Climate Change

Of jinx, junk, and Jhelum—the old couple whose houseboat ran out of water

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The resilient couple. [FPK Photo/Amir Bin Rafi.]

As Kashmir is witnessing a severe heatwave, it has affected the horticulture industry as well as the water bodies. 

A couple of days ago, a picture of a houseboat standing on the dry riverbed of Jhelum surfaced on social-media. The picture went viral and became a must have visual for valley based camerapersons. However, an old couple, living in that houseboat are preparing themselves for the worst, as the decreasing water level has made their lives difficult.

HB Gulshan Rose, a white coloured houseboat, houses an anxious couple as the river has taken away their happiness, making their lives dull. 

Instead of being busy with customers, the changing climate has turned them into gardeners—gardeners who water their houseboat. 

City’s dump yard. [FPK Photo/Amir Bin Rafi.]

Surrounded by a water bottle, a can, a pipe, and a dustbin, Raja Begum’s eyes are glued to the waterless banks of the Jhelum. Seated at the entrance of her houseboat, she silently prays for the rain to come. Uncertain of what is coming, Raja looks at the base of her houseboat to check if it needs water. “We have to take care of it like a rose,” she anxiously says while positioning the water pipe. “If the soil underneath gets dried, there are high chances of its breakage.” 

This is how it used to look during winters, Showkat Ahmad, Raja’s husband, chimes in. The headman is surprised yet scared of the changing course of Jhelum. “Even in winter,” he continues, “the water level is higher than it is presently.”

A new bloom. [FPK Photo/Amir Bin Rafi.]

As Kashmir is witnessing a severe heatwave, it has affected the horticulture industry as well as the water bodies. 

Summer capital Srinagar experienced its hottest September day in over half a century, with temperatures reaching 34.2 degrees Celsius on September 12. The previous record, dating back to September 1, 1970, stood at 33.8 degrees Celsius. The all-time highest September temperature in Srinagar was registered on September 28, 1934, at 35 degrees Celsius.

Survivor. [FPK Photo/Amir Bin Rafi.]

While Raja remains seated at the entrance of her houseboat, Showkat on the other side starts tightening the ropes. The houseboat is tied to ropes from all sides. Apart from that, large wooden poles are attached to support its structure. 

Showkat is very uncertain about the future of their home, as he says that in the absence of water, the houseboat can develop cracks. “Water is as important for this as it is for a fish,” he comments while tying one of the ropes. 

Changing course. [FPK Photo/Amir Bin Rafi.]

The riverbeds of Jhelum narrate a different story altogether. The silt that has accumulated on the banks has developed large cracks. Looking like a multi-layered painting, one part of the bank has totally dried up, and the other one close to water is housing a new ecosystem of freshly grown grass. The part on which the houseboat is standing is slightly moist, making it more difficult for the couple. 

Ropes of hope. [FPK Photo/Amir Bin Rafi.]

Showkat is very disturbed by the present scenario because his houseboat does not attract many tourists. “They find it dangerous to stay here,” laments his wife. 

For Raja, survival is not easy as the houseboat is their main source of income. 

Surviving the odds. [FPK Photo/Amir Bin Rafi.]

The couple is also not happy with the conversion of Jhelum into a dump yard. “Everywhere around us, there is trash. Be it plastic, polythene, or glass, people throw everything into this river,” Showkat says in an agitated voice. “The river supports the livelihood of a large number of people; how can we pollute it?”

Forced alternatives. [FPK Photo/Amir Bin Rafi.]

The couple finds themselves on the receiving end as they think about the hard days that will follow.

And as the sun begins to dim the light and the sound of Adhan reverberates from every side, Showkat stands up for prayers. 

Nurturing the Saviour. [FPK Photo/Amir Bin Rafi.]

Soure chu temsi taaam, yeh temis behtar baasi (Everything is up to Allah; He will do the best),” says Showkat while looking towards the sky full of parakeets.  

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