The deceased, who rescued hundreds trapped in the flood-swollen Srinagar in 2014, had won laurels from everyone including the then state governor N N Vohra.
By Farooq Shah
LITTLE did the 45-year-old Dal Lake dweller, Riyaz Ahmad Kanna, know the newly launched boat ambulance that he tirelessly worked on would soon carry his own lifeless body to hospital for a post-mortem. The ace swimmer, who his friends describe as an affable man with a golden heart, had on the evening of January 9 gone missing briefly before his body was retrieved from the icy-cold waters of the Dal Lake.
“Riyaz is missing and people are searching for him in the lake,” Sahil, a nephew of the deceased, informed Niyaz Nabi over his phone. Niyaz and Riyaz were close friends.
Packing his bag with the rescue gear, Niyaz hurried off to the lake and after a 15-minute drive from his house at Rajbagh reached the spot at around 7:30 PM. Soon he joined a search party that had been struggling for more than an hour to find any trace of the missing Riyaz who, according to his maternal uncle Abdul Rashid Kanna, had jumped into the lake from his donga boat. A little while earlier Rashid’s daughter, Masarat, had raised an alarm informing the neighbours about Riyaz’s alleged jump.
“Rashid kept on telling everyone that Riyaz had jumped into the lake,” said Mushtaq Ahmad Kanna, one of his close cousins.
Among the rescuers was Tariq Ahmad Patloo, the man behind setting up the boat ambulance. Earlier in August, Tariq had contracted the covid-19 virus forcing him to spend a period of two weeks in quarantine. It was Riyaz who had taken his care during this critical period particularly when all his friends and relatives had ostracised him for fear of catching the infection. It was for Tariq to return the favour now. Unsure that Riyaz could ever take an extreme step namely suicide, he kept on yelling his name while others conducted the search.
The thick crust formed on the surface of the lake due to the temperatures plummeting well below zero was hampering the rescue in the dark. Niyaz shone a searchlight on the lake while others kept hitting the crust at different places with trident spears that fishermen use to catch the fish. Suddenly Me’rajuddin Gosani hooked into something that had gone under a nearby boat. He raised an alarm. Joined by others, he pulled the spear as hard as he could and what they brought to the surface surprised them all. It was Riyaz’s body. A shattered Tariq brought his ambulance closer and the rescuers hauled the body onto it. Niyaz gave a few precordial thumps on the body thinking hypothermia might have forced Riyaz to go into a coma. When some blood oozed out his nose, Tariq decided to rush him to the SMHS Hospital without wasting any time. Sadly, Niyaz’s worst fears came true upon reaching the hospital. Riyaz was declared brought dead.
Meanwhile, the Nehru Park police had already come to know about the incident and took the body in their possession immediately. After completing the necessary formalities, they handed it over to the family for final rites the next day.
Those who knew Riyaz closely describe him as an expert swimmer who, during the infamous 2014 Kashmir floods, had saved hundreds of lives executing several rescue missions in the most professional manner.
“It’s impossible that a swimmer of his prowess could perish under the water so meekly,” Tanveer ascertained. “What’s more surprising is the spot wherefrom his body was recovered is barely three feet deep.”
Gosani too is surprised.
“The crust hadn’t broken at the spot where Rashid pointed to,” Gosani said. “For a man weighing something like 60 kg wouldn’t go under without leaving a mark.”
This reporter tried to get in touch with Rashid Kanna who blatantly refused to talk about the case.
“I’ll not be able to say anything as I’m shattered by his sudden death,” he said.
Meanwhile, for relatives and friends, the growing anxiety seems unbearable.
“Riyaz was a very dear friend and his absence tears us apart with each passing day,” Tariq says. “We’ve a right to know what happened to him.”
Nehru Park Police took the body in its possession immediately after it arrived from the hospital. Police behaved professionally and decided to send the body for post-mortem and forensic analysis to ascertain if any foul play might have occurred in Riyaz’s death. Though Rashid and other relatives urged the police not to take the body for these procedures, police didn’t relent.
“We’ve observed all the SOPs in the most professional manner we could,” a police officer, who wished not to be named, said.
The officer informed a case under section 174 Cr PC has been registered and further investigation is in progress.
“We’ll have to wait until the post-mortem and the FSL report arrive,” the officer said.
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