May 20, 2010

It was 1957 if I am not wrong. I had just entered the elementary school and I needed more space in the house. As such, Anna, my Grandpa had told me to occupy whatever space I required. I had almost decided, made public that the veranda at the side, with wooden pillars and open view to our garden and garbage dump seemed a good abode. Not many ventured there, because the memories of a lost buffalo were still young.  Moreover, I could keep a watch on Kharag uncle’s dogs and bitches and their litter who liked to spoil our trees by ploughing the roots. Most importantly, my neighbour Josie could  contact me anytime over the fence. 

No sooner than the school started, we had a torrential rain. The rain god was pleased so much that the whole of our property, the school playground, the roads, everything was swallowed and became a single pattering sheet of water. What one could make out were only the ghostly trees, the greyed houses and sometimes umbrellas sticking out of the water body.

Somebody in the neighbourhood used to come in the morning and discourse over a cup of tea as to how the nature had taken a liking for our town. Every day, there would be a news of  “somebody electrocuted by lightening”, “somebody lost his home due to the wrath of rain god Indra and its elephant Airawat”. It was the period of Hasta the elephant constellation any way, and it was indeed pouring like from the trunk of the elephant Airawat.

The school was as good as closed since its roofing tiles and glassless windows were not an answer to rain god. I had my good time sitting indoors for a couple of days. But how long could one just walk or run from one room to another?

Like me, most of my friends were also imprisoned. None the less, we had our morning meetings under the umbrellas or the jute baskets over our head. But only until somebody shouted from the house to disperse. We were not allowed to stand below the trees during rains because they were not reliable. They would just fall over or attract the blue bolts from the sky. As such, the meetings would usually be in the middle of the play ground; while water below tried to lick your pants.

All the friends were eager to go to the new school. The new clothes were ready, so were the books. But when? How long could we continue to see our paper ships drown into pouring water?

On one morning, we decided that enough was enough and we should go see the flood which was being talked about by everybody. I told Grandma, Tai, that I would just visit my friend Gana and come back immediately. She fathomed my boredom and my plans and said in a caring tone not to venture out too much and near to the water bodies. I promised not to. My friends like-wise used somebody’s name and got out. Off were we to see the flood.

The stream. Just after we cross the primary school. This used to be called Motha Nalla, the big stream. In other seasons, it was just a dry depression of sand and a lone palm tree. But today? It was in its full bloom and looked like a river of a lake.  As far as we could see, it resembled a field of muddy water, with just a hint of flow. There was a small bridge across this Motha Nalla. We stopped there and one of us leaned over to touch the water. An elder watching this lifted him and asked not to lean over, instead go home since there would be further severe rains. Elders could predict rain those days.

After the Motha Nalla was the government hospital, at the back of which was the rain gauge. Somebody suggested we visit it and see how much the glass bottle was full today. We went. The bottle was not only filled to the brim, it was overflowing like mad. The funnel too.

Next stop, the river. The town’s river deity the Khuni (meaning Murderous) was not far away. In other seasons, you had to have numbered spectacles to find it.  But today, we were already treading in knee deep back waters. There were not many people on the roads- and not many roads either- except for weird spectators like us. Whoever crossed us asked us to go home and not to lurk around. Our umbrellas were giving up the cloth and the rods. The bolts and the thunders were getting ghastly anyway. However, somebody would say just a few steps, just a few steps, and we obliged as a team.

When we reached the blacksmith’s shade, we understood the gravity. Khuni was racing in a sprint and was taking with her the fallen trees, dead animals, roofs and walls. We were scared now and after watching the spectacle for a few minutes, about turned in earnest.

Everybody went home excited. As soon as I reached, Tai reprimanded that it was not good to go venturing in the rain like that; particularly when she had told not to. I apologised and told her about the thrill we had experienced and what good it would be just to listen to the stories of flood. Infuriated further, she put her fists on her waist. This was not a good sign and I backed away.

I kept thinking about the flood the whole day and the day passed by pretty quickly.

In between, a small wet parrot with red neck came from nowhere, sat on the ledge of the hallway window and would not move from there even when shooed. Josie was very fond of them and already reared two. I therefore called her aloud and asked if she wanted it. She came running in the rain, caught it under a cloth and went home happy. This will learn to sing, she said.

I fell asleep early that day and got up early, even though it was almost dark. Tai was up and warming milk. I requested for my cup and she said,

“No milk for a few days, you have to make do with tea instead.”

“Why? Did the milkman not show up? ”

“Because  there are guests in the house and we will fall short of milk” was the explanation.

“I did not hear anybody last night” I said.

“You were sleeping like a dead dog. Moreover the rain was making so much clatter. How would you know?”

“Who are the guests?”

“Go look for yourself, but don’t disturb them….In the store room.”

Store room was no place for guests. Must be cats, I thought. Parrot yesterday, cats today. The living room led to my veranda. My veranda led to the store room. However, the living room door to my veranda was locked from the other side.

“Take this milk for them”, Tai said.

I went with an umbrella round the house to my veranda. It had now temporary curtains made of Tai’s old nine yard sarees. Four or five of the guests – looked like children- were sleeping on floor, with their heads covered. I stood there for a few minutes when our housemaid Godi turned up from the store room. What was she doing there?

