Feeling a bit achy all over the body (to paraphrase a French writer – le corps a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas) on Wednesday morning when I woke up at my usual time, I decided to skip my walk and give my frame some rest. Good excuse, but never mind… I duly turned over and pulled the blanket over me, and slept soundly for one full hour. As everyone would know, this is the sweetest slice of sleep that one can ever enjoy.
As I felt refreshed when I got up again and out of bed, I did not feel any guilt about my decision to have a holiday from Trou-O-Cerfs, but I did realise that I had missed the freshness and the sights up there. The consolation is that there will always be more of them for me to soak in at leisure.
The beauty of the morning
However, I did not miss the beauty of the morning. As I sat outside my kitchen lazily relishing fresh fruit, I tuned in to the chirping of the birds, recalling the days in my childhood when there used to be many more of them, swallows, pics-pics and condés which flew from tree to tree in our garden, singing away joyously. I had learned to imitate the tliou-tliou of the condés, and delighted in whistling out to them, thrilled at getting their return calls almost immediately. All these denizens of the sky would pick at the guavas and the cherries, as also at the peaches sometimes.
As I mulled over these thoughts, the rays of the sun coming through the glass windows were a welcome warm-up because, in spite of the partition and the roof, there was a nip in the air what with a mild breeze about. But watching the green leaves and the colourful flowers awakening to the stream of light more than made up for the slight chill, which in fact produced a rather pleasant sensation on the skin.
Spring is on the way, I thought to myself. No need to say that the calm was more than welcome after the four days of anticyclonic weather that began on Thursday last, continuing through to Sunday, with bouts of pelting rain and gusts of wind strong enough to push one about if not careful. And of course the cold too – the temperature was consistently below 20 degrees Celsius, hovering mostly around 16/17 but definitely it fell even lower, to 12/13 degrees, at least in Curepipe, and more so at Trou-O-Cerfs. The full meaning of the expression ‘the vagaries of the weather’ was brought home to me in full blast as it were.
Floods in Kashmir
At the same time, though, I reflected that this is nothing compared to what has been happening in Kashmir, the floods that overtook the valley a couple of days before the last weekend. In fact it is with some trepidation that I watched the news on Indian TV on Sunday, as Srinagar was reported to be nearly 80% under water – and I knew someone who was due to reach there in the afternoon, having caught the flight from Mauritius to New Delhi on Saturday night. The airport was operational and she would have made it to there at least, but I have no idea how and when she got to her house, not to speak of the luggage that she was taking back.
On Tuesday night during a debate on TV, a lady described how she flew into Srinagar a couple of days earlier and had to wade through shoulder-deep water to go to her parents’ house and rescue them, walking back the same way to get to safety! I shuddered at the thought that my acquaintance might have undergone a similar trial. To date there is no way to know as there is a total breakdown of communication, neither phone nor email connection being possible.
The situation in Kashmir is catastrophic, similar to the so-called ‘Himalayan tsunami’ that hit the state of Uttarakhanda in north-eastern India last year. Torrential rains of over 2000% the usual amount for the season and coming down over several days have resulted in the worse massive flooding, submerging hundreds of villages and the surrounding land, with marooning of hundreds of thousands of people. Rivers have overflown, their raging waters sparing nothing on the way. Bridges have given way and there have been landslides that have destroyed whole stretches of mountain roads, adding to the damage caused to the overall road network.
Fortunately, though, the loss of lives at about 200 is much less than what happened in Uttarakhanda, when about 5300 people are reported to have died. The survivors are still picking up the threads to rebuild their lives, and as was the case there, in Kashmir also the Indian Army has swung in to perform no less than heroics in rescue and relief operations, including hoisting people from rooftops on to helicopters perched vertiginously high up.
Together with the Indian Air Force, Navy and the National Disaster Relief Force they have evacuated nearly 75 000 people already, and there has been a call from various quarters to centralize command and control operations for greater efficiency in the ongoing efforts to save lives, provide shelter and food, and take the immediate medical and health measures needed. With the rains abating in the past few days, the task of the armed forces and other agencies was hopefully going to be facilitated as the water recedes.
The Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi visited the state after his Home Minister Shri Rajnath Singh had done so, and ordered the release of additional funds to cope with the situation, with a pledge of more to come as necessary. As a gesture of goodwill and solidarity, he made an offer of India’s help to the Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif, as the adjoining area of Kashmir under Pakistani control was facing a similar flood situation. Nawaz Sharif reciprocated with a similar offer of help to India if needed, emphasizing and welcoming the mutual spirit of ‘solidarity in adversity’ that was being displayed on both sides.
This was echoed locally by several Kashmiris, among others prominent ones such as Vice-Chancellor Amitabh Mattoo, who gave moving and harrowing accounts of how they had been helped not only by neighbours and friends, but also by strangers as they were caught in the struggle to move to safer places. There was a call from everyone for this kind of unity and solidarity to prevail beyond the present disaster, which has made Kashmiris realise that they have more to gain by coexisting peacefully rather than tearing at each other through the imported and instigated militancy that has plagued the valley for so many years now. And, sadly and ironically, even in the midst of this unmitigated tragedy, terrorists were attempting to infiltrate into India from the border area of Kupwara. Three were killed by the Border forces – and this was another challenge that the Indian Army had to face, managing the border at the same time as saving the lives of their fellow citizens, both tourists as well as those who live in the valley.
Kudos to the Indian Army
Barring some stray incidents, there has been a quasi-unanimous expression of gratitude to the army, and acknowledgment of the tremendous work being done by its personnel, who despite the risks to themselves went about their assignments diligently 24/7. This is the worse flood in Kashmir since 60 years. There’s more population, more infrastructure built, more activity. Truly, no one can prepare for that kind of contingency, as the Chief Minister of Kashmir Omar Abdullah said. That is why this situation was declared a national disaster so that the Central Government could come in and take over temporarily from the overwhelmed State agencies. Recently-appointed Army Chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag gave the guarantee that the army, as it had undertaken in Uttarakhanda, would not leave until the last stranded person was evacuated.
Our responsibility as humans
As in all the catastrophes that are taking place all the year round in several different places across the five continents in the world, the underlying observation is the same – calamities may be natural, but their impact is compounded by human activity, by the way we go about building, creating infrastructure and developing agriculture to accommodate the needs of the growing word population.
‘Think globally, act locally’ – that is, factor in local context and data even as we apply established principles to our country development agendas, has perhaps never been so poignantly relevant as it is now if we are to have a secure future, though we can never eliminate risks altogether.
By sheer coincidence, I had picked up the May 31, 1995 issue of the Bhavan’s Journal that Wednesday morning, and came upon this ‘mantra pushpam’ (The words that blossom):
‘The year which forms the unit for the eternal cycle of time, is perhaps the abode and the ambit for the interaction of water with various elements and objects of nature. Conversely the water itself may be serving as the source and security for the year. He who knows the mystic connection between the passage of time and the flow of water is indeed blessed with an eternal abode. Also he who knows that the entire universe is like a boat floating in the all-pervading water is indeed the one who gets established and attains an everlasting position in the eternal establishment formed and formulated by water.’
To manage the flow and the force of water, we will have to start by managing ourselves, our needs and desires, our greed and compulsions, re-think the way we go about ensuring our survival, and understand how all this weaves in with the ‘mystic’ of that element without which there would be no life, no ‘us’.
Make no mistake, the mahapralaya (great destruction of the world) will not be by fire, but by water. Might as well enjoy as many mornings and evenings, and why not the in-betweens too, as possible…
* Published in print edition on 12 September 2014