Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee
Wonders will never cease in our dear city. So long flood water brought logs, plastic, utensils, broken furniture as well as some animals. Lucky ones could catch fish and other things as well. But never have I heard about currency notes of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 denomination floating in flood waters. Even in my wildest imagination I could not have thought about it. But this time it was no imagination, it was an actual fact. It seemed to me like a fairy tale. Definitely the floating currency notes made the floods somewhat fascinating.
In the children’s stories, the authors narrate some fabulous things like trees with golden flowers and silver leaves, or an underground city with gems and gold, or a city under the ocean with gems-studded palaces, and so on. Imagination boggles at the thought of all these precious gems. But till now I have never read any children’s story about money floating in water for people to grab! Well, children’s stories are fictions, but this is something real. People flocked the area to catch currency notes with fishing nets, so apparently the fiction has been made actual in our dear city.
Floods and Assam go together, and there is nothing strange about it. In fact, it can very well be said, “If rains come, can floods be far behind?” During the rainy season, the mighty Brahmaputra and its tributaries swell belligerently, sweeping away anything on their way. It is always the same picture. During the rainy season, the entire State remains in the grip of devastating floods and the powers-that-be remain mute spectators to nature’s fury and man’s plight. The flood control department seems to be singularly ineffective in controlling the floods even the slightest bit. Floods are the acts of God, while water-logging is the act of man. Due to defective drains, the rain water causes immense misery to the taxpayers. Nothing is done to reduce their suffering.
This year the flood situation has worsened. Incessant rains for days together inundated almost all the districts of the State, throwing living beings into a frenzy. Guwahati resembled a huge sea with houses, vehicles, and other things half-submerged in water. Only the top portions of these things could be seen above water. The Rain God seemed to work overtime to throw the city out of gear. Thunderstorms and heavy showers lashed the city as never before. Landslides occurred in some places, killing some and injuring many others, besides destroying homes and properties. The Brahmaputra seemed to be like a furious deity determined to destroy everything on sight, and people trembled in fear.
School children had a tough time, splashing across those water-logged roads. Half-yearly examinations were being held in schools, and some schools had to cancel the examinations due to heavy water-logging. But some schools did hold the examinations, braving the inclement weather. Wooden planks and benches had to be placed outside for students to traverse the distance between the gate and the classrooms. But still there was water on the floor in many classrooms.
Unfortunately, despite being surrounded by water on all the sides, the residents of Guwahati suffered from lack of drinking water. In such a situation one could very well realize the mental condition of Coleridge’s ‘‘Ancient Mariner’’ who found water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink!
Traffic jam is a normal problem witnessed in our city, and during the rains the problem gets acute due to water-logging. But apparently hope and despair go side by side. The water-logging did bring smile to some faces, proving that a flicker of light can be seen in the darkest cloud. Rickshaw-pullers had pleasant experiences. They naturally demanded more money from their riders for traversing even a short distance, and earned a handsome amount of money!
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. The Guwahatians have mastered the art of living with water. They can cook, eat, wash and sleep on table tops, defying the swirling rain water. They remove their things to high shelves at the approach of rains and know how to manage home and children in their flooded homes. Some of them, of course, move over to other places, but all are not so lucky.
To add to our woes, the prices of essential articles have shot up skywards, which always happens at critical times or at festival times. The traders of our city surely know how to make hay when the sun shines — in this case, when it rains. Price rise is a common phenomenon in our city, and usually Guwahatians have taken it in their stride. What cannot be avoided must be endured, as they say. Already our cup of misery is full to the brim and spilling over. Yet one has to eat and maintain his family. Occasionally we hear of protest meetings, bandhs, dharnas etc against the price rise. But they are like water off the duck’s back. They have not been able to curb the money-grabbing instinct of traders.
It has become near impossible for the majority to survive in this city of ours. Traders seem to follow their own code of action, and none is there to check their unethical practices. Despite paying heavy amounts, customers are not provided with quality products. For example, pure milk is unheard of in our city. The milkman charges Rs 40 for a litre of whitish liquid going under the name of milk. It is nothing but water and possibly cheap milk powder. Who will restrain them? In other cities I have seen that pure milk is available, and at a lesser price.
Children, of course, are blissfully unaware of these hazards. They are excited by water-logging and get thrill out of the catastrophic situation. They take it as an adventure. And Guwahati is amply provided with many hazards. Children love to paddle in water, but there are some risks. There might be some open manholes on our pavements — one false step and you might slip into the nether region. If you are fortunate, you might be pulled out of the hole by some gracious passer-by. Your limbs may be intact, but your dignity will be in shreds. For little children, these open manholes are nothing but death traps. But who cares?
Listing Guwahati’s problems would need reams of papers. There is no end to our woes. The authority concerned seems to be unaware of them. Only God can save us, nobody else. Let us send a silent prayer to Providence.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)