About History and 2014 – floods

Shoeb Hamid

About History

About History and 2014 - floodsSocial media has received severe criticism lately. Proponents who believe online networking sites like twitter and facebook have encroached on our valuable time which we should utilize for face-to-face interactions ( though less but effective), are right to some extent in their assertions. However, the new media also present advantages, one being which presents volte-face that opponents of facebook and twitter should acknowledge.

Perhaps twenty years ago if you were told to recall what happened in the past, the instant and most reliable source would have been your own memories. But memories too are subject to age; ten years after a momentous event shakes the foundations of your life all fine details are lost, twenty years later all the material, the meat and flesh is lost, thirty years later all skin and outer appearances are lost. By the time forty years have passed what remains is a vague skeleton we call contours of a memory. A century later, oral history based on memories becomes unreliable. For this reason we have historians who are entrusted with the job to put it down in words, in scripts. Word whether it is printed on papyrus or rock is not subject to change much with age, except when it fades. If reproduced in its original form, their longevity is undoubted. 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, a100 years that is all we have. But a word written and preserved may live for centuries.

There must have been something worthwhile that historians must have realized when they picked up their fine quills or edged tools to work on cloth and rocks. That is history. What we have today is the light-speed age where things happen really fast. There was a time in between when people used to indulge in writing personal diaries and maintain memos, which has a kind of a collector’s appeal. But at the same time a smaller-by-importance history exercise takes place. Many of the personal diaries people found later were simply amazing, so much that adaptations started to take place. Some turned into biographies, some into romanticized novels, some into scandalous pulp fiction versions, some into movies, etc. In the light-speed age, paper and pen people think would one day become obsolete, much like the quills, except to real collectors. They think so because digital format has been pushing the print to limits.

A chain reaction of worldwide phenomena has already started. Digital format of newspapers are gaining grounds, electronic or eBooks are becoming popular, paper work has been reduced to a great extent all over the world, libraries are starting to go digital with words encrypted to binaries that computational devices understand and interpret, I mean computers and other gadgets. So the way history is being written today has also changed. A question that confirms it – when was the last time you wrote a letter on paper to anyone and went to the mailbox to post it? Whereas emailing, you might have done it many times only yesterday.

Digital formats have also affected the stationery. Like after the birth of Reynolds and rebirth of Parker, pens were in vogue, particularly after Indian markets liberalized. Everyone was buying Archies and Hallmark, a Parker, Chelpark ink and sending lovely written cards. History then was written with Reynolds and Parker and no more with Ajanta fountain pen. Gel discovery came later but before that ball point pins went from smooth to smoother. Pens and ink now have a reduced demand as computer printer cartridges and peripherals have got into the tent. Documents are now saved in USB flash drives, called pen drives, and at times burned on CDs and DVDs.

The last shift as of now has been brought by Cloud Computing and internet networking. A lot of digital data, which includes everything – comments, selfies we upload, articles published on internet, music, chit-chats – is stored on servers and data centres. So a good part of history now rests on these servers.

The dairy writing now competes with the blog writing, which is efficient way as you don’t have to worry about writing dates and then finding things. You can do all that with few clicks. But its technicality is still full of glitches. We are still in a transitional phase, people who read hardbound and paperback books and also people who read a lot of stuff on computers, phones and Kindles.

Kashmir Floods and History

Since I am among the lazy ones or over-busy ones who cannot afford to write a dairy, I have to go back for suitable sources for bit of our own history. An easy way is to go to facebook and find what I wrote a year before. I have now realized it is efficient as I have found photographs, comments of people, etc., that have preserved some part of that history related to 2014-floods.

On September 4, I had posted photographs of Jhelum and written about its mood. “Floods have arrived. Government should sound the alarm. All officials should be called upon to serve. Now is the time. It’s not uncalled for holidaying time.” That was three days before the great floods of last September obliterated the landscape.

Living near Jhelum, the river gives us a kind of feeler as what it is going to do next. It is hard to put in words or describe though. A lot of people living near Jhelum I suppose would have felt the same way last year. But the official response doesn’t take into account hunches of people. It hardly takes into account anything, even danger alerts and serious warnings.

The next activity on social media is on October 3, in the form of a news article titled “Falling Apart”. The missing period of inactivity from September 4 to October 3, in itself says a lot. That is how history created a year ago has been able to live and survive on a networking site in a digital format about which some have expressed their reservations. To complete it, I have to write what happened in between, so that it is published, converted in a digital format and received by the server to be preserved there.

September 6 onwards

Since I have to rely entirely on memories, which after a year have lost the original dramatic effect, but I hope they are reproduced in a way to be nearer to reality.

