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Remembering the 1950 Kashmir floods

india Updated: Sep 09, 2014 19:12 IST
Kashmir floods

As a 20-year-old youth, just graduated from Kashmir University, I witnessed the terrible floods that engulfed the Kashmir valley in 1950.

That was also the month of September, the 17th to be precise, when we experienced a heavy downpour for four days at a stretch throwing normal life totally out of gear.

The Jhelum overflowed its banks at numerous places in Srinagar and since my house in Habba Kadal area was just 200 meters away we could see the fury of the flood waters consuming everything that came in its way-trees, household goods, animal carcasses and the like, from a close range.

In no time the waters entered low lying houses and doongas (small houseboats) on the banks, temples and mosques. Even the bridges in the city were engulfed by the flood waters, severely restricting traffic movements.

But unlike the present times, when we have access to round-the-clock news and visuals aired by countless TV channels and radio stations, those days we couldn’t know much about the havoc caused by the floods in other parts of the state, beyond what was aired by the nascent Kashmir Radio Station of AIR which had a limited range, belatedly through the local newspapers, and mostly by word of mouth.

Offices and educational institutions remained closed for many days, but there was no visible panic about lack of communications since TV, telephones and mobiles were non-existent then.

Coincidentally, that time happened to be a fairly busy wedding season in the Valley. I too got married on September 21 that year.

With roads, parks and open spaces flooded, shamianas drenched (practice of hiring hotels or banquet halls was non-existent then), the customary function could not be conducted properly and few guests could participate in the celebrations.

On my wedding day, my barat was about to leave for the bride’s place in downtown Srinagar, but the private car hired to drive me to the venue was not allowed to cross the bridge, leaving me stranded.

Someone then went out and came back with a horse-driven tonga after much haggling. While the ceremony was on, reports came in that several areas in the city had been flooded, as a result many of the guests left midway through the wedding.

Curfew-like restrictions were imposed to stop people and vehicles from crossing the bridges. It also came to be known later that many weddings had to be cancelled or postponed because the grooms/brides could not travel from marooned villages to the city because of the waterlogging and lack of transport.

With Sheikh Mohd. Abdullah at the helm of the state government as the Prime Minister then, the flood situation appeared to have been handled effectively and normalcy restored within a couple of weeks.

[Former director of the Parliament Library, Research & Information Division. The writer is presently Editor-in-Chief of Naad, the monthly journal of the All India Kashmiri Samaj]