“Master, I could have come myself. What is that in your hands?” She said.

“What are you doing here at this early hour?”

“Our house was taken by the river, master. We have no shelter left. God’s will. We came here late in the night and Anna would not let us go anywhere else.”

Agreed, Anna, my Grandfather was generous. But this was too much. I had underestimated him.

“Take this milk” I said.

“Keep it down” She said, “And Thanks.”

We could not touch them. Social custom. So I kept the container down and went back to Tai.

If you were furious, you did not talk. That was the teaching and practice Anna had cultivated in the house. So, I kept quiet. But my face must have shown. Because Tai went to Anna and he called me to his room.

“What happened? You have stopped talking, I hear.”

“I had chosen the veranda as my room for the year, and you agreed that I can have any room. And now?”

“They have no home. They have lost everything.”

“So let them go somewhere else and live there. Why in our house?”

“They work for us…..They will stay as long as they need to. You take my room if you want.”

Actually, there were too many empty rooms in the house. I could have camped anywhere. Godi’s family was not new to me. All of them used to work in tandem or one replacing other when needed. Her husband Shravan brought bath water from the well for us, sometime his elder son Dashrath helped. While walking, Shravan used to spin yarn for his fish nets. If he had spare time after his lunch, the fish nets. He smoked pipe –  or Chutta as he called it – always freshly made from green Tendu leaves, and lighted it with a flint stone and iron strike, the ChakMak.

But leaving my veranda? Backtracking on my decision?

I started a non-cooperation movement. Both Anna and Tai understood and never told me to do anything concerning Godi’s family. Instead, they involved themselves fully in their service. One by one, my new clothes disappeared and adorned Bija’s body (We will buy a new set, don’t worry). Ta’s sarees were given to Godi, Anna’s Dhoties to Shrawan and Dashrath (We have too many Sarees and Dhoties anyway). Tai also went begging to the neighbours asking them to donate clothes for Godi’s younger children. They cooked their food in the store room, but made a lot of smoke that travelled throughout the house. (So, let us give them our coal stove instead of the wood stove they have).

The rain continued, there was nothing else to think of and so the silent tussle continued.

Then I heard the heroics of Shravan and how he had saved his family. The Motha Nalla was furious, the bridge was under water on the day their house collapsed. Good swimmer and a fisherman as he was, he carried all the family members one by one across the Motha Nalla on his shoulders. When all the family was with us, he went and saved a further few lives.

The rain stopped after a few days. We friends went to see the aftermath, Dashrath escorting us. The devastation was phenomenal. There were dead trees in the houses, dead pigs and cows on roofs, dead horses and buffalos on the road, dead dogs and hens in the backyards and pens. There was mud everywhere – in the houses, on the roads, in the carts and rikshaws. Also the all encompassing stink of the dead, rotten and swolen.

Dasharath took us to their house along the riverbank. He indicated the spot and I asked where was the house, because there was nothing but a mound there. Not a sign of any settlement. This pacified me completely.

Shravan became the talk of the town the day afetr the flood. Nothing short of a legend, they said. But they forgot him in few days. They also started questioning whether the family should live in our house. Anna said they will live with us as long as they wished, period.

The school opened, I got accustomed to the smoke and having the family in our house. After an initial few days we opened the doors directly connecting the store room and veranda to the centre of the house. The house now belonged equally to them. Anna permitted Shravan to cut a few wild trees in our property. The timber was to be utilised for their house. The family moved out after three months or so and I got my veranda to myself.

There was a lot of criticism about the inefficiency of the local bodies in checking the floods. As such, an earthen dam was immediately built upstream and the river Khuni lost its Murderous status. Only the land owners in the catchment area benefitted, who naturally were local bigwigs. River Khuni became a miserable dry bed of rocks and a ground for an occasional circus or fair. Shravan completely lost his livelihood and stopped fishing before I left the town. His sons stopped working in the households and started working as contract day labour somewhere. Godi used to come and help in miscellaneous work until Tai was alive.

Josie kept the parrot for a number of years, but it never learnt a word or a note, leave aside singing. Her parents sometimes made fun and sometimes cursed at me for the gift. As such, Josie used to leave the cage doors open hoping that it will fly away, but it did not.

I do not kow if any in the town now remember the flood or its long term effects.


4 Responses to “Flood”

  1. A flood of memories.. and emotions! Public memory is short.. and its ironical how prejudices returned after a brief period of heroism and common sense.

    The earth dam thing and its effects which you mentioned at the end is sort of the story of the entire country!

  2. rajeevelkunchwar Says:

    Are these lengthy posts? I agree the word count is increasing. Some experiences need their due I feel.

    • They are a bit lengthy.. but I can understand that since there must be a lot many vivid details to these stories.. and that’s what makes them interesting to read!

      You can try one of the approaches to controlling possible reader fatigue without compromising on the story details:

      1) Use headings to certain passages in the story. They work as milestones and that makes it easy to keep track during the journey (reading) and also help keep the attention span small.

      2) You can use certain WordPress themes which allow multi-page blog posts on the regular home page. The new theme ‘Twenty Ten’ offers multi-page posts.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s