For seventeen days, HuzaifNazir frantically searched for three bodies in the floodwaters of Rajbagh here. Every morning he and his cousin JunaidSabir took a load carrier from Dalgate to Modern Hospital. From there, they would hop onto a boat, hired for Rs 1500 a day, to ferry them around the submerged houses and lanes. They would wade through water to feel with their feet but found nothing. On September 21, they hit upon one: Hajira Begum, 65. And on September 24 another two, his nieces: SarwatKhurshid (two-and-a-half years) and RahatKhurshid (six-month-old).
Sarwat and Rahat were daughters of Nazir’s sister, Kashifa, who put up at Rajbagh with her bank employee husband Asif Khurshid, mother-in-law Hajira and her three daughters—the eldest of whom Tarawat, 5 years, survived the deluge.
On September 7, when bund breached and river Jhelum rushed into Rajbagh, the family was at their accommodation at Extension 101 opposite Hurriyat Office. When the first floor of their house went under water, the family stayed put in the second floor of the building.
But on the following day, when a volunteer arrived with a boat at their window urging them to leave, they could hardly believe their eyes. Except Asif who couldn’t find space, the family got on the boat to be taken to safety. Before leaving, Hajira read a few verses of the holy Qur’an. On the boat, she held Sarwat in her lap. Rahat was held by her mother and Tarawat sat between the two. Among all her belongings Kashifa only took milk powder and baby wipes for Rahat. As the volunteer who had reportedly come from Rainawari rowed away the boat, the family, including Tarawat and Sarwat, waved goodbye to Asif who was seeing them off at the window.
But a short distance from the house as the boat took a turn near Hurriyat office, it capsized. All on board including three children fell into water.
Sajad Ahmad says Nazir broke window of his second floor to jump into water and rescue Kashifa. He also pulled to safety Tarawat, the eldest child. The boatman, a youth volunteer, saved himself. But Hajira, Sarwat and Rahat drowned, lost in the opaque 15-feet deluge. Put back on the boat, Kashifa and Tarawat were taken to the Modern Hospital. Eyewitnesses found Kashifa screaming and banging her head against the hospital wall but nobody could help her.
And when around noon, Asif, rescued by another boat, reached the hospital and began looking for his family, he saw nobody. It was after some frantic search that he found Kashifa in one corner of the building, distraught with grief. In the swirling chaos around the place, he could do nothing.
Shocked into a stony silence, the couple later in the evening begged a patient to part with one of his four bananas so that their only surviving daughter could satisfy her hunger. The day after, Altaf, an employee at the modern hospital brought a potato chips packet for the girl. The family stayed at the hospital for three days and then walked on foot to SKIMS Soura. And from there the family went to Kashifa’s parental home, Shopian.
This is when Nazir took over the painful task of looking for the bodies. “First thing I did was to go to almost everybody in the government and beg them for help. I went to Iqbal Khandey, Nasir AslamWani, DGP, IGPetc and even Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. I went to Raj Bagh police station. They all assured help but none came forward,” says Nazir. “Finally on September 12, I hired a boat and started search for the bodies myself. We would leave early in the morning and return late in the evening, search every home and the corner of the street where the boat capsized till I found them more than two weeks after.”
Nazir breaks down as he narrates the story. “We couldn’t go home where the shocked parents of children wouldn’t speak a word. We couldn’t sleep. We couldn’t eat,” says Nazir. “This feeling that our children were under water along with their grandmother was unbearable. But then retrieving their bodies and burying them has hardly made a difference”.
For the parents, one of the horrors staring them in the face is about how to go back to their accommodation at Rajbagh. “Sarwat and Rahat’s bedding is still laid out there. In the rush to escape flood they had left it unfolded,” says Nazir.