Kashmir is a region located in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. It includes the territory of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and the Pakistani states of Gilgat and Azad Kashmir. The artificial line called the L.O.C – Line of Control – divides the state into two parts.
The Indian side of the territory consists of three regions: Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir. Of these three regions, the Valley of Kashmir has had a marked individuality as far as its history and culture is concerned. In fact, it is the only region in the Indian subcontinent, which has the distinction of possessing the uninterrupted series of records of its history and culture. In both ancient and medieval times, Kashmir enjoyed the reputation as the cradle of knowledge where students and scholars flocked from many parts of the world, including the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsiang and the great Iranian saint and scholar Mir Saiyid Ali Hamadani.
Apart from this, Kashmir has many other claims to fame. Because of its amazing landscape and scenic beauty, Kashmir has been called the Switzerland of Asia. In fact the splendor of the Valley is legendary. Kalidasa, the great Sanskrit poet and drama writer who flourished in the 5th Century AD was of the opinion that Kashmir is more beautiful than heaven, and the son of the soil, Kalhana, the author of the celebrated Rajatarangini, claimed Kashmir is the land of clear streams, lakes, green lush meadows and mighty mountains, “where the sun shines mildly”. The Mughal emperor Jahangir was so mesmerized by the beauty of Kashmir that he exclaimed:
Agar firdous barr roye zamin ast; hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast.
“If there is a heaven on earth it is thee, it is thee, it is thee.”
The 19th century Irish poet, Thomas Moore, wrote “who has not heard of the vale of Kashmir with its roses the brightest that the earth ever gave.”
Sir Walter Lawrence, a British administrator and historian, described Kashmir as an Emerald set in pearls, “ where the air is cool and water sweet”.
Because of its scenic beauty, topography, and climate, Kashmir is a very popular tourist destination. Tourism, in fact, plays an important role in its economy. However, agriculture and horticulture are the backbone of Kashmir’s economy. The tulip garden on the banks of the famous Dal Lake is a great attraction for tourists, and its products (the tulips) are in great demand in Europe/have found their way in the European markets. Kashmiri cherries, apricots and various varieties of apples are famous all over the Indian subcontinent and also in the Gulf countries. Besides this, the Kashmiri saffron is unique in its flavor and colour. Kashmir also enjoys fame all over the world for its handicrafts. Its woodcarving, papier mache, carpets, and shawls with needle work are considered a prized possession to this day.
The climate of Kashmir is very pleasant during September and October and it is during these two months that the flowers are in full blossom, the green paddy fields turn golden yellow, and the fruits, especially apples and saffron are ready to be picked.
But this year as soon as the month of September set in, it started raining and during the intervening night of September 6-7, this beautiful land on earth, the abode of the Rishi saints who preached tolerance, human brotherhood, and non-violence was turned upside down. It was this night (as we later came to know) when the state government and its machinery were sleeping, but people in many areas were out “on the streets monitoring the misbehavior of the river Jhelum”, which runs through the Valley of Kashmir.
There was no warning or information from the flood control department of the state government that the water in the river was rising above danger level and it had actually entered the localities of the uptown. Therefore, the people in my locality including myself, were unaware of the disaster that was unfolding in many parts of Kashmir.
At about 7:30am, my elder brother called and asked that we shift to his place. I was surprised at this suggestion because the area in which he lives, Rawalpora, though a posh colony, is prone to flooding, whereas Karan-Nagar, where I live, in the heart of the city, had never witnessed any flooding, therefore, without thinking for a moment, I told my brother not to panic and that there was no possibility that the area would be flooded. I must confess, like the state government and its bureaucrats, I had no idea what was happening around the city. After half an hour, I came out of my house, to see what was happening outside. What I noticed was that the drainage system had collapsed and the water was flowing onto the main road. Unmindful of the slowly rising water level, I thought the overflow was because of the heavy rains and returned to my house and told my wife that there was nothing to worry about.
Only ten minutes later, we were running for our lives to the second floor of the house. It appeared that the water was gushing out from the walls of our house. Within no time, all approaching roads were cut off and the water level was too high for any bravado to be attempted. Some people in our locality had moved to the second floor of the local mosque and any families had run to the safety of the second floor of a nearby commercial building.
By Monday morning, the whole of Kashmir was underwater. In the city of Srinagar all residential and commercial structures, including the two main hospitals, Radio Kashmir and a local T.V. station were flooded. All communication services were down completely, causing panic everywhere. There were thousands of families who remained helplessly unaware of the wellbeing of their kith and kin, including my son and daughter who had flashed a message to an Indian T.V. channel enquiring about our welfare with no success. It was only after ten days that they came to know through a family friend in Delhi that we were safe and alive.
The state administration continued to be invisible but the valiant efforts of people from less affected areas saved thousands of lives. In fact, the local youth played a daring role in rescuing people from submerged houses to safety in private and makeshift boats. For days together, they also transported relief items to thousands of people in the flooded areas. The loss of lives was fortunately minimal, thanks to our youth.
Before the floods, I was thinking that the social, cultural and political fabric of Kashmiri society had crumbled and that our younger generation was drifting away from the core values of our culture, and it appeared to me that Paradise on Earth had been lost forever. However, during the devastating floods in September, our youth exhibited remarkable resilience, extraordinary courage, determination, fellow feeling, and tolerance, the very same values that I thought they had lost. I was convinced that “Quom abhi zinda hai” – “this nation is still alive” and that we certainly will recover and revive Kashmir again.
Having said this, the losses suffered are massive. Thousands of families have lost their homes and livelihood. Agriculture, horticulture and tourist infrastructure, the main stay of the Kashmiri economy, have been destroyed completely. To deal with such a situation needs a combined effort both at national and international level. I am sure our well-wishers and friends, all over the world, will join hands and provide all the possible help they can, in the rehabilitation of the homeless and also putting the economy of Kashmir back on wheels.