmates from university got back to me and asked if he/she could help. It was instant – and the response was quick. I received money from him/her – and this is what we did with it.

I worked with one of the largest relief camps around. They receive food supplies, medical supplies etc from generous people and distribute it to other relief camps and families hard hit by the flood. I asked them what was not being sent or was in demand – and the answer was quick — cooking oil.

So with the money sent we arranged for 600 litres of cooking oil. Alhamdulillah – many families will be able to cook their meals this Eid thanks to this friend of mine.

Eid Mubarak to this friend of mine! And Eid Mubarak to all the families who  survived the flood. Alhamdulillah for being alive and been given a chance to rebuild.

 

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Surviving through Kashmir Floods

This is my story

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My two kids – Abdullah 6 years old adn AbdulRahman 23 days old on the day of flood.

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The rainbow the day before the flood

6th September was my cousins mehendi _ day before the wedding day. We  didnt go the whole day as it was cold and rainy and it would be difficult to manage with a new born. My elder son who is 6 was bored and we spent the day playing word building. At around 5, the rain stopped and a beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky. My son was super excited and went outdoors with my mother, took pictures and kept saying what a wonderful day it was.

We went to the mehendi function at around 7.30 which was held in the nearby community hall. It was cold and dark. There was no electricity and all people were too busy arranging blankets and lighting. We were using gas lamps and the discussion was that of the havoc flood had created. Somehow after a long cold wait, the menfolk managed to arrange a backup electricity and dinner was served right after. Dinner over, and we started to make arrangements for going home. It was around half past 10 when we left for home, to see people in groups on the road. We asked what the matter was and were told that the governement had issued an alert to evacuate the area due to flood. They said the flood water was coming from Islamabad and would reach JawaharNagar/Rajbagh area in around 7 hours. The people said, “Where will we go, we will just move to the 2nd storey of the house”.

Once we reached home, we woke up the family who had rented the ground  storey of my father’s house warning them of the flood and telling them that they could move their stuff to the 3rd storey and the doors have been left open for them in case of flood.

I told my parents to rest at ease since I wake up many times to take care of my newborn and that I would warn them in case I see anything. I kept waking up and checking outside for any sign of flood – for any sign of people evacuating.  I heard nothing. The ground was dry. All was quiet.

At 1:30a.m. my husband’s brother called me saying that he would come to pick us up since there is a flood alert in the area. Having seen the upto the brim flood channel two days back, I thought it would be too big a risk to travel at night over the Rambagh bridge. I kept thinking that the bridge could break – and well things seemed ok round our area – so why take the risk?  After a series of calls, I told him that we will be fine on the 2nd floor even in case of flood. I expected flood of 2 to 3 feet. He warned me and said that as per reports  the water might rise up to 6 to 7 feet. Just before dropping the phone, he asked if we had a 3rd storey in our house to which I answered in the affirmative.

Phone lines became congested after that and calls were made with difficulty. My husband (who was out of station) called at 3:00 am and asked if all was ok.

Again, all was well. I had heard an announcement in the masjid right before. I couldn’t hear anything said before, but when I reached the window where the sound was clear, I only heard “Bambaren che ne zuroorat” – there is no need to panic. I told my husband about this and we assumed all is well.

At 6:00 a.m. my aunt  (living in JawarharNagar area) called my father and said that water had begun to rise and it had already reached the drain in front of their house.  I told my father that I’d go to sleep now that they are up. However  at 7:30 a.m. I checked again the the ground was dry outside – I sent a message to my brother in law that all is well at this end. I must have dosed off after that.

At 9:30 a.m. my father woke me up, “come I will show you something” – I saw out of the window and it was not at all what I had expected. We expected the water to come from the front – it came from the back, we expected the water to rise slowly – it was a forceful gush of water. And the water came with all its force and started rising. I woke my son, Abdullah up and we all started looking at what the flood was doing. We saw walls around our and our neighbours houses fall as if made of sand. The water spared none. I reminded him of the story of Prophet Yunus and how only Allah could save him from inside of a stomach of the fish – inside the dark ocean. The only one who could save us from this water is Allah.

The family (husband, wife and father in law) living downstairs had already moved a lot of their stuff to our 3rd storey. I told them to move their rice and other food items up too. Meanwhile, water entered our house. It rose steadily and we kept counting the number of stairs it was covering.  When it was rising higher, I thought it might come inside our 2nd storey and wet our flooring. So my concern was to get everything that can be removed from the floor to a safer place.  We picked stuff and started piling it up on the beds.  I asked my mom to bring her purse with money etc up with her  – just in case.

