A young man with an old, tattered boat, member of the despised fishermen’s tribe, keeps vigil for any sign of a drowning life
Srinagar: Between Fateh Kadal and Safa Kadal there exist some half-a-dozen suicide spots over the gushing river Jhelum. But if there is Manzoor Shagoo, locally known as Gani, around, it is quite likely that the suicide bid will be foiled.
Gani, who is the first person to look for when anyone is found drowning in the river, recently saved the life of an elderly man. He was busy in his routine fishing, which serves his livelihood, underneath the Zaina Kadal bridge when he saw the elderly man jumping off the bridge. It was the second such incident in the week.
Within minutes, Gani unanchored his damaged boat, the only one in this stretch of river that is crossed by six bridges. He rowed the boat to where the old man was drowning, grabbed him up, and rowed him back safely to the shore. There he was taken into custody by local people and handed over to the police.
“The old man’s life was saved by him,” said Abdul Wahid, an eyewitness to the entire incident. “Had Gani not been there, the old man would have been gone.”
In more than a decade, the 30-year-old Gani has saved the lives of more than 15 people who had jumped into the Jhelum. His rescue act has earned him a name in the nearby police station, which contacts him for his service whenever needed.
Gani has one incident etched in his head and heart. It was when he saved the life of a 16-year-old girl who had jumped off the bridge a day after she failed in her Class 10 exams. It happened some 5 years ago.
According to Gani, it was a winter morning when he was nearby the bridge, fishing, when the girl jumped.
“I had no boat with me that day. So I had to swim across the water to reach her. It was difficult, getting into the cold water, with a depth of over 30 feet, during winter. I had to risk my life to save hers. Fortunately, both of us were saved,” Gani told Kashmir Reader.
Swimming and rowing a boat, the two skills required for saving a drowning person’s life, was learnt by Gani in childhood from his father. They used to live in a houseboat before they were removed to Bohri Kadal.
Gani and his skills belong to a community locally called Haenz, despised by society for being unprivileged and fishermen. For Gani, it does not matter; the ill treatment from people has not made him less inclined to save them.
His absence was felt when a lady could not be saved, days before Gani saved the old man. That day, he said, he was unwell at home.
“But I reached there immediately when I heard about it. Though I could not be of any help that day, my boat was. It helped others look for the body until it was recovered, more than a kilometre away from where the woman drowned,” Gani recalled.
Gani’s boat, which is heavily damaged, remains anchored at the bank of Zaina Kadal. “It is many years old, many times repaired,” he said. “It has to be replaced; otherwise, it will be difficult to save lives.”