On September 6, the flood water was on the road next to our house, a good one-feet of water on the road. Our house is built in such a way that it is level with the embankment of Jhelum that protects the city. When the river water crosses the embankment it also enters our home. This was the security step that many people took on peripheries of Rajbagh and Kursoo area, and perhaps many other places as well that lie along the river. The city interiors like Sonwar, Lal Chowk, Dalgate, Khayam, Lal Chowk, Batmaloo, Bemina, etc., are relatively at lower height than many peripheral areas along Jhelum. The bunds on either side are the only security to them. Despite the fact that we live nearer to Jhelum, it is the low-lying areas that are most at risk.

On way to office on September 6, it was a lovely evening by the way, I remember tourists and residents taking pictures of the sky which had some colourful clouds, from Abdullah Bridge. At home I was told to come back early as the weather was unpredictable and there was uncertainty about the rising water.

When I reached home later (somewhere near 9.00), the water was well above the road. So we moved the cars to a little higher by our estimate, place – they still were drowned. We were not worried as much about the water that could have entered our home as the bund and the city. Our focus remained on where the level was on the bund that covered entire Sonwar region.

Somewhere near 10.00 pm the water which had raised about 9-12 inches for the whole day started rising. The clockwork became fast and instead of hours the rise was measured in minutes. Before 12 o’clock the water came through drain holes and emerged from the ground below the rooms. Hoping against all hopes, after every 15 minutes we thought this was it, no more will it rise. Confused at so much water we could hardly move valuables. The water took everything very slowly – room furnishing went first, then it ransacked the wardrobes and almirahs, crept in the refrigerator, washed the washing machine, drowned the electric transformer…. Next thing I remember is that it must have been 3 or 4.00 am that we realized how deep in troubles we all (Kashmiris) were in. There was no kitchen, no washrooms, not much food, no extra clothes and a thousand pieces of home articles were floating between the rooms and the kitchen. The night made it more dreadful as we were using a torch which also was exhausted after a couple of days. Yet, I kept thinking about the bank and the city. Somehow we couldn’t imagine or guess what might have been happening in the city where water won’t have given those minutes to react.

On September 7, we were cut-off and all communication with the world was through windows and rooftops. In city they could have taken chances to escape, but here it was out of question as the river here flows with its full strength.  We were stranded for many days. On this day, however, I went into the water which was up to the neck in the rooms on ground floor. I went because the family wanted to know about the real loss. As I walked through the water, the furniture that was floating kept bumping with my head in the low light. It was stinking as it had found oil and I guess pest repellents that were on top then. There was nothing to see, just feel things – bottles, jars, chairs, tooth brushes, pencils, drums, gas cylinders, fridge floating (never thought those heavy LPG cylinders and the fridge could float on water). Only thing I remember is that I pushed the two gas cylinder out as they were floating, from where I took them to upper storey.

The days after were without lights, without TV playing, simple food, candle light dinners, a lot of strange feelings of socializing, helping others, etc. Stranded people in Raj Bagh, Kursoo and Jawhar Nagar were not that much distressed as the relatives who had by then heard all sort of stories.

Then I remember the day I was able to get out in a boat to get supplies for the stranded families. Then rescue tours in Raj Bagh interiors which by that time was undivided because water was over all walls and perimeters. People yelled at water bottles and packets of biscuits, and they were so happy to get them, like there was extra life in biscuits and water bottles.

I remember a scene at Dalgate, it was very much like how they describe it in partition of India and Pakistan. There were people walking on both sides like refugees, nowhere to go or may be somewhere to go. I was myself dressed in knickers and a flood-stained T-shirt, crappy looking. But no one paid any attention. In city where supplies were still abundant, it was kind of a strange fair, kehwa was served on roads, stories were shared in small groups and things like that. People also looked fiercely at anyone carrying something valuable like fresh vegetables or fresh bread. So things were concealed usually in bags and brought home. The scorn was threatening.

Then came the days of rejoining – people hugging on streets, tears and cries, and grief, happy findings, sad stories – those sorts of things. Then came the battle for relief and votes, blames, accusations, rebuilding, reconstruction and finally the winter froze a bit of these things.

A year after I am not sad about the things and lifeless objects that were lost. The floods kind of made us aware about the human existence, as how much important life is. I am sad about the people who died during the floods. I know there is no relief or rehabilitation that can bring the departed ones back. That is the loss that can never be recompensed. Yeah, surely, felt falling apart back then but now it is like ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.

The most valuable thing in Kashmir is its people. Rest comes and goes.

All this would be saved now on some server, as a piece of the jumbled history, someday might find it helpful to recall, or to seek refuge and solace in nostalgia. This is history now.

Feedback at shoebhamid@gmail.com

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