A Flood of Tears

Posted on September 10, 2015 by Chandra 2 Comments

We got the call around 9:30 pm. One of our assistant teachers wanted to know if classes would still be held in our school. It had been raining for days. Weeks. It was still raining.

“The Ganga has come!” my wife Dalia exclaimed. “If anyone does manage to come,” she told the teacher, “we will send them home. This is not the time to come to school. It’s the time to help your families.” 20150731_120332She put down the phone. “What madness! The Municipality has blocked the drains to stop the Ganga from entering them, but this has caused the water table to rise. The water has risen up through the earth, like lava, and broken the roads.” (An appropriate analogy for a geography teacher to use.)

 

Nature is powerful and independent, as is Mother Ganges. She creates her own paths. It was Friday, the 31st of June.

Although I had never experienced a serious flood, I had heard about the flood of year 2000. Fields had become lakes. Roads had become rivers. People had been stranded atop their houses, waiting anxiously for a rescue team.

20150803_142513Now, as then, there was no official rescue team. It was those who were strong, tall and aquatically adept who somehow managed to secure a boat or a makeshift raft. They sailed over rooftops, alongside the tops of coconut trees where all varieties of land creatures— human, animal and insect—clung on for dear life.

Many died. Many lost what little they had. A disaster. I would, in the next few days, begin to grasp the meaning of this word: disaster.

Refugees filled most of the public schools, having abandoned their sinking homes. We cancelled all our classes.

Banti (Dalia’s brother) and I, with time on our hands, set off on an adventure to see how our students were faring in the flood. This would be our work for the next week or so. We went first to Srirampur, on the outskirts of Nabadwip. We had gone there a few days earlier, when that water was just beginning to rise. This is low land, so some of our students had already left at that time, knowing what was coming. Now, we could only get there by boat.

Srirampur was a ghost town, with all structures submerged in the deluge. As we drifted between the houses, I was struck by the eerie scene. The houses were empty of people and full of water. The footpaths had become canals. The fields were now lakes, demarcated only by treetops protruding from the waters. A whole village abandoned.

20150731_115000

Srirampur actually lies where the Ganges River used to run, before she shifted her course a few hundred years ago. Even today, a series of long, narrow ponds hint at the path she once took. She had returned. At first, the waters rising in Srirampur were dark and semi-opaque: the greenish waters of ponds.

Then, golden-brown water began flowing there. It resembled the water of the Ganges, though there was no clear indication of where the waters actually joined the main river. Soon the greenish waters gave way to strong currents of this river water, which drew aquatic vegetation along with it.
The Old Ganga had awakened.

 

20150803_154146Now the excess waters are gradually receding, but they’ve brought with them a host of problems. As pumps filled with mud, drinking water became contaminated. The regular industries of the town—construction, transportation etc—were suspended, and so too were people’s incomes. Many live hand-to-mouth in Nabadwip. They’re struggling now, as they possess meagre savings. Houses became waterlogged, their bamboo walls and mud floors ruined. Many areas remain flooded due to inadequate drainage. Filth, diseases and pollution abound. Government relief hasn’t reached everyone who needs it. Food prices have risen. People had to leave the public schools where they were taking shelter, returning to houses still filled with water.

It is striking. Too little water—we die. Too much—we die. Life is a delicate balance. As the Bengali poet Govinda das has sung,

Kamala dala jala, jivana tala mala

“Life is teetering, like a drop of water on a lotus petal.”

Now, in the aftermath of the flood, it is the shortage of fresh water which perhaps poses the greatest danger.

People are desperate. Seeing me (a supposedly rich Westerner), one old woman demanded, “Give me some money!”

“It’s not just that we can’t go home for a month or two,” said another. “We need to eat. How will we arrange food?”

One student’s mother had only this to say to me: “Rice, dal and potatoes!”

And yet in the midst of all this, people are laughing and smiling. I see more joy here than on the monetarily affluent streets of Australia or America. These villagers smile in the midst of catastrophe, and in this I have a great deal to learn from them. They show me how to laugh within a flood of tears.

One Comment

  1. Abhirama
    2 years ago

    It is a beautiful and heart touching first-hand account which gives one the feeling of being there. Although such a great tragedy, the spirit of the gurukula teachers seems unimpeded and strong, like the tall trees who are not submerged by the waters. Thanks to those brave folks for being in the center of the storm and maintaining their vision and mission.

    Reply

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