by Nidhi Mahesh
E- mail: Nidhi.Mahesh@hcl.in
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Human Spirit Prevails…
This is a story of resilience…. How when everything is lost the sheer streak to survive, to hold on to life, makes one go through the motions of rebuilding from scratch with more determination… optimism and despair mingle and produce a distinct mix of emotion that can not be described in a word… in the aftermath of disaster what survives and ultimately conquers is human spirit…
It was 2002 summer… the sun was burning the green to chaff… earth was kissed dry by bright sunbeams… rivers were at boiling point, watching helplessly as their flow evaporated in the smarting sun’s hypnotic gaze…. It was July… time for monsoon to arrive... to protect the earth and its green from the torment of solar boss… While some parts of the country had already been soaked and even drowned by moisture laden South Easterly winds…. the state with the Bay of Bengal at its feet was yet to get its first shower….
And as always happens in the crazy world of TV news, we were asked to report devastation caused by abnormally heavy monsoon… the channel I worked for had planned a half an hour “special” on floods and I was asked to contribute one full length report in it… we had about 36 hours to put together the story of suffering and neglect in the aftermath of the annual natural calamity…
To wish for rain to wash away villages in matter of a day to churn out a report was foolish on top of being criminal… and stories being our bread if not butter, a report for the special was a must… in a fix I started looking for viable alternatives… and then it suddenly flashed why don’t I do a report on places that face the danger of flooding… what kind of preparations are there to prevent the loss of life and material… The idea did not receive a very warm welcome at the desk but as it was the best possible option available, we got a go ahead from the bosses and out we were with our cameras to record anticipation for flood…
Our search for a plausible flood victim area took us to a place near Karimpur …. The cluster of villages there could be seen coated in dust and bare to sun as we focused a long shot of what we hailed as “flood frequented area”… there was this branch of river Hooghly that we had to cross to reach our destination… there were no modern ferries… no bridge… just a common “bhutbhuti” or diesel powered boat… leaving our vehicle this side of the bank we got on the big boat along with a number of bicycles, cattle and few men and women with their assorted belongings… in a matter of minutes we had crossed over to the other side… the other side of twenty-first century…
There was no proper landing, so we trudged along as everybody did on a make shift wooden plank, holding a bamboo for balance… we with our urban dressing and camera equipments had already attracted many curious glances… help was easy to come by when we approached some locals with our motive… A guy, one of the most educated in the village, an under graduate student offered to be our guide… and we faithfully followed his footsteps…
We had arrived with a particular story board in mind… some pictures of the area showing its vulnerability to the natural calamity… some sound bites of “victims”, people who had been through the trip to hell and back in last floods… some sorry faces… close ups of misty eyes as they recall the disaster… and then some more sound bites on how apprehensive they are of revisiting the scene this year again… some could talk about the safeguards adopted… and then some pictures of a barge or something like that to ward off overflowing river this time round… and maybe some government sound bite on the preparedness once we get back to the city… a three minute report could easily be made out of the material listed… so we progressed on desired lines… and asked our guide to introduce us to someone who suffered in floods last year…
Our request seemed to amuse him… he smiled in mockery “you want to meet one victim? … well... take your pick…” his hands moved spanning the entire village… there were so many houses… fields… shops… everyone busy in their own chores… carrying on with life as usual… no one looked stricken or aggrieved.. where will I find misty eyes and shattered lives!! “We all brave flood every year… we loose our fields… our houses… our shops… even some near and dear ones… “.. He said as a matter of fact. There was no pathos or dread in his voice.
