3 years

Despatch

AMONG THE CASTAWAYS

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In the valley after the deluge, the struggle of the living, the abandoned and the orphaned, is all about survival and coping with the loss. We listened to the sighs, sorrows and anger of a people still submerged in the memories of what one Kashmiri calls the ‘blood flood’
From a distance, they look like sacks. Because we are in a translucent city. Everything is blurred here. Only when you get closer do you notice the bulbous eyes, the upturned feet, and the hiss of gas from the bowels. The stench is unbearable. It makes the stomach churn, the smell of decomposing flesh. There are carcasses all over what used to be called Sena Farm near Srinagar’s Bemina Woollen Mills.

Some 320 cows were trapped here during the deluge in the Valley last week. Only seven survived. The people here watched their life ebb away. Just like that. As if someone had told them they were going to die that evening, and a cow sacrifice was an omen of death. No one went to untie them. People heard them through the day as they tried to break free. But the river swallowed them. They climbed onto their roofs, and waited for death—or a miracle. They kept themselves alive. But there will be an epidemic. It could be cholera. It has been almost 10 days since the Jhelum, the river that crisscrosses the city, breached its banks and flooded the state capital, bringing life as people knew it to a halt.

Gulzar Ahmed comes here most afternoons from his house near the Idgah in the old city, and wades through this water, with cow corpses all around, to look for the body of his nephew Mansoor. Sometimes, he takes a small boat and floats among the dead. A few bodies have been recovered. They say seven people went missing. They found four bodies, but it takes more than human courage to look for the dead here. The stare of the cows’ blank eyes is hard enough.

On Sunday, Gulzar Ahmed is here again. Short, and thin, with creases around his glassy eyes, he narrates the story of his loss. Mansoor, his nephew, worked at a hotel here. A week ago, when the waters began to rise, he started to rescue those who were trapped. Like most others, he had hoped the waters would recede. They hadn’t witnessed any floods in 60 years. He was trying to save his friend, whose wife was pregnant. He rescued him, but was trapped himself. The waters claimed him, they suspect.

Mansoor lost his father long ago. His mother, and his wife, and his two small children, wait for the uncle to find the body. Because there’s some hope in the ‘missing’ tag. Perhaps he was washed away, and will return.

A dog hops on the bodies of dead cows. It is trying to stay alive. But the waters are dark, and threatening. Chances are it will not make it.

A group of migrants who work here have been trying to rescue the cows that survived. They led them through the fetid waters by ropes. “Who knows how they survived? God’s will,” one of them says.

Haji Abdul Razaq Dar, an old man who rows a shikara, puts on his skull cap and says this is qayamat. The end.

“Where are the boats by the government? Where is the Army? Why have we been abandoned?” he asks as he wipes away tears.

Around 25 shikaras, donated by a local named Abdur Rashid Lami, are being used in Al Shariq colony adjacent to the dairy farm to ferry residents.

No relief has reached here.

“We live among the dead,” he says.

A carcass had floated across to the front yard of a neighbour’s house. They hope the epidemic doesn’t arrive too soon.

Elsewhere, they say the city is strewn with corpses. Like Jawahar Nagar, and Batamaloo. A few more days, and when the water has finally left for other places, they will know who all went under.

Saiful Gulzar, a high school student, learnt from the old man how to muscle the oars, and now spends hours ferrying people from their half-submerged homes to the side of a road from where they go to the city centre to find food and medicines. They won’t leave their homes. Because that is all they’ve got.

There’s a log of wood in the boat. “This is for a poor man whose daughter was to be married next week, but now it has to be postponed. He lost everything. We collect what we can for him,” he says.

Gulzar doesn’t get angry, like many others. He says people think they can continue being here, and manage. He knows they won’t. Pride gets in the way of survival, he says.

“There’s too much politics in this flood,” he says, and continues to steer the rickety shikara towards the carcasses.

A fight breaks out between Haji Abdur and the migrant workers who are trying to rescue the cows. Slowly, they pull them out.

“Get them out of here. Why did you not save them?” he says.

