The Musi may now be little more than a giant sewer, but that September, 108 years ago, is etched in Hyderabad’s memory.

When the Musi rose in fury Remembering the devastating Hyderabad flood of 1908 Wikimedia Commons
Features Hyderabad flood 1908 Monday, September 26, 2016 - 17:05

Hyderabad has a strange relationship with the month of September. “Golconda fell to Mughal forces in the September of 1687. It was also a bleak day of September in 1911 when the mortal remains of Mahboob Ali Pasha, the 'beloved' Nizam of Hyderabad, were laid to rest at Mecca Masjid,” writes Sajjad Shahid, a heritage activist, in TOI.

But it is September 28 of 1908, when the once mighty Musi overflowed its banks and flooded the city, leaving death and destruction in its wake, that is etched in Hyderabad's memory.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

On the evening of September 26, 108 years ago, the rain began as a harmless drizzle and continued till the night. But by 11.30pm, the light drizzle had turned into a cloudburst, which continued into the morning. By 8 am on September 27, a Sunday, Hyderabad had received six inches of rainfall, writes Syed Akbar, a senior journalist on his blog. While the drizzle continued on and off for the entire day, on Sunday night there was another, more intense cloudburst.

The first warning came around 2am on September 28, when the water from the Musi flowed over the Puranapul bridge, breaching the rampart walls on the western side of the city. By 6am, the water was well above 10 feet, and reached the crown arc of Afzal bridge. In the next three-and-a-half hours, as its panic-stricken residents watched in disbelief, the water rose to 16 feet, overflowing the parapets of Puranapul, Muslimjungpul, Chadarghat and Afzal bridge.

Image: Hans India

The flood began receding by 8pm that day and the receding water revealed thousands of fallen houses, human bodies and animal carcasses in its wake – those which had not been washed away in the deluge. Over 50 colonies were swept away by the water, with the areas of Kosalwadi and Ghansi being the worst hit, where over 4,000 people perished to the fury of the Musi. The total death toll varies with different reports. But the flood affected at least 2,00,000 people, who were left dead or homeless.  

  

Images: Hans India

The Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Mehboob Ali Khan, took to the streets to survey the damage and as Sarojini Naidu writes in her poem ‘The tears of Asif’, broke down in full public view at the sight before him. Mohammad Saifullah, noted historian in Hyderabad told Gulf News that the Nizam donated Rs 4.5 lakh (today’s value equivalent of Rs 5 billion) for repairs and fed about 80,000 people for three months following the disaster.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Amidst the tragedy, there stands out the heartwarming story of the tamarind tree at the Osmania Hospital Complex, which saved at least 150 lives that day. Over 300 years old now, the tree provided refuge to many who clung to its branches watching the water wreak havoc beneath them.

Urdu poet Amjad Hyderabadi, who was one of the people saved by the tree later penned “Qayamat-e-Soghra”, a poem about watching his mother, wife and daughter being washed away in the flood.

More than a century later, the once mighty Musi has now been reduced to a giant sewer, thanks to indiscriminate urbanisation and a lack of urban planning. But while the Musi may not be overflowing its banks, the flooding in Hyderabad is another testament to the cost of unplanned growth.  

 

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