I took my newborn – Abdul Rahman’s bags up to the third floor and his small mattress. As I saw the water rising to the topmost step of the ground floor, I took Abdul Rahman and Abdullah up.

I have never felt my brain stop working but it was now. I froze.

I held my Abdul Rahaman in my arms and gave instructions to Abdullah to not leave my sight whatever might happen. My mother brought a glass of milk for Abdullah. She said she’d get other things. I stopped her.

And we sat up there in the 3rd storey waiting. My mother kept counting the number of steps of the stairs as they were being covered by water.

We were inside a house that was inside a fast flowing river. Water rose higher and higher. My father saw our beds rise up to the ceiling – floating in water. We were incapacitated. We didn’t know what to do.

I was crying, my mother was crying, Surabhi was crying. All of us were praying.

There was nothing else we could do.

We heard and saw helicopters move in the sky. Some people took out flags with red cloth and started waving it to get attention. The helicopters obviously were not interested in saving any of us.

I heard some man’s voice reciting Quran. It was someone from our neighbors reciting Quran on top of the house where he was taking refuge. We were helplessly waiting – waiting for death?

We heard a house collapse. The sound is still so clear in my mind. And we knew our house could collapse all the same. It was an old house with wooden ceilings.

My father was tense. He sat and talked with the menfolk from the other family. There was tension everywhere.

Phones weren’t working. My phone battery was already low as there had been no electricity the day before. I communicated with my husband through sms messages which went after being resent a few times.

He was worried. When water reached 2nd floor and kept rising he asked if we needed to be rescued. I said yes, but wasn’t sure of how the rescue could be sent.

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Our house was under water – ground floor and first floor under water.

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I received a sms from my father in laws phone saying Faisal (my husband’s friend) was coming in a rescue boat to get us and to be on a lookout.

At around 2:30 we saw the boat finally. It was a small raft being manned by 2 people – one of them Faisal. When I looked at the boat, it didnt look safe to me.

But it was not time to complain. People were calling out to him to take them to a safe place. Obviously he couldn’t help everyone.

Our neightbours asked to be shifted to a safer and higher house and while the two men in the boat transferred them, I fed my newborn and packed a small bag with his clothes, blanket and diapers. I wrapped him in a towel and we waited on the varendah of the 3rd floor to  be rescued.

I asked my father if he’d like to be dropped to my aunts house – which I believed to be sturdier before Faisal would take us to a safe place. He said he wasn’t sure if they were still at home and didn’t want to waste time. We should leave immediately.

I thought if we leave and reach a safe place, we can arrange for their rescue too. So it was me and my two kids. Abdullah refused to be carried to the raft. It was scary, I don’t blame him. I had to go first. I climbed over the gril/iron fence around the varendah and had to jump into the raft. Then Abdul Rahman was handed down. And finally Abdullah. Faisal said there was place for one more person and Surabhi was sent down.

We were being rescued.

And we set out in the very small raft. I was worried for my parents – feeling helpless as we set out. We moved from over the houses – after all – it was one big river. The two men maneuvered the raft carefully – ensuring it doesn’t touch anything sharp – avoiding the roofs, avoiding the electricity poles. We used the electricity lines to help move in the water and we reached the rajbagh road (near Minto Circle).  A shikara carrying people was coming towards us. And suddenly – I saw Faisal try to cover a hole in the raft with his hand. Our raft had popped.

What happened in the next few seconds is still so unclear to me. It all happened too fast. When our boat popped, the first thought was to save the kids. Abdullah was transferred to the shikara which coincidentally was right next to our collapsing raft. I gave Abdul Rahman to a unwilling and scared man in that shikara. Abdullah started screaming and crying – “Meri mamma mar jayaygi” – “My mother is going to die.” Our raft was collapsing – from the bottom as well. We grabbed electricity high tension wires – and managed to get on top of a two storey building that had a flat roof – just the concrete slab.

We were alive.

We transferred the kids back to us on the building and the shikara moved on. I hugged Abdullah who was still in a shock. In fact we all were in shock. We sat on this building – which was the Rajbagh Postoffice building – shocked and unsure of how we were still alive. We laughed amidst our tension. It was laughter hiding the tension and fear that we all felt.