“Why couldn’t you save them?” Dinesh Kumar says.

Around 30 workers lived in huts at the farm. What remains are half roofs, and distorted antennas.

“We survive on kindness of people here. We are trying to do our job but it isn’t easy,” Kumar says. “Even we are human.”

They have been given refuge by a Kashmiri family at the back of their farm. To haul out bloated bodies, they need more than a boat, and their hands, and their courage.

“Besides, where should we take them?”

Tempers are running high. They shout, and then break down, cursing their fate. Why did this tragedy befall them? They ask.

Back in the car, a friend says it is “blood flood”. He remembers a song.

Tide out, tide in, a flood of blood
To the heart through the fear slipstreams

Bloodflood by Alt-J

There are too many narratives. The truth lies somewhere in between. In a state that has clamoured for freedom for long, suffered Army excesses, the flood narrative has been hijacked. You could take sides. It is people versus the state. Everything is spoken of in extremes.

You oscillate. For an outsider reporting on floods, it is confusing.

“What are you going to write about the Army?” they ask.

On Monday, Colonel RR Jadhav says Army operations have been suspended. The orders came from the higher authorities. “It is tragic. Everyone suspects us. We even donated 1,100 kg of rice [as relief] from own rations,” he says. “It is a call of duty. Whether people appreciate, or throw stones at us, it doesn’t deter us.”

He goes on to say it is nobody’s fault. The failure of communication led to chaos. Phones had stopped working, and people got impatient. There have been reports of stone pelting at Army choppers and boats of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). He confirms this. People have been alleging the armed forces are dropping expired chips and biscuits, and milk.

“It is sad,” Colonel Jadhav says. “How can we give expired food? We get relief material from elsewhere. Our job is only to distribute.”

Another Army official tries to break it down: it is ‘rescue and relief’ first and then ‘rehabilitate’. “The floods here are a challenge. The choppers can’t fly very low because of the wires and the poles, and then there are dynamic forces like birds. We can’t pull our people from the second floor. If they are on the roof, we can get them out. Then, there are those that tell us to go back,” he says.

Here, the Jhelum flows through the city, and there is construction all around it, he says. “Kashmir is like a bowl. There is no proper drainage here. The Wular lake in Kupwara, where the Jhelum dumps its water, is full. We built bridges, fixed the roads. In my 30 years of being in the Army, I have never seen anything like this,” Colonel Jadhav says.

The Army has pressed 29 choppers into service, he adds.

Over 226,000 flood-hit people in Jammu & Kashmir have been rescued by the armed forces and NDRF, but the Defence Ministry has said that water-borne diseases could break out as flood waters recede. The death toll is not established yet. It could run into hundreds or thousands.

You hear the drone of relief planes in the mornings and afternoons. It mingles with the horns of trucks and human voices. It’s like being in a war zone with no rations, no money.

This is it then. You don’t blame anyone. You only hear their stories and hope the boundaries between the truth and rumours aren’t so blurred.

But there is humour too.

There are stories they tell of a man who swam across flood waters in Raj Bagh to get cigarettes. They speak of a 50-year-old man who floated through the Raj Bagh area on a plank of wood and people applauded him for his courage. He is rumoured to have said that if he was going to die, his death should be heroic.

There is a complete suspension of what makes up modern life. Nothing works here except courage. There is a return to an age of waiting. Through the night, and through the day. There is no electricity, and phones don’t ring anymore.

‘We don’t need Indian choppers. We, the Kashmiris, are, and will unite to solve the situation.’ The undersigned is KK Sokhta. This is the old city. This is where loyalties are fierce.

On the side of the street, they are collecting money for victims of the flood that they say has destroyed their paradise.

They are angry. We are told to be careful. But they tell us their narrative over kahwa. They mutter that the Indian state wants Kashmiris dead. But they will live. They have survived guns and tear gas. They will survive the flood, too. Then, they will unite to boycott the state.

“There will be riots,” a man says. “Go, tell Indians we suffer. We will come out of this.”

The list of the missing gets longer. They hope, they pray, and they wait for news of those of family, and friends.

