When August ends the summer wanes. But only when September comes, the monsoon will set in. These welcome showers – after scorching sun and sultering heat, they come with mathematical precision not a week soon or late. It begins with a drizzle, soon the drizzle becomes a shower and the shower a downpour.
As a child I liked the rains, I loved to play in the rain much to the irritation of my parents. I would run into the street, feel with my feet, the swirling water dancing down all its way from the brimming lake, moving in eddies, carrying little round pebbles as if to store them in some unknown distant haven and wade through it gleefully. A long whoop of joy would escape quite unconsciously. And my mother would come out looking for me and drag me home, fully drenched, catching me on my shoulder. Staring at my saddened face she would say ‘I will make you paper boats, float them in water and play. But somehow I had no passion for paper boats. Even now as a grown up, I have the same intense love for the rains, but I go out only when they stop.
But last year, the story was different; it was as if the old days had come again for once. After a very long period, I had to visit my uncle’s place. It was neither a village nor a town, too big for a village and too small to call it a town, but with all the beauty of a thrilling countryside. Even before I could go out and have my fill the weather changed and I woke up to find a heavy downcast sky, the very next morning of my arrival. Soon it began to unlash its fury. I could not but marvel at its force as the winds rose and the trees screamed shaking in fear. I sat in the verandah staring at the rain and thought that we were in for a cyclone.
The day passed the fury unabated; the wind moaned; the sky thundered and the pour continued. The AIR’s news bulletins made frequent references to the gathering storm and cautioned the people of a likely flooding of the area. Already there was inundation, as long as eye could see; there was nothing but a vast expanse of water, in all directions. A few trees fell in our back yard; our head cables dangled; a few muddy houses collapsed, their inmates running to the school building, the only refuge in the whole area. I waded through the knee deep water, along with my cousins, to the school, to see if we could be of any help to those unfortunate people. A village is not like a city or town; there people may accept help in times of need; in a city, they are too proud to accept your charity.
Another anxious night passed. As the day broke, it looked as though the downpour was shifting its stance and before it was evening it completely stopped. Thank God, the cyclone passed. The sun was not visible but the fury ended after four full days and nights. We climbed up our terrace and looked around. What I saw then, I would never forget in my life. Water had entered into many houses; trees were uprooted, electric poles collapsed wires dangling, thatched houses looked bare, with roofs blown out. Wherever safe, people gathered on roof tops, their shelters destroyed, and their belonging washed out.
Masses of thatch, clothes, branches of trees, pieces of wood and garbage floating as if on high seas, thick clouds moving across the sky at terrific speed and the wind moaning like a dumb animal in distress – homeless birds and cattle wailing, turning to the sky as if making a fervent appeal to the maker – it was a ghastly sight indeed. It was clear that the benevolent Godavari had gone wild and virulent; the entire area beyond the horizon locked like a sea of water. The knee deep water became neck deep. People who gathered on house tops communicated with each other in shouts; babies cried, young and old all looked agitated. It was a complete pandemonium. Before the evening light faded we heard a deafening noise soon an army helicopter came into sight. It hovered around and dropped food packets, some reached the people and some sank in the sea of water. Anyway, people had succor for the night. Sleep and rest was out of question for many at least they could keep themselves warm inside.
The night passed. Our house was full with people; many of my uncle’s tenants, who had lost the roofs over their heads, came with their children and womenfolk. My uncle unlocked his store and offered whatever was available; men and women all joined to prepare their night meal and ate the hot food in the spacious hall and verandahs of the first floor. In spite of the dance of death and disaster outside, it looked as if we were taking part in a community function. My aunt opened a few packets of milk powder and the children too had their fill of warm milk. I could not but congratulate my uncle for his foresight and good nature and I felt a sense of fulfillment, for I played my part diligently though limited in scope and nature.
The next day began with a glorious sunrise; the clouds seemed to have vanished as if by magic; there was sunny warmth everywhere; and the water looked like a giant mirror, brilliantly reflecting the morning light. There was joy everywhere.
Again the helicopter came and once again dropped the food packets. This time almost all of them reached their destinations, yet another went round and round the whole area. They said it was the home minister who was surveying the whole scene.
In a few days, the floods became a thing of the past; water receded completely, normal life was beginning to take the normal shape. Soon journalists and politicians arrived; the former to collect the data; and the latter to make their own assessment. Statisticians gave out the details about the number of people died, the number of people missing and the number rendered homeless, the amount of loss caused, crops destroyed; property lost and so on. The government for its part announced all the ameliorator steps it was taking, to wipe the sorrow caused by the nature’s wrath.
My uncle said that it was almost a regular feature. I do not understand why, then, nobody cares to take some preventive steps, when the areas that are likely to suffer are clearly known. Nothing is done to protect the common man from the disaster. All his labours of the year would be washed off in a moment and he had to start all over again, with empty hands, without a roof over his head that could protect him and his family from this yearly visitation of floods.
The destruction was total, it was ghastly and awesome. It made me numb and paralised with fear. We want to save people from death but we cannot. We can simply pray to God. The moment another cyclone comes, it all will be repeated. The government may offer some compensation; can it wipe their tears and remove the sorrow in their hearts?