The towel in which I was carrying Abdul Rahman was damp. Luckily the blanket I had carried in the bag was still dry, so I wrapped him in that black and white striped blanket, and held him over the damp towel so it doesn’t get wet with my wet clothes. We sat thinking of what to do next.

We waited for some boat to rescue us from the post office. Boats came and went. They had to get people from places, or were already full. Some said we can take 1 person. Faisal asked me to go first with the kids and reach a safe place. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get help for them if I go as I wouldn’t be able to do much with two kids to take care of. It would make more sense if one of the men goes and comes back with a boat to rescue us and my parents and Surabhi’s husband and father in law.

The other guy with Faisal was sent. We told him to get a big boat so we all could be rescued. After he left, Faisal sat and said, “Do you know, I don’t know that guy!” – I was shocked – I was sure it was either his friend or cousin who had come along for our rescue. Faisal explained that when he had got into the raft his cousin had come along but didn’t know how to maneuver the raft. Then he had asked if anyone knew how to use the raft and this man had come forward. This man had been with Faisal the whole day rescuing people before they reached us.

Had we put our last chance of being rescued in hands of a man we didn’t know? He had just had a narrow escape from death. He might not be willing to put his life in danger for us – again. But maybe he would come back for us – we still had hope.

We watched all the boats coming but he didn’t come. Faisal thought he should try something and tried to make a raft of bamboo sticks that he got from an adjoining building. Well that raft that he made failed and we knew we were stuck here.

Finally it was getting dark and now we were getting worried for we would be stuck in open in the cold in the middle of nowhere.

A boat came by and Faisal pleaded with them to take just the kids and me. My 22 days old Abdur Rahman and my 6 year old Abdullah and myself were moved to the already full shikara. I managed to find a place to sit. A very kind lady held AbdulRahman with her and also handled Abdullah. She asked Abdullah to hug her tight and keep his eyes closed during our journey. It was already very dark – and the boatman had to move the shikara among rooftops, electricity poles and wire, broken trees – and there was no light – no flashlights to show him the way. He was skillful and we were lucky enough to reach Abdullah Bridge. Where we had come from didn’t make any sense – no land routes made any sense at all. There was water everywhere – in fact our boat moved over the dividers near Abdullah bridge and dropped us right onto the bridge.

On the bridge.

On the bridge there was chaos. It was dark, and people were just silhouttes without faces. Once we were out, I walked – barefooted as I and Abdullah was – on the bridge looking for the car that was supposed to wait for us there and pick us earlier that day. I remembered Faisal saying it was a white Safari with the number something like JK02. I walked like a mad woman – AbdulRahman in my arms, a bag across my shoulder, and Abdullah right next to me. I walked looking for it, but couldn’t find it. I thought it would be unlikely that anyone who expected us to come in the morning will still be here at night waiting for us. Also, the other side of the bridge which had been dry was also filled with water.

We were were stuck on a bridge which had water under it and on its two ends.

I asked around to see if we could move to nearby and safe DalGate area (where my husband’s uncle lived). One man said – “This tipper is going to dalgate. Get into this and you will be dropped.” I asked him where it would drop us exactly – for I knew it will be difficult for me to find the house in the dark. He said you will be dropped and will have to walk a bit in water to reach the housing areas. I thought it dangerous to have to walk in water in the dark with two kids so I stayed back.

I went back to where the boat had dropped us. I was going to see if anyone would take us along to their house – anyone’s house. I was helpless and scared for my children.

A kind lady told me that once transport is arranged she’ll take me home with her. But I knew their vehicle was completely packed. She was still waiting for someone and asked me to take refuge from the cold in an auto that was standing there. I sat in that auto with my two kids. It saved them from the cold. Abdullah was tired. I told him to put his head onto my lap and he fell asleep right away. I cried to see my kids in this situation.

One man came by and asked if we had eaten anything that day. I didn’t say anything – I couldn’t say anything. He gave me a pack of bread with a few slices of bread in it. I woke up Abdullah and fed him a slice or two. He ate them hungrily. I checked Abdul Rahman – I kept checking for his breath – so see if he was still breathing.

Someone said that the tipper that had gone to Dalgate to drop people had toppled in water. Had we been saved on more time?

