September 2014: Like any other evening of Dhaka monsoons, it was raining incessantly. The skies were drab and more downpour was likely. My phone screen felt hot and sticky with sweat as I put my phone down after hours of switching between Facebook, Google and a phone call that just refused connect. From all that I had collected, Kashmir wasn’t doing well. Islamabad was already under water and Jhelum had been flowing dangerously high in Srinagar. The last piece of news that had reached me was two days old and that was when I had last spoken to my family.
It was difficult to breathe in the humid air that was imbued with uncertainty and fear. That night my eyes fell on a Facebook post which read “JHELUM HAS BREACHED” and I could feel my heart sink into a pit somewhere in my stomach. That last phone call had been so casual, I kept playing it in my head over and over again. I remember how my mother had hurriedly said that they’re safe and there wasn’t anything I should worry about and I had believed her, partly. That’s human nature for you, we don’t really believe in the likelihood of something bad happening to us and when it’s close to happening, our mind exaggerates the odds of it being the worst.
I felt incapacitated due to the oblivion that directed my imagination towards the worst of possibilities. My mind conjured everything that could go wrong and in what ways. I knew that the area I live in had been one of the worst affected areas in Srinagar and there was nothing I could do about it. In the depths of despair, my mind made frantic efforts to reconstruct every possible memory I had of home; I tried hard to picturise my mother’s face in my mind’s eye, standing in her impeccable kitchen, her eyes glinting with pride. Or how my father sounded when, every winter night he came to check if I had turned my electric blanket off, something I thought of as an OCD but was actually his concern. When I was home I could easily recognize my family members by the sound of their footfall in the hallway, it seemed so natural back then.
That night, as I was in my bed, I could produce only a vague reflection of their faces like all memory had evaporated from my mind in one day. The lack of details, the volatility of my memory and the bleak prospects of being able to see home again left me in this limbo of desperation. On principle, I should have turned to prayers, but that night I didn’t know what to pray for. So I prayed for the night to end. The night did end, two days later when I saw a familiar number on my phone screen. I answered the call and almost froze because I was fearful that any movement on my part would dislodge the connection. The voice on the other end was my father’s. He sounded unusually cheery and in an instant, I knew something wasn’t right.
A lot had changed in that one night, when Srinagar, the city I call home, was flooded by the reckless waters of its very own Jhelum. When I stepped out of the airport almost a year later, it didn’t quite seem like the city where I had grown up and I knew it would take time for all those changes to sink in. Had I been a firsthand witness, it would have been a lot easier to put things into perspective and maybe I would have even earned the right to complain. The havoc wreaked by the floods could be seen even a year later in the forty minute drive from the airport but I wasn’t prepared for what followed.
It took calculated efforts to hide any shock but I was jolted to the core to see what was left of the place where I had spent most of my life. The big holes in the walls, the stench that persisted even a year later and, worst of all, the corpses of the books I had collected so passionately over all these years. I felt like a kid whose castle had just been torn apart when I saw all the memories I had hoarded desiccate slowly after being submerged for weeks.
I knew I should have been prepared for this. I knew I was supposed to be grateful. I knew it could have been worse but I wanted to mourn for this loss when everyone else seemed to have moved on over a year later. In 2015, when people were re-counting their survival stories, I was experiencing the floods for the first time.
Three years later, the floods that effaced many memories, have become a bitter sweet memory.
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