Ours is a coy city, a timid and okay-with-being-in-the-backseat kind of city. Punekars don’t stress out much and thankfully, we don’t come across many problems which will mark a deep crease at our brows. Several factors behind our laidback city and its residents- the geographical conditions being exceptionally important. We have a delicate and mild weather, perfect for sustenance, almost like a hill station.
However, 56 years ago, something drastic left an extremely tragic pause in the pleasant vibe of Pune. An incident which wreaked havoc in our city, tearing past through the very foundations! I’m talking about the day the Panshet Dam exploded, hurling unstoppable waves of frothing water across Pune. The damage was intimidating. The pain was unexplainable. It seemed that our fragile and elegant city had received a kick of reality from mother nature; “Too comfortable, wake up!”, said she.
This kind of tragedy is only rivaled by the disastrous third battle of Panipat. A difference of almost 200 years between the battle and the flood, but these events changed the course of history and destiny for Pune. Speaking of the dam break now- the then under-construction dam was reportedly experiencing several issues. Despite several warnings, the dam was filled up during the 1961 monsoon. A grave mistake indeed. Cracks were already developing in the dam structure but the warnings were considered exaggerations and thus, ignored.
The inevitable burst happened early morning, signaling the start of a tragic day for Punekars. The ferocious water reached the city in the late morning. However, and despite the intensity of the tragedy, things could have been worse. A last minute valiant attempt by the army Jawans was the deciding factor in pushing the inevitable disaster a few hours later. They tried to delay the burst by covering the dam cracks with a thousand sand bags; this was extremely crucial considering the end result of the disaster.
The water level successfully sank the low lying areas of the city. The government desperately evacuated residents living near the riverside. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, All India Radio did not broadcast any warnings, this would have changed so many things, but sadly it continued to play the usual music routine. All the Peth areas, Karve Nagar, and Deccan Gymkhana area was completely submerged for many hours. The water levels were so devastatingly high that some residents fled to the Parvati area and still showed visible signs of panic.
Electricity and water supply was obviously cut off. Despite the dam being completely drained, the night of July 12th experienced heavy rains which led to more panic. Was another flood on the way? The worst part about Panshet Dam bursting was that it had managed to break another small dam in the process- Khadakwasla. The impending water shortage played a cruel ironical image in the head of every drenched Punekar.
It is said that the city took almost two weeks to drain the entire amount of flood water. What was left behind was a murky and muddy trail of debris and belongings, constructing and proving a quote in the process – “What didn’t the flood take from us?” 50 years later, and despite the city recovering, the tragedy still marks a blotch on the pages of our history. An uneasy sensation still grips my body every time I try to imagine the intensity of the destruction.