I could make out that my story board was going for a toss… I had to make him understand my purpose of being in this place in the back of beyond… “I understand that this river causes havoc every year… that is what I want to know… how… how much… can you identify a couple of families who had had worse experience so far…” I tried one more time…
“Come along” he waived... and we followed. He took us to a thatch roof shop…. selling everything… from lukewarm watery tea to daily groceries in a six by seven cluster… the man inside was dark, well built, should be in his mid thirties… he looked relaxed and content… busy catering to a small crowd of villagers… handing out tea and cigarettes… frying omlette and weighing sugar and potatoes… all at the same time…
“This is Surajit… he had a paddy field… but that was washed away by flood and erosion last year… he had built a pucca house as well… but now all he is left with is this piece of land…”… our guide explained…
I could not understand how in a matter of months this man has rebuilt his life from the scratch and seem to carry no remorse… he certainly was not the right person for our story… but I still decided to give it a try… Our guide managed to extract him out of his small shop… we decided to take him near the bank for the interview… hoping the site will bring back horrible memories and some remorse will show on his happy face…
As we reached the bank he pointed at a portion of broken wall… it seemed to stand forlorn as a memorial of some ravished monument… “You see that wall… I used to have a pucca house there… the house has gone… but the wall still stands”, he said emotionless…
“Don’t you feel bad, unhappy… sad… all you had worked for went away with floods…” I prodded.
“Dukkho kore ki hobe… kandle sab phire pabo ki?” he was matter of fact. (What’s the point in being remorseful, would I get everything back by weeping for it?”)
“That’s true, but still sometimes when you look at that wall you must feel sorry…” I prodded again.
“When I look at that wall all I feel now is that I have done better to make a thatch roof shop... not that I had money to make a pucca shop anyway!!” he chuckled.
I had to smile back. My story board was washed away in the flood of this man’s grit and determination to accept the challenges of life. And then it dawned on me why can’t I report on these small success stories… stories of courage and bravery… stories manifesting the human spirit… that’s it… I had found a story to tell the world… to all the people running to therapists to cure depression… people fighting the inferiority complex in this globalized race for material gain… people withered by the rat race of being the best and the first…
I immediately made a mental note of the changed story board, briefed my crew and started shooting the new story…
After Surajit we interviewed few more people… similar tales of loss and gain… loss of all that they possessed and gaining strength to find new means of survival… little by little… These men… all poor, uneducated, neglected by authorities and society at large… were waging a continuous war against the atrocities of nature and so far had managed to stay afloat…
“We are maybe two weeks or a month away from floods… the river rises quickly as the monsoon strikes and then goes on eating villages… floods recede but the angry waters still erode our land… in past few years the river has moved in at least a kilometer inside the land… it has deviated from its path…”, an old man who had seen many a disaster told us.
“So…you can actually hear the footsteps of approaching disaster…. are you prepared?” I asked.
“Can you prepare for death?” He asked calmly. “We know it is our destiny to keep fighting the river… some of us who have the means leave for some safer land… but most of us have to stay back and save as much as we can…” He explained.
“How do you survive when all your belongings are washed away? Is government grant enough?”
“Do you think a polythene sheet and few kilograms of rice will see us through the floods?” He chuckled. “When we loose what we could not save, we start once again… we till the land left behind… we set up shops… look for day wages in the city… we do not have time to wait for the help to arrive… it is always too late… and hoping to get a small fortune as a relief offering from the government does not help either… it just wastes our time, we have learnt this by experience”, he said with all the wisdom his grey hair reflected. “We have learnt to live with our destiny… if we get some relief in time, very well, if we do not, there is no point chasing after it…if God has sent us on earth, he will ensure we live till its time for him to call us back”, a simple philosophy of life, I decided to round off my report on this note and headed back to the city to file the story.
Driving at break neck speed we rushed to keep the deadline. Ultimately we could send the package in time but then it never appeared on screen… the desk had shelved the plan on flood special as many bureaus could not find a juicy enough story on flood. Stand alone this story could not find any suitable slot, or favor from the bosses deciding the news chart. It was forgotten and probably “recycled”… our term for coating one story on top of the other. But it remained alive in my mind… a reminder of strength of will and determination. In this inhuman world there still remain some corners where the human spirit conquers all adversity !!
Stories by this Author :
* A Sentational Story
* Lost and Found
* Mithun's Mother
* Defending the Indefensible…
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