“It is Allah’s qahar (wrath),” Hilal Ahmed Malik, a Sokhta resident, says. “People were shouting from rooftops to save them when we went out in our shikaras on Monday. But the state didn’t respond. We were left to die.”

A young man tells me this is zakaat. It is a Muslim’s duty to help the needy. “Hamare mazhab mein likha hai duniya fanaa honi hai (In our religion, it says the world won’t last). Why be afraid of what is in store for us?” he asks.

Here, they don’t ever blame God. His will must not be questioned.

In the distance, the shrine of Maqdoom Sahib looms. They say people would climb up the hill, mobiles in hand, trying to catch signal. But telecom networks had collapsed. For days, they alternated between hope and paranoia. That’s when anger began to find its way in the narrative.

Hum toh waise bhi mazloom hai (We are victims of God’s wrath). Aur yeh zulm (And this brutality). But Kashmir never asks for help. We won’t beg,” Asif Ahmed Dar, a local, says. “How could they give us food that had gone bad? We were treated worse than dogs.”

There are half-truths. These could go either way, depending on who you were. Kashmir is one place where identity is questioned, and retained. You must take sides.

Two men accompany us to a relief camp run by the separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq of the Awami Action Committee. The media has been asked to exercise restraint. On TV channels, they have been showing the Army’s rescue efforts, they say. They have also alleged that Yasin Malik, a separatist leader, tried to hijack Army rescue boats. Again, the truth lies somewhere in between. But to get to it, you must ask uncomfortable questions.

The Islamia Higher Secondary School in downtown Srinagar—Shehr-e-khas as the locals call it—has turned into a relief camp. Here, they cook rice and curry. A bunch of young men eat in a corner, and on the lawns, women and children sit in the sun. Inside the auditorium, carpets have been spread. This school, which is run by the Anjuman-e- Nustratul Islam headed by the influential Mirwaiz family, is where victims were brought in and offered refuge. Outside, a banner hangs with pictures of Hurriyat leaders.

A few women are sitting near a window. Among them is Nusrat. “We are from Chattabal. When the sailaab came, we were having chai,” she says. “We were halfway through it when it felt like the river was coming towards us. We ran to the second floor, then broke the grill of the window, and got to a neighbour’s house, and from the other side, started wading through the water to reach dry land. We started walking towards Maqdoom Sahib’s shrine on Hari Parbat to find shelter when some volunteers found us and brought us here. They gave us food, and clothes,” she says.

For eight days now, she has been here with her family. Her brother couldn’t get out, but camp volunteers went and brought him here. She tried going back once they said the waters had receded, but couldn’t reach her house.

“We just wait. What is the state doing? Will they come when we have all turned into corpses?” she wails. “When they could have saved us, they never came. Kashmiris never discriminated when it came to rescuing others. They saved everyone they could,” she says. Other women look away. The anger runs deep. And so does the sense of loss. There is an uncertain future, they say.

In the other building, a man is sorting out relief material sent in by the villages. The room is almost overflowing with bags of rice, biscuits, sugar, flour, blankets, and medicines. A man who calls himself Mansoor says they haven’t received any help from the government. They mobilised everything themselves. He says the news is being edited by the media to show the rescue efforts of the Army. But here, young men have risked their lives to rescue people on small boats. They, he says, are the unsung heroes of this tragedy. “There are a couple of boys who are missing from the rescue teams. We are still looking for them,” he says.

On the evening of 7 September, when the flood hit the town, 2,400 people had gathered here. They were refugees in their own homeland, he says. As he issues instructions to the volunteers, he turns and says he is grateful for the help of the people. “We don’t know how we get the energy. We don’t know how our kitchens are still running. We suffered His wrath. Now, we live at his mercy,” he says.

I ask them about the expired food packets. He says they burnt them in the stadium the day before.

There is no evidence. But there are testimonies. You can’t verify everything.

At the roadside relief camp, a man had said nobody would go hungry once they evoked the name of Mirwaiz. It works like a currency too. Paper slips signed by Mirwaiz for flood victims can be use to get food here. Nobody will refuse, Asif says.

