Remembering the great flood through the eyes of saviours

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The Baadshahi Ashoorkhana the day after the flood of September 1908.

The Baadshahi Ashoorkhana the day after the flood of September 1908.
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Whenever Satyanarayan Gupta met Mir Abbas Ali Moosavi, he would reminiscence about his grandfather having survived the great flood of September 28, 1908, by taking shelter on the terrace of Baadshahi Ashoorkhana. “Ram Dayal Pokarmal had a cloth store in Pathergatti. He was among the 75-odd people who survived the raging flood when Mir Mohammed Ali Shafeeq sheltered them on the terrace of the Ashoorkhana,” informs Mr.Moosavi, the 11th generation Mutawalli of the 17th century Shia house of mourning. 

Asif Husain Arastu knew that his great great grandfather was a well-known surgeon who defied his business family to pursue medical education. “It was only in 2019 during a family reunion that I came to know about his role during the great flood. As I dug deeper, I learnt a lot more about how he helped evacuate patients and then helped his family escape the swirling waters,” says Arastu, a librarian and teacher. 

“Two patients died from fright, Abdul Husain, the House Surgeon, deserves greatest praise for his untiring efforts in directing the saving of the patients. His own wife and family were themselves in imminent danger of being buried alive in an upstairs building, but only after he had seen his charges in safety did Dr.Abdul Husain save his own family,” state the words in a contemporary account. 

“I was swept towards the Maternity Hospital. Someone there pulled me up and saved me. Forlorn, naked and shivering, I was saved but there is no use of such escape. I could not even trace the bodies of the members of my family,” wrote poet Amjad Hyderabadi after being pulled out of the waters that swept away his wife, daughter and mother. Incidentally, a road in Yakutpura bears his name.

Between these three stories is the story of how ordinary people rose to the occasion to save life and limbs of the people in distress during the great flood of 1908. 

Amjad Hyderabadi was saved by the brave nurses and health workers of Victoria Zenana Hospital. Mir Mohammed Ali Shafeeq, the mutawalli of Ashoorkhana, set up a community kitchen to help people in distress in the forecourt of the premises. “In the archival images, you can see my great grandfather in sherwani and large cooking vessels to his right,” says Mr.Moosavi.

He was doing this at a time when newspapers were reporting: “Many of the victims of the flood who were driven from their homes are in a destitute and actually starving condition. In order to satisfy their wants they are looting the grain and liquor shops throughout the devastated area.”

Miss Pinto and Miss Correa were the resident medical officers at the Victoria Zenana Hospital who helped save the patients at the hospital. While their deeds are mentioned, there are countless other saviours and survivors whose role during the dark days of the flood still remain unknown.

“We have shifted the day of the Flood Walk to September 30 due to Ganesh immersion processions. We show people how the flood affected a wide swathe of the city from the Miyan Mishk masjid on one bank of river to the Shivalyam of Chandulal Temple to the Purana Pul Darwaza,” says Sibghat Khan of Deccan Archives who conducts heritage walks to memorialise the flood.

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