Flood of memory

Come September

Everything wrong gonna be all right

Come September

Hyderabadis wouldn’t swing to this romantic number. They await the month’s advent with dread. For most, September is a ‘sitamgar’ that evokes memories of death and destruction 109 years ago. The havoc wrought by the floods of September 28, 1908 is still fresh in memory.

The great disaster has become a folklore now. The catastrophic events set in motion with a sharp shower and drizzle are recounted with all seriousness. And so is the role of the famous tamarind tree in the Osmania General Hospital premises that saved the lives of 150 persons. In fact this historic tree becomes the venue where concerned citizens gather year after year to recall the calamity and recite poetry that grew around it.

Recent torrential rains brought Mumbai, the maximum city, to its knees. Two years ago it was Chennai which faced the nature’s fury, recording its worst rainfall in over a hundred years. More than a century ago it was Hyderabad which battled the floods that changed the civic character of the city for ever. What stands out in all these calamities is the never-say-die spirit of the people. As the water receded and clouds cleared one is flooded with stories of grit and determination. Differences of religion, caste and language seemed to drift away in the swirling waters as utter strangers stood together and carried the burden of each other.

The great Musi floods left a trail of death and destruction. The river that meanders through the city was the cause for at least 12 such floods in the past. But the devastation caused in 1908 was unprecedented. The flood was the result of bursting of several irrigation tanks following an unusually heavy precipitation over an extensive area. According to the flood report prepared by Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, the rain 'descended in sheets, flooded the small tanks and overburdened their waste weirs'. In Kolsawadi alone about 2000 persons got washed away while an equal number perished in Ghansi Bazar. Many sought refuge atop the city wall near Petla Burj and the tamarind tree in OGH.

The sixth Nizam, Mir Mehboob Ali Khan, personally supervised the rescue operation and threw open the gates of the royal palaces for the flood victims. About six lakh persons were fed for several days, it is said.

But in the hindsight the historic deluge led to the planned development of Hyderabad and construction of its principle water sources - Osmansagar and Himayatsagar. After the flood there was a prolong drought, break out of plague and death of the sixth Nizam. Yet amidst these trying times, the Nizam government set up the ‘Aaraish-e-Balda’ (City Improvement Board) not just to rebuild the city but to embellish it.

The tragedy also led to emergence of some moving poetry. Nothing portrays the emotions and distress of the devastation like the ‘Rubai’ of Amjad Hyderabadi who lost his mother, wife and daughter in the flood. In the poem Qayamat-e-Soghra ( the minor doomsday) he wrote:

Jo hum ne saha hai na saha hoga kisi ne

Dekha hai jo kuch hum ne on dushman bhi na dekhe

Kuch ayese diye charqe sitamgar ne churke

Ek lakqt huye qalb o jigar ke kayee tukde

The same distress is captured by Hariram Sikhawat in his Lavni and Ammangi Venugopal in his poem Chettu Aatma Ghosha. The Centre for Deccan Studies want the entire Musi belt and the CIB office situated in the premises of the old Gandhi Medical College building at Basheerbagh to be declared as heritage monuments.

What calamities teach us is that sometimes you just have to pick yourself up and carry on. That’s what Hyderabadis did. Tough times don’t last, tough people do.

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Printable version | Oct 23, 2021 10:42:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/flood-of-memory/article19670865.ece

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