The Hurriyat leaders have said there are at least 25 relief camps run by them in Srinagar. The one at Islamia School is the centre, and symbolic of the family’s love for its people, Asif explains.

They say the old city was built after the great floods long ago, and it will never be devastated by a deluge. At the shrine, overlooking the city, an old man sits sipping tea. He is from the Maqdoom Sahib Welfare Committee, and says this was the first relief camp to be set up in the city. They offered refuge to those who got stranded in the rains on Saturday, and put together resources from the Zakaat fund and donations to set up a relief camp on the premises. “We have housed them in three buildings here,” says Awaaz Ahmed Raina, a committee member. Everything here is a donation by people who live far away. Like in Baramulla, Gandarbal, Dras and other places, he says.

There’s an announcement on the loudspeaker: “Give anything that you can spare for Kashmir. Even Rs 10 will help our brothers and sisters.”

There’s also the drone of a chopper. They say Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of Kashmir, is dropping food items nearby.

“We threw them away. We don’t need India’s help. We will stand on our feet once again,” a young woman says.

As the muezzin calls for prayers, her father takes out his jannamaaz, and puts a finger on his lips. In the end, you must turn to God, he says.

Everything has turned into shelters here. Mosques, Gurdwaras, schools, community centres.

A woman comes out of a marriage hall in Sanat Nagar Chowk, and wails.

“Go back,” she shouts.

When the authorities were refusing to open up the marriage centre set by the state government to run a relief camp, an angry mob had threatened to burn it down.

Hundreds of them huddle in the large halls that would have celebrated the bride-to-be’s new home at some other time. Now, they mourn the loss of their home here.

Along with loss, they have suffered indignity, they say.

Yet another woman comes and says Kashmiris were always the ‘other’. “Since 1970, we have suffered the apathy of the state and the Indian Government,” she says. Kashmir knows it is an abandoned place, she adds.

Firdous Ahmed is from Bemina. “I only have what I wear on my body. I pay taxes. Where is the state?” he asks.

The narrative of the flood has been distorted to suggest all kinds of conspiracies. By everyone. Because there must be something to oppose. On either side.

On Saturday morning, we walk towards Lal Chowk. Zahaan Khan and Mohsin Rashid Lone have to check on the families of their friends. At first, the water is knee-deep, and then it starts to get colder, and deeper.

There is an exodus. Human figures crisscross the streets. Here, nobody knows where everyone is going. There seems to be an exodus in all directions.

We walk in a single file. There could be manholes, wires, or nails. They tell me to drag my feet, and we walk slowly. The water is full of dead rats, and one, bloated, and dismembered, flows past us. It is sewage water.

Near Saraibala, the green flags on a mosque flutter in the wind. On parapets of houses, where people watch from the windows, pigeons are drying themselves. They are the first messengers of better times.

Lal Chowk, the commercial hub of Srinagar, had drowned. Nobody talks about the loss of goods worth crores. They don’t even talk about the dead. They just walk on. On either side. In a single file.

This could be the ‘return’ or the ‘flight’. Or both.

These weren’t questions worth asking. A bridge looms in the distance. To get to it, we have to go deeper into the water. They caution against walking on the sides.

“Stay in the middle,” they shout.

A few of them smoke as they walk through water. Even in most unbearable situations, people laugh. They are neither optimistic nor pessimistic.

A vegetable vendor has opened his shop. Manzoor Fruits. Maybe nobody will come to buy anything. Or if anybody does, he might just give away things free.

Mohsin wades through the water, and disappears into a lane. He has gone to check on a friend’s family.

The NDRF has pressed boats into service here. There are other kinds of boats as well. Like asbestos sheets with rubber tyres bound underneath to make them float, or planks of wood, or mattresses, or Styrofoam sheets. Basically, anything that can buoy a flat surface.

Under the bridge, they have been waiting a long time. This is where a photographer died the other day. Shafat Siddiqui had been chronicling the floods, and slipped off the bridge. His body was found near the city centre. Here, death needs no condolences. It has become yet another number.