I heard someone say that people should move from this side of the bridge to another as water might rise on this side. I walked to the other side of the bridge and sat down. I huddled Abdul Rahman in my lap. Abdullah sat close by. He was cold. I covered him partly with my shawl while some of it was on top of AbdulRahman, while some on my head. I sat feeling miserable. I felt scared and worried for my parents – at least we were alive. I wasn’t sure if my parents were still alive – our house could have collapsed. I was worried for Faisal and Surabhi who were still stranded on the post office. I could see flashing lights from Rajbagh, and hear people screaming for help. I felt miserable.

While in this misery, I spotted a relative on the bridge. Their family too was stranded on the bridge. I sat close to them. Suddenly, Usman my cousin who was getting married comes infront of me “Baji, what are you doing here?” He told me his story. Their house had collapsed but they all have moved in time to another uncle’s house. I told him my story. He looked at my bare feet and asked me to wear his slipper. I wore them for a while and them asked Abdullah to wear it. It was way too big for him, but atleast covered his cold feet. I asked him if I could send an sms through his phone. I tried, but it didn’t go through. His cousin Babar came by I asked him I could send an sms through his phone. Again he said you can try and I sent an sms to Jahangeer telling him that we are alive and on the bridge. The message went through and after some time Jahangeer called on his phone and I talked to him. I told him briefly what had happened and where we were. He said the he had already talked and that rescue boats will be sent only in the morning. At least he knew we were alive.

That night was the longest night of my life. Sitting on top of river Jehlum, I waited for morning. Abdullah was cold, hungry and sleepy. I wasn’t sure if my new born will survive. I was shivering with cold myself.

Usman said that it is dangerous to go in a boat now as people just cram in and there is danger of it getting toppled. We will move early morning to a safer place.

At dawn, the birds woke up and and announced morning. I thought to myself. I would have loved to be here in normal circumstances and would have marvelled at the beauty around me – but right now – even this was part of a nightmare.

We all gathered to get into the boat. It was set to go near SangarMall wherefrom I would’ve gone to Usman’s relatives house with them. Usman said he would go back to JawaharNagar and try to see if he can rescue people from there. I implored on him about my parents and that I was worried on account of them living in an old house and that it could collapse anytime. I returned him his slippers, telling him that I will reach a safe place soon.

Usman left and we have to leave in the boat. However, this boat that we were to leave in had a hole in it. So we didn’t leave. We sat and waited.

Around 8:00 or 9:00 – I had no track of time – we heard that rescue boats will be coming to take people from the bridge. People were lined up so the rescue in boats could be organized.

I was too tired and just wanted to rest for a while. I saw a jeep and thought if I could sit at the back for a while. A man moved the men sitting there and made place for us. We sat and I rested my back for some time. More women got in to rest. Everyone had a sad story to tell. The woman who sat near me had a baby 1 month old who she had sent earlier on with her sister and didn’t know where it was. While I sat there, Abdullah said “Faisal Chachu” – and I asked where – he pointed to him. I called him and was happy to see him. He was surprised to see me and asked why I was still there and had not gone the night before. I told him what happened. Faisal and Surabhi had been rescued from the PostOffice the same day as us and he had sent her on a rescue boat to a rescue point at night itself. Faisal too had been at the bridge – only that he had not seen us and we had not seen him.

Anyhow, we got into the queue and waited for our turn to get rescued. Women were asking for water for kids who were famished and thirsty. Abdullah too was thirsty and begged for water. One woman had procured some water in a bottle for her daugther. I asked her for some water for him. Two cap-fuls of water was what my son got to quench his thirst.

Abdullah refused to get onto the motor powered raft. He said he would never get into a raft ever again. We waited for a shikara and got into it. The men who were rowing the shikara were tired and thirsty. They asked if they could get a little drinking water. There was water everywhere but not a drop to drink. The brave men said they’d get water soon, and asked us to get into the boat. This boat too had a hole in it and a man got into drain that water from the boat as it moved in the flood water to DalGate. Abdullah was too scared and was crying. I asked him to hug me while we moved on and we kept reciting the Kalima together. The roads that are full of traffic had turned to a river. Tourist Reception Center was under water. Jammu and Kashmir Bank’s corporate head quarters was under water. We reached near Jan Bakers (Dal Gate), but the boat couldn’t take us to land – the rush of water was too high and it would make it difficult for the boat to go back to get more people. So they had tied a rope and people waded through water to the other side. Women were carried by men to the other side. I told the men that I could wade through the water on my own but needed help with my children. One man carried Abdul Rahman, another carried Abdullah on his shoulders. I tried to walk through the water with my bag. It was very difficult to wade through the water due the speed at which it flowed. A man came to help me out, carried my bag walked with me till I reached the other end. Once I reached the other side, I freaked out for I couldn’t see my kids. But it was just a moment after that I caught glimpse of Abdullah and AbdulRahman. These men took my kids up the stairs and I walked behind with the bag. I was much slower compared to the men – tired and worn out. I tried to catch up but couldn’t. The men would wait for me to catch up in the middle and then walk on till we reached the cafeteria on the hilltop.

