As a homeboy growing up playing with wild tides of river Lidder in picturesque Pahalgam, Rouf Dar was the best rafter in town. This past Ramzan, fighting the same roaring river for guests, his tide ties snapped so suddenly that it shook his hometown and gave Kashmir a new fallen hero.
Just like any other Ramzan evening, Ghulam Rasool Dar on May 30, 2019 dialled a call back home from duty to check if his wife and children had done their iftaar on time. But the unexpected response from the other side of the phone line froze him.
His eldest among the two sons, Rouf Dar wasn’t home yet and his out of reach phone was quite a rarity. A tumour patient himself, Ghulam Rasool tried to ease down his wailing wife, Tasleema, in a way to assure himself as well: “Where would he even go? He has a well-built personality. He would fight hundreds. None could do bad to him.”
“…Don’t worry,” he believed.
Hailing from picturesque town of Pahalgam in south Kashmir, Rouf was in his late teenage years when he first romanticised with his village’s native water body, famous for its rafting amongst tourists all across.
He would find peace playing along the dancing tides of river Lidder. He had been friends with its gigantic rocks and the ever-giggling white waters. Over the years and by 2019, he was looked upon as ‘the best’ rafter to have romanticized with the beautiful river. Perhaps, this must be one of the reasons Rouf decided to go against the tides, that day – May 31, 2019.
Having had perfectly mastered all the tricks and turns of Lidder, he couldn’t say no to the repeated requests of a group of tourists from Kolkata to raft them through.
Despite having warned about the upset water flow, the tourists were adamant. They had reasoned Rouf about their departure scheduled next morning and that they cannot fly back home without experiencing Kashmir’s famous white water rafting. And the ‘kind-hearted’ boy of river Lidder, just couldn’t have disappointed them.
It was close to 5:30 in the evening, an hour past the closing time decided that day by the rafter association, owing to the bad weather conditions. Across the entire stretch, it was only Rouf and his floating raft at the start point, as the group of five tourists and a guide accompanying them made their way in.
And in case of any mishap, a rescue boat had also been arranged to ensure tourists’ safety. With that, Rouf peddled his boat as the tourists cheered in joy.
Back home, Rouf’s mother had been long-preparing his favourite delicacies for iftaar.
Every day, he would finish his work and reach home by 7:00 pm, and lend a helping hand to decorate the dastarkhwan, then to break the tiring fast with his wife, mother and his younger brother – all together sharing a sumptuous smile alongside the meat feast. This had now become a routine.
But that day, when Rouf did not return even after half an hour past the iftaar time, his younger brother tried to reason with worried Tasleema saying, maybe, he must have been busy with work.
As the leader of a union of rafters, 32-year-old Rouf was always a busy man.
During the 2014 floods in Kashmir, he and his associates had peddled their raft all the way down to Anantnag, where they rescued people day and night, returning back home only after six long days.
He knew his job in-and-out.
In 2016, a tourist raft had flipped after crashing with a wooden pole of a leftover footbridge. Rouf, who was luckily present at the area of the crash, pulled his raft and rescued all the tourists back to the safe base.
On the fateful day, Rouf had again found himself in middle of another rescue act.
A sudden cloudburst had spiked the water levels in the Lidder and the subsequent strong winds had upturned the raft entirely.
Moreover, as narrated by Javed Ahmad, one of the rafters on the rescue boat, the water fury was such that the two rafts had parted away and Rouf was left all by himself.
Soon after the crash, according to Javed, Rouf got himself up on the flipped raft, held it to a steady spot, and selflessly dived into the wild Lidder to reach out to the tourists screaming for help.
For the next half an hour, he was at it: easing down the once friendly, but now, a wild river Lidder, its ever-giggling, but now ruthlessly screaming tides, only to save the lives of his guests from Kolkata, all while more than 12 hours had passed since he had last eaten anything or sipped even a glass of calm water.
Back home, his mother Tasleema was still waiting for him to join her for iftaar.
“It was sharp 8:08 pm,” Rouf’s father Ghulam Rasool recalls, “I had called my wife.”
While on phone as Ghulam Rasool was still trying to ease down Tasleema, Rouf’s younger brother got a call from the villagers. The bad news had arrived.
“Rouf sahab’s raft has turned over…”
Tasleema screamed on phone, Ghulam Rasool’s heart slipped a beat, as Rouf, away from his home, lost his grip and swum to the dark ends of Lidder, as its tides took him along, once and forever.
His dead body was found next morning at 6:00 am by his fellow rafters and the team of State Disaster Response Force alongside J&K Police.
Rouf’s heroics earned high respect on social media. Some termed his act as the spirit of Kashmiriyat. But many simply called it an act of Insaniyat.
However, under the shadow of praises and monetary compensation from the state, the young rafter’s untimely death highlights concerning point that has gotten broadly overlooked.
While Rouf’s heroics must be surely recognised, the fact that the incident would have not occurred had the tourist not badgered him, should also be considered.
Several white-water rafting guidelines suggest that the tourist-trips should be timed to finish at least an hour before dark, while in the case of Rouf, the closing time had been declared 4:30 pm that fateful day.
But his father reasons that his son’s ‘kind heart’ couldn’t have allowed him to say no to the tourists.
Rouf was married only four years back. A BA and BEd degree holder, he had been long trying to apply for a government job to look after his tumour-ridden father, an ailing mother, a wife, and an undergraduate younger brother.
“Maybe, this was what his destiny had in store for him…” Ghulam Rasool concludes, in a way, making uneasy peace with his brave-heart son’s tragic demise.
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