Few can forget the year 1908 – particularly the day, September 28. So can Mohammed Ali. But he remembers the year of the historic deluge for some other reason. It was the year when he was born. However, even after 105 years, it is not a distant memory for him.
Though he was just a baby, Mr. Ali remembers vividly what he heard from his parents about the tragic event that left a trail of death and destruction.
“Woh mahina to bada sitamgar tha,” he says, mouthing the popular notion among Hyderabadis who still dread September as a ‘tormentor’. The untold misery the floods brought on the unsuspecting people is fresh in his memory.
“Tughyani kisi ko nahin bakshi” (the floods did not spare anyone), says Mr. Ali who is hale and hearty at age 105. “There was devastation all around, and people had to start from the scratch after the flood water receded,” he continues in a chocked voice.
For old-timers like him, the Musi tragedy unleashes a flood of memories come September 28. The run-off from the catchments of the Musi was said to be the highest in the world. It was the day that started on an ominous note and turned worse by the hour. The normally calm Musi turned into a one-eyed monster, laying bare everything in its path. The first warning came around 2 a.m. Water headed behind Puranapul and breached the city rampart wall on the west side at 3 a.m. By 6 o’clock, water touched the crown of the Afzal bridge arch and rose to a height of 10 feet along Kolsawadi road where the Osmania General Hospital now exists.
According to the report prepared by Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, the great engineer, the depth of water in the city above the general bed level of the river varied from 38 to 45 feet. Such was the fury that barely a ripple marked the submerged Afzal bridge. Kolsawadi and Ghansi Bazar bore the brunt of the floods with several deaths.
Musi was the cause for at least 12 such floods in the past. But the devastation caused in 1908 was unprecedented. It was the bursting of numerous irrigation tanks following an unusually heavy precipitation over an extensive area that caused the floods.
The sixth Nizam, Mahboob Ali Pasha, personally supervised rescue operations and threw open the gates of the royal palaces for the flood victims. About 6 lakh people were fed for several days, it is said.
The deluge resulted in the planned development and construction of Osmansagar and Himayatsagar reservoirs. But the authorities apparently have not learnt any lessons from the catastrophe. How can one explain the civic apparatus collapsing like ninepins after a moderate rain? The tamarind tree at OGH that saved 150 lives is a stark reminder of the 1908 floods. So is the moving poetry of Amjad Hyderabadi, who lost is mother, wife and daughter in the great deluge. He mused thus:
Itni darya main bhi na duba Amjad
Dubne walon ko bus ek chullu kafi hai