Barely 20 days after the roaring Lidder consumed the top rafter of the valley, another boat capsized killing two at Pahalgam on Tuesday. As the tragedy unfolded, Free Press Kashmir’s correspondent witnessed a heart-warming display of humanity from the locals, who overwhelmingly participated in the rescue operation.
I happened to be around the unfortunate spot on June 18, while roaming around Pahalgam on a family trip. It was around 4:50 pm that day, when I had stepped on the raised pavement in Lavender Park along with my cousins. We were witnessing a breathtaking view of gushing blue waters, alongside green and snow-capped mountains.
The Lidder water course was offering a splendid site. It was an escape route for world-weary souls. As everything appeared meditative in that fleeting moment, suddenly cries and screams shook us.
At first site, it seemed an empty abandoned thing. But soon, the tragedy unfolded. We saw people clinging on to the surface of the boat — their cries renting the air.
Another boat had capsized on the day when Tourism Department was testing the troubled waters of Lidder for rafting. Only 20 days back, the surged river had consumed Pahalgam’s braveheart, who had drowned while rescuing the guests.
Since then, rafting has appeared as a perilous undertaking in this otherwise calm pocket of south Kashmir. And yet, the official wardens wanted to test the waters in the remembrance of the fallen hero. The deafening Lidder, however, once again deflated the enforced peaceful picture.
In that moment, I saw people trying not to drown, clinging to the boat, hoping against hope. Panic had spread. Locals had started mobilizing in all directions for help.
But the boat was running away, continuously, floating with the fast gushing river. It halted at the dam. The locals, meanwhile, had prepared themselves to help with whatever they thought was possible.
I saw an old man getting a huge ladder, going up and down the dam space twice. He was defying his own age in that last ditch effort to save the screaming rafters. Ropes and ladders were arranged quickly, till the official help arrived.
The locals had come to the rescue of a woman and a young girl. The duo had held on to a tree and to each other. They were safely rescued.
Once taken ashore, they were comforted by locals—who gave them phones, water and jackets.
The collective vibe had gripped the place. It was indeed heart-warming to see the selfless volunteerism in the times of hate and bigotry.
One by one, people were taken out of the troubled waters. Three persons were taken out in unconscious state from Lidder and rushed to the hospital. Those were the ones we heard were critical. As soon as we reached back home, two of them had passed.
But throughout the rescue efforts, I saw praying lips and helping hands at the service of humanity in Pahalgam. People were doing their best to save the situation.
I saw a woman, pleading to God, “Myaani khodaya! Bachaiy zaikh! Panin reach kaerzaikh” (O’ Almighty, save them! Bless them with Your care!)
These locals were praying, as if in a hymn. Young people around me bought water, refreshments for the rescued women.
In people’s eyes, I saw utmost concern. Their compassion was driven with the sense of love across identities.
“I think this is what I admire the most about us,” Rahib, my cousin, told me. “I think this is what makes us Kashmiri!”
This was a trip with a group of like-minded cousins who speak critically about everything and have an introspective understanding of oppressions, the nuances, and look critically at many aspects of our culture and religion.
Here we were in this transcendental moment, looking at our people and thinking, “If this is what our culture and religion imbibes in us, that is the culture and religion we want to believe in.”
At a time when the evil forces are hell bent upon polarising people and trying to prove- for their vested power interests- that people are inherently communal and full of hate, these small acts of faith, empathy, and love across identities show us we have every right to believe otherwise.
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