Kauser Ahmed’s family was stuck for days in the area. “I was halfway through my morning tea,” he says. “By the time I was about to finish it, the water had come up until the second floor. That’s when we started to run.” They ran upstairs, and remained there for three days. He says they even begged a chopper on Sunday to rescue them, but the officials said they were going someplace else.

A man walks by. “What’s the point of a story? Tell them we need water, and food. We are dying,” he says.

Hilal Ahmed has come to look for his sister here. “Our elders say nothing like has ever happened here,” he says. “The media should show the truth. They are embedded with the Army. They travel in choppers, and report what the Army shows them.” When Radio Kashmir shut operations on Sunday saying water had got into their equipment, people knew it was going to be bad. There have been reports of stone pelting by locals at soldiers, and Ahmed says the media is doing a disservice by showing clips from 2008.

“There is water all around us. Where will we find stones?” he says.

It is like a sea of apples. Grim water with ripples of red and green. They flow past the men, and the women, and they pick them up, wipe them across their sleeves, and start to chew.

The waters are dark, and full of strange things that the flood has claimed. Any of it could kill you, they say. It is cold, and our knees wobble. But others are doing it, so you do it too. My mind feels heavy, and hazy. I imagine the ocean, mermaids and seahorses. That makes it easier. Beauty isn’t so hard to find except when you tell yourself it’s flood water and might be full of corpses, not mermaids.

When I stumble, a hand holds me. I am told not to lift my feet. They offer me apples. A man calls out from a window. Zahaan and Mohsin go closer. He coughs, and his daughter, by his side, says they need medicines. The man is an asthma patient, and they have run out of stock. He stays at the window as his daughter shouts out the names of what he needs. She then scribbles it on a piece of paper, and slips into a bag that she lowers from the second floor. Mohsin goes looking for the medicines at a relief camp near Iqbal Park, and returns in half an hour with nothing.

Meanwhile, a truck rolls in from Uri. It is the first time they have been able to get here. Some of the flooding has eased, and the truck could reach the mosque. It can’t go beyond, but the men say they will wade through water to distribute relief material. They have been coming from Uri in Baramulla, which is about 120 km away from Srinagar, every other day with food, medicines, and water, and baby food.

Mohsin spots a chemist shop. It is on the other side, and he finally finds the asthma patient’s medicines. He and Zahaan return to the old man at the window, and give him what he’s been waiting for. Then they stay back in the area to help organise relief and rescue operations by the NDRF.

On the side, Ravi of the NDRF says he has no idea about the lanes, but if locals help, they can do a better job.

Anger simmers. Aircel was the only network that managed to keep some communication intact. But in the end, that too becomes a business plan. Ever since the Home Ministry approved of the distribution of SIM cards— of a week’s validity—without verification paperwork, their black market prices have shot up.

Crossing Solin, we come upon buildings that look like ghosts, with sad faces trapped in them. A washing machine floats underneath what could have been a balcony. Flowers don’t bloom here anymore. Flower pots were turned upside down.

A few migrant children come by truck. They float on plastic buckets, and stretch out their hands to ask for food. They collect everything, and return. They will wait it out, a man says.

“Not that there is anything pleasant to return to my village. Poverty is a curse everywhere,” a migrant from Bengal says.

A cigarette dangles from his lips, and for a moment he is undecided whether he should throw them more packets of Parle biscuits. The raft is making its way through the narrow lanes of Batamaloo, which is one of the most affected neighbourhoods. They navigate through a mesh of wires, and steady the raft with oars that they push against the walls. The last time they came here, they had been rescuing people from the second floor. The water had been that high. They have a young pharmacist, Ubaid, who knows the locality and guides them through its maze of lanes. The brief is to get the rescue material to the people trapped here. They have biscuits, bottled water and medicines on a red raft named Owais.

Saddam Hussein Kitab, 32, is a businessman. Because everything has collapsed in his homeland, a place already fractured by questions of identity, belonging and misplaced narratives, he says he joined in to save whoever or whatever he could. They are two brothers. Early Monday morning, they had gone out into the deluge to Raj Bagh, a lone torch guiding them through the locality, and rescued a Sikh family.

