On Saturday, after many months of relative silence, the Kashmir Flood Information Channel on Facebook began buzzing with activity. It had started to rain in the Valley and the Jhelum was rising again. For many Kashmiris, both at home and away, this brought back dark memories of the devastation caused by the floods last September. While most insisted that there was no cause for panic, you could sense the anxiety in the air.

On the roads, people were scurrying about, stocking up on groceries. Tour operators were ushering cars full of tourists back to the airport. The phone began to ring incessantly as well-wishers offered advice about moving valuables to the upper floors of homes and shifting residents to safer ground. News came in of schools being shut and exams being postponed. Everyone greeted you with furrowed brows as they huddled in groups to discuss the water levels or keep watch on the bunds. Cars slowed down as they crossed the Jhelum, assessing the oncoming danger and clicking photographs.

The water-logging was being blamed on the lack of a proper drainage system and the ground’s low retention capacity due to a rise in the water table. Some people blamed the situation on administrative negligence during the prolonged state elections, which dragged for several weeks starting in November. But others praised the new government for its alertness in reacting quickly to the threat.

Coming home

This was all slightly unnerving. Just the day before, I had returned to our family home in Srinagar’s Gogji Bagh area for the first time since the river spilled its banks. Signs of destruction were visble everywhere. Some homes had been ripped apart in the middle, like blocks of Lego. Loose bricks spilled into the streets from collapsed walls. The roads are potholed and the streets are still deserted. Amidst the rubble were signs of new life: occasional almond blossoms and the colors of spring.

When waters of the Jhelum began to rise in September, my grandmother couldn’t understand why she needed to leave our home. We live in an area that most people considered perfectly safe. “Gogji Bagh will drown only when all of Kashmir drowns,” my grandmother said. And it did.

Though I was Delhi, I lived through the ordeal vicariously. I started at my laptop for days, constantly refreshing my Facebook and Twitter feeds, praying that all would be okay. For 72 hours, there was a blackout in Srinagar. Within those 72 hours, an online community of thousands of Kashmiris who lived outside the state came together. They helped coordinate rescue calls and issued information about people who had made it out safely. I read every update out loud, hoping to provide some reassurance to my family around me. “If X has been rescued.” we speculated, “I’m sure Y will be safe too.”

Virtual comfort

Often a photograph or two would find its way to these sites. When the first video of a house crumbling down surfaced on one such portal, many broke down. The internet also turned into a support group for students outside the Valley trying to get in touch with their stranded families. This massive crowdsourcing effort provided conversation and consolation for many people.

On Sunday afternoon, I could see the rain-water gathering in my garden. The ominous rains pattered down on tin roofs all night on Sunday as most people were sleepless with in fear. It was ironic to realise that droplets of water could cause such terror for people who have grown up hearing gunshots.

It was quieter on Monday. It barely drizzled all day and the water levels were slowly receding. While the situation is under control now, weather forecasts predict further rain on Wednesday and Thursday. Caution is necessary, but panic avoidable; we must take care to differentiate between the two.