I always wanted to climb up these stairs and see what was at the top. However, this was not what I had in my mind.

We reached up there where this young man asked me if I had a blanket with me – I asked in negative and he got a blanket from somewhere and spread it on the floor and asked me to sit on it with my kids. I sat down, grateful, tired and feeling safe. Abdullah saw some kids with food and asked if he could get some. I told him to wait till I figure out where to get it. Some girls sitting in the corner asked about me – felt sorry for me and asked if I had had anything to eat. They passed me a bananas and I took one for Abdullah. Hungry as he was, he ate quickly. I told him to put his head on my lap and lie down. I folded the edge of the blanket on his legs which were wet. He fell asleep right away.

I was in a refuge camp. There were groups of people everywhere. More people walked in – sometimes meeting someone they knew. Everyone would start crying and asking whereabouts of others they might have some news of. There were people crying. Rescue teams would bring up little kids and hold them high for everyone to see – “Anyone knows this kid?” until the kid was owned up. They gave clothes to people, food and a sense of security.

I sat there trying to figure how to reach Jahangeer’s uncles home. I asked around. There are much confusion but I heard that even Dal Gate was under water in some places. Faisal also came looking for us here and asked us to come with us so he could escort us to Jahangeer’s uncles house.

We started walking. Faisal got Abdullah onto his shoulders and then looked at my bare feet. There stood in front of us a beggar woman. Faisal asked her if she was willing to sell her slippers for Rs 50/- to which she agreed. I wore the beggar woman’s slippers and walked on. We asked for directions – which was met with directions + invitations to have lunch first. Thankfully, we moved on till I reached home. When I walked in, I was met with hugs and tears. Everyone had been worried that we might not have survived.

Faisal said he had fulfilled his responsibility and couldn’t stay. He had to leave.

I was glad to be at a place I could call home. And this was at present home to 4 other displaced families.

The first thing I wanted to do after changing and washing up was to call Jahangeer and tell him that we are safe and find out if my parents had been saved. Telephone lines weren’t working. There was no news of my parents.

Three days later my husbands uncles walked from Baghat to DalGate. They brought good news. My parents were alive and at present in my in-laws house. Alhamdulillah. I was relieved. Now I knew that they knew I am alive and I knew they are well. I was thankful and calm. However, we were told that it would be impossible for us to go to Baghat as the route was way too dangerous.

We stayed in DalGate for many days. I have no count of the days. These days were long tense days. The food stock in Dalgate was already low – the shops had no ways to get new stock, people had swarmed to DalGate from rest of the city. There was no electricity, very little water. There was no collection of garbage and the inside roads stank of garbage. We would hear announcements “Name of person from this place – if anyone knows whereabouts of this person please report to the masjid”. There were people looking for their nears and dears. There were announcements of Janazah/ Funeral prayers. There were reports of death, and rumours of death. The atmosphere was that of tension and misery.

Everyone had lost something.

Parting words:

I wrote this story of mine to pen down what has been going on in my mind ever since. I keep getting flashbacks of my hungry child sleeping on the footpath on the bridge. I keep dreaming of flood even today, and I keep thinking of all those unsung heroes who put their lives in danger to save others. I know Faisal for he is my husband’s friend, and there were so many others whose names I know not. These were locals – brave hearts who I pray will be rewarded by Allah manifold – for no reward is good enough for them.

Lessons Learned:

For the first time I realized what hunger and thirst could do – the state of those who beg for these. I felt pain watching my child go hungry – something I will never forget.
I also realized through experience that Allah will save you in whatever condition you might be – if it isn’t the time written for your death.
I saw that the basic needs for all people – rich and poor is same. No one was looking for comforts on the bridge that night — everyone wanted the basic necessities that make us all equal.