That afternoon, Saddam jumps into the water, his Rayban shades firm on his nose, and a lit cigarette between his lips, and takes bottles to a house where a few women are standing on the second floor. He hurls them up for them. He speaks to the men, women and children in Kashmiri, asking them if they need any medicines. He returns to the raft, searches frantically in his bag, takes out some pills and tablets, and goes back.

They are hoping to keep an epidemic at bay. But they know they can’t. It spreads like the water that claimed the city, ravaging it so badly that they have begun to say that Srinagar is a lost city. He washes wounds, bandages them, tells people to go get vaccinations, and then gives up. They are a frustrated lot.

Earlier, they had hauled the raft on to the Winger, a large tourist vehicle, at Government Girls’ High School near Hyderpora, where a relief camp organised by journalists, locals, and volunteers, is working through the day and night.

Ubaid is angry. He rows the boat in silence, and then lights a cigarette and says this is unreasonable behaviour. These medicines can’t keep anything at bay. Then, to lighten the mood, he says they had declared him dead. When the floods hit, he lost his identity card, and someone found it and posted it on Facebook; people offered condolences, and prayers, and obituaries were carried in local newspapers.

A few women spot him from a window, and ask if he has returned from the dead. He says it was annoying at first, but in times like these, such talk is no big deal.

Saddam’s younger brother Omar Javaid Bazaz is a commercial pilot. He says it is Kashmiriyat that makes him do rescue work. “What face are we going to show Allah? He will ask… ‘You have two feet, and yet you didn’t do anything?’” he says.

He is tall, and lean, and rows the boat like an expert. He says it was in school that he learnt how to swim, and other survival skills. The brothers attended Tyndale Biscoe, a school that was established by a British missionary in 1880. Its crest has two oars, and its motto says, ‘In all things, Be men’. They are being true to what they learnt years ago.

We pass by shuttered, submerged shops—Bike Point by Firdous Abad, Nisar Tailors and others. There’s another young man on the boat. He helps out with the rescue until he gets off and loads a bag of rice, and some water bottles on his shoulders, and wades across the lane. That’s his house. The raft moves on. Sometimes Bazaz and Saddam whistle so people can come out and ask for water, or medicines. They aren’t carrying much, but anything helps.

We pass by a couple of children who are rowing a makeshift boat of plastic bottles tied in a plastic sack held together by stings. For oars, they use logs of wood. Bazaz tells them they will get bravery awards for this. They say they don’t need life jackets. It is people like him who need them, they can manage just fine, and they laugh.

Majid Khan, a chartered accountant, and yet another Biscoe alum, is the fourth man on the boat. He had quit smoking, but now he says all he survives on is chai and cigarettes. The flood has been devastating. His house had been flooded. He got out, and then started to help out with the rescue work.

Here, water is waist-deep. People are wading through it. Old women, and men. Nobody comes into these lanes, they say.

The raft gets stuck, and they get off, and pull it. Majid keeps silent except to utter a few instructions on the directions. They start out tense, but later relax. Some people ask them in for tea. They decline.

They fight, and then smile at each other. The boat swirls, and gets stuck, and Majid tells Bazaz to concentrate. There’s a wire that comes in the way. Already, it is quite a task to navigate narrow lanes. “I am doing my job,” Bazaz says, and Majid shrugs.

Their supplies are running out fast. Everyone wants something. A woman wants Digene but settles for pain killers. Another asks for insulin. They laugh. It eases the tension.

Before the raft hits a dead end, two women appear on yet another innovative boat. Again, plastic bottles tied together, and firewood for oars. Haja has hurt her feet, and her wound needs to be bandaged. Saddam hauls her onto the boat, and cleans her wound, and applies antiseptic, and then ties it up. He advises her to go seek medical help at one of the medical camps. But Haja won’t leave her house. She is afraid of robberies.

They give them biscuits and medicines. Her son has got lung infection, but he won’t go either. They will stay here, and hope it is not the end of the world for them. But even if it is, they shall accept it with dignity. By their faith, the world shall end one day. If it is this way, it is pre-ordained.

