The keepers of faith would have hounded, if not killed, me. For, I fell short of committing blasphemy by a whisker. I did not have to take myself to some dungeon to save my beloved life.
It was just last year. A tragedy had struck the state of Uttarakhand. It appeared as if the mountains and rivers had conspired against believers as colossal flashes of water mixed with boulders swept away hundreds of thousands who had come seeking the blessings of their gods. Even the abodes of gods were at the mercy of the nature’s elements. Thousands of bodies still lie buried under the debris of that fateful catastrophe across the Kedarnath valley.
A hardened sceptic, I could not help thinking aloud as why the gods would not intervene when children were helplessly washed away from the arms of their mothers in a one massive gush of water. Ah, gods might have their own way of doing things; and those who believe in the divine theory that everything is predetermined would put it as inevitable. I felt like shouting from my rooftop questioning their love for gods. Poor me!
Another calamity struck a rather unusual place this time around. Unusual in the sense that it was no Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal or Uttar Pradesh where floods are almost a routine. And it was not a place of pilgrimage in particular.
Old-timers say it was after six decades that Kashmir witnessed flood fury. While others maintained it was in 1928 that the Valley had seen such deluge last. The Jhelum and Chenab were in full spate. The Tawi in Jammu region too rose above the danger mark threatening lives.
Amid all this chaos, we were witness to another spectacle during the rescue operations in the Valley. Some stranded men pelted the rescue teams with stones from the rooftops of their houses somewhere in the capital city of Srinagar. News of more such cases has poured in since. But this was hardly unusual for a generation so much used to stone pelting. Their preferred route of venting their anger on the streets! But the occasion certainly was unusual. We can’t say there was more to the act— whether it was merely a sense of frustration at their delayed rescue or did it have political overtones? Sad.
Omar Abdullah, who presides over as the chief minister of the state, responded to this by saying: “They don’t see what we are doing. They don’t understand how much time it takes to respond to the calamity of this scale.” He’s right, anyway. We are no United States. We are no Japan or China either when it comes to the scale and resources they have in hand when any eventuality takes place in their respective countries. Those who resorted to stone pelting in the flood-ravaged areas of Kashmir should have understood this before collecting stones on the rooftop of their house. You can’t be someone who is marooned, seeking help and play a protester at the same time. Can you? Protest can be put off for better times. At least when there is no water all around. A calamity is a calamity after all. It raises several questions when seen in a particular context.
My great maternal grandmother would tell us the story of what she referred to as ‘saat hadd’ (meaning seven floods taken together). She would point to the wide canyon in the middle of which a stream flowed about over half a kilometre from their house. She, however, never gave the year of its occurrence. This is how history would become folklore in this part of the world.
She would say the canyon was caused by the ‘saat hadd’. And given the fact that the rivulet occupied only a tiny part of the hugely wide canyon her story seemed credible to our curious adolescent minds.
A couple of days ago, I got a call from my aunt who lives in New Delhi. She told me that all members of a family in her acquaintance, who live in Srinagar, were evacuated and safely arrived at their relative’s place in New Delhi.
“Thank God, they were the blessed ones as they survived the tragedy. They had done no wrong or evil in their life,” she said. Her observation was very selective. It appeared to me as if all those who got stuck in the tragedy are unfortunate ones, less blessed or even cursed. “Then God might be malevolent,” I said to myself.