March 23, 2015

Breadcrumbs and the Flood

Breadcrumbs on my bed were the first things that came into focus as I woke up. Fluffy and gnarly at the same time, and stale –they could a day old, two days maybe. Who knows?

The phone rang shrill into my ear; it was lying next to my head, discarded and, incorrectly I had thought, in silent mode. I'd never liked answering phone calls; just the idea of calling someone seemed so demanding, so entitled.

A name from back in the day flashed on the screen though. Here’s a person who hasn’t demanded in a while, so he was overdue, and so I answered.


“Good, you picked up. Check your twitter.”

No surprise so far –Abhishek had lived for his Twitter before living on Twitter had become legit.

"I’ve shared a link to Ijaz’s family’s coordinates in Srinagar. Retweet them. ASAP ok? He’s wild with worry. Hasn’t been able to get in touch with them since yesterday night.”

Right, the flood in Kashmir, I remembered scanning the papers yesterday—it had been an exceptionally dry monsoon in Delhi though, so I hadn’t cared.

But, a stray thought niggled at me -- Why had Ijaz called to tell me?

Sure, we hadn’t spoken much since his marriage. Sure, I had ignored his call the last time he was in town. Sure, I hadn’t ringed back either. It made me mad nonetheless.

If I were honest, I'd admit I was less pissed off and more panicked. In emergencies, you called friends for help; if you don’t, does that mean you’re not friends anymore?

“Of course I’ll re-tweet,” I replied. And I did –immediately. It’s just one click.

Abhishek and I spoke for another minute during which he told me all the things Ijaz should have: His mother and father were stuck in the attic of their 3-floor-bungalow in Srinagar for days. By the time the army rescued them, the pair had run out of food; his father was injured, last he heard it wasn’t serious though. His sister was safe in Delhi, but his cousins hadn’t been heard from in days.

I couldn’t get the image of Ijaz’s parents out of my mind. His father, a rounded 6-footer, and his mother a shy slouching woman who gave off the ‘still a bride’ vibes.

Were they sitting on their haunches in that dank attic? How terrifying it must be to stare anxiously at the river barreling through their dainty rose garden and cobblestone driveway.

Checking my Twitter, I saw my retweet had gotten no further than my page. It became harder and harder to lie on my soft, springy mattress. The fresh conditioned breeze became stifling; the fur-lined blanket I used to guard against the air’s slight bite looked as obscene as it was. My friend was in need, and he hadn’t reached out to me. I should speak with him.

His ringtone was a Hindi-movie song. “You are my hunny bunny,” crooned a melodious voice as my fingers rapidly tapped on my knee.

“Hello…Yes?” He sounded exhausted.

“Ijaz, it’s, Boppy,” I speak quickly and so I stutter.

“I heard about your family; I’m so sorry.”

“Yes, yes... Boppy!”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Well…” his hesitation was a dagger to my heart. So that’s why he hadn't informed me… he didn't believe I could help.

“See, basically,” he started with that matter-of-fact tone of a person who had repeatedly been telling his tale of tragedy.

“They were near Dal Lake. Last we heard my cousin Ali was with them, and the army had evacuated them to a hospital near the Lake. That’s what we knew yesterday.”

He sighed, I remained quiet. So far, only I knew he was right: I couldn't help.

“But the phones are down. I don’t know what’s going on there. Abba has a heart condition; you remember, don’t you? He might have run out of his medicine and then… ”

“Wait, let me check with people I know in Srinagar,” I said hoping to inject some light hope into the dark promise his voice makes.

Immediately, I called another friend—a journalist who writes about the Army. “Karan!” I cried as he picked up. If there’s anyone in my circle who could help, who would know what’s going on, it would be him.

“Listen, I know you’re probably getting calls left, right,” I began.

“Yaar, Bops, give me their names. I’ll try. But I don’t know. The situation there is bad right now yaar. They’re throwing rocks at the army; Dal lake is flooding. No one knows what the fuck is going on. I can’t promise.” He blurted this out before I could say anymore –he sounded irritated at being asked like I was being entitled to try.

The asshole, I thought.

“Their names are Nagma and Ahmed Khan; they were picked fr---”

“Just text me the details, na. I’m on my way to the Army chief’s to figure out more.” He was curt, collected. He had friends in the Army; he had friends in Srinagar; he had friends who were looking for their families. But he had no family there, so he can afford calm.

I turned my TV on.

Images of water walls hurling themselves at mosques, pounding into white brick buildings, of shikaaras floating despondently rider-less on what used to be streets flooded my eyes and brain. Even on a screen, the angry power of overflowing water petrified me.

“I’ve asked a friend to find out. Will let you know soon.” I texted Ijaz. I checked my Twitter one more time—no retweets.

I knew neither Rahul nor Ijaz would call me back. I knew I wouldn't have anything to say to them either. The TV stayed on; the river continued to flood, and I lay back down.

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