There’s chaos. Everyone wants something. They throw the remaining bit of their supplies into windows, or hand them to whoever manages to reach their front doors.

Saddam opens a biscuit pack. “Tomorrow we shall come to Jawaharnagar,” he says.

There are more lanes to cover. But they have nothing more to give. A man points to a lane, but Ubaid says it is almost 1 km away. “One kilometre in water means five kilometres walking,” he says. “Besides, we have nothing more to give.”

They return.

A man comes out, and shouts. “Here, we are the government, and so is Pakistan,” he says.

Saddam shrugs. Bazaz laughs.

“Get out, and get vaccinations. Save your life,” he says. “Tell me, where is the navy? Are they fighting a water war somewhere else?”

At the relief camp, he limps. He has hurt himself. He sits down to have some tea before they offload the raft, and find another car that will take them someplace else.

He crouches, and holds his bag close to his chest. It contains nothing except some clothes, and tools. In his pocket, only about Rs 200. He doesn’t know how to get home. Or whether he should.

It is an Air Force base. He watches a plane intently. He is nervous, and he passes his time watching planes. The drone drowns his voice, but he keeps talking. He smiles often. He doesn’t even know where the plane will take him. If they take him to Delhi, he will try and find work, collect money and go home. A migrant’s narrative. One among others. A lost one among the more important ones like those of the separatists, and those who oppose the state, and those who reign here.

He doesn’t belong anywhere. He must leave because he isn’t a priority. Nobody has helped them, he says. They walked miles to get to an Air Force base, and had to stand in line for a long time.

These are meaningless words. Uttered by those that matter to nobody. He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t blame anyone. He is only grateful to be alive.

They say they had nothing left to reclaim. They never had much. Nobody heard them out. They only wanted to go home somehow.

They walk miles to get to anywhere so they can go away. They don’t blame anyone.

I am him. I know what he means. His is a floating identity.

He is only wondering about the plane. He has never been on one.

He says he could have walked along the rail tracks like thousands of others who left in a daze. But he had no money for that long journey. He did not get his last salary. He knows his employer has lost everything.

At Qamarwari, near Sena Farm, Ayub, who is from Bijnaur in UP, stands watching the damage. He used to work as a tailor, and lived in Kak Sarai in Karan Nagar in a one-room tenement that he shared with his wife, and three children. An NDRF boat rescued them on Sunday. They had climbed on the second floor, and managed to get out in time. They had nothing but a small bag with a few clothes, and their identity cards. They are living at his brother’s house in another neighbourhood, and looking for a way to return to their village. “My employer suffered damages. The banks are shut. I don’t want to ask for my dues,” he says.

A few Kashmiris gave them food, and he walks around the city trying to find some work with Mumtaz, 25, and Rihaan, 18, two young migrants from Lucknow who also worked in embroidery units here. “We have been sleeping on the streets for a few days,” Mumtaz says. “Sometimes, people give us apples, or biscuits.”

As soon as they attribute their escape to the Army, a local starts abusing the three, saying they are lying. Ayub is almost apologetic, and says he’d already said that Kashmiris helped them with food and water.

“The Army hasn’t done anything. The Hurriyat has come to people’s rescue. They saved us,” says Haji Abdul Razaq Dar, an elderly local from Al Shariq colony.

But beyond this, he can’t speak. His feeble voice can’t be heard above a barrage of expletives, and he walks away with bewildered eyes.

On Tengpora Bridge, there are hundreds of tents. These are migrants from Rajasthan, and elsewhere. They lived in huts next to the river. Nobody will take them in.

At Srinagar airport, a migrant asks for the price of an air ticket at the Indigo counter. For Delhi, it is about Rs 3,000. He asks how much it will cost him to get to Jammu. He walks away.

Captain Oinam Samson says the Army can get them to Delhi, Chandigarh, Jammu. That’s all they can do.

But the poor are nobody’s burden. They can only be taken halfway home. The rest, they will have to manage.

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