Quick Updates

The aid / relief collection for Sunderban (post Aila) is going well. Most of the clothes and other items collected in Kolkata were sent to Kachukhali this week. Next week, before relief goes, I plan to consolidate all the money that I have received, and buy essential items, so that I can take them with me. I must say I have received help from the most unexpected quarters - I can't thank all of you enough. More than anything, it reinforces my belief - there's still a little bit of goodness left in some of us.

Now some more news:

Saddened by MJ's death. After all, his was the first english cassette I bought with my own pocket money savings.

And a couple of personal observations:

Wearing a red t-shirt to a store where all the employees wear red t-shirts is a bad idea.

Terminator Salvation is a super bad idea - I could direct a movie better. No, seriously.

Oh, and finally got my phone display fixed. But not before my friends took unfair advantage of the situation (of no caller ID display) and did a prank on me :( - but that's another story.


When two Bengalis known to each other meet, they typically ask "Ki khobor?" (literally "What news?") or "Kemon acho?" ("How are you?"). Typically the answer is "Ei cholche" ("Going on"), or "Bhalo" ("Good"). We can be in a lot of difficulties, but it is almost always the same answers. I didn't think much about these standard formalities till yesterday. Yesterday made me realize that asking simple questions can be difficult too. Especially if the answer is "I don't have anything left".
I visited a relief camp organised post cyclone Aila, in an area called Kachukhali in the Sunderbans. The one and half hour boat ride to the area was through the beautiful Bidyadhari river, whose banks were laced with lush green local trees. The only trace of disaster at first glance are the places where we could see the bank repair work was going on. We could also see a few dead animals floating on the river. People would hear the motor of the boat and come out to the banks, expecting some aid.

But it is not possible to gauge the damage that the cyclone and the flood thereafter can cause by sitting in a boat and looking at the broken river banks. Once we reached Kachukhali we saw what devastation a cyclone can cause. Devastation is when your mud house is not there anymore, your livestock are dead, the crop fields are filled with saline water making it unusable for at least the next three years, and the fish ponds full of dead fish who died in contact with saline water. They don't practically have anything left!
Among this destruction, local NGOs, government through Panchayets, and other organisations continuously try to provide relief material. During the day, I met and saw few young people work in the relief camp - Shyamali, Sushama and Kalyan among others. Sushama's house has turned into a pile of mud. During the day, she works tirelessly helping others get relief material, all with a smile and dry sense of humor. In the night she now sleeps in a neighbor's courtyard braving the menace of mosquito. Shyamali whose story is similar to Sushama, was also with a smile all day, but for one moment, when we saw tears in her eyes while telling the clothes she was wearing are the only clothes she now has. Kalyan still has his house in place, but he hardly has the time to go there. While we were coming back after visiting an adjoining area, he was informed that his mother fell somewhere and has a gash in her head. We had to literally force him to go and look after his mother, and not worry about us reaching Gatkhali.
The irony in the lives of these relief workers is that they themselves cannot take any relief material, even if they need them, for fear of people accusing them of misusing their power. Yet, amidst this, these workers are more worried that in the immediate future, diarrhea and malaria are going to strike, and how to deal with that. Their boss, Kamalesh mama, worries about the immediate need of mosquito nets, tarpaulin sheets (to serve as damp proof beds) and hurricane lamps (crude lamp which runs on kerosene). He also has to see how to get medicine, specially for malaria and diarrhea. He patiently answers all grievances of people gathered near his house about relief material and it's distribution. Then he looks at the pond outside his house, and predicts philosophically, "Next year, this time, no relief will come, and we will all die of hunger". But he doesn't let this hopelessness linger, after all he leads a team bringing hope to people. When it was time for us to leave, he looked at me and said, "This is your first time here, and you have come at such a time, we couldn't even cook some fish for you".
Perhaps the only thing left in these people is this spirit. This old lady was fishing in a paddy field, still filled with saline water from the flood. She told us how she lost all her goats and hen, and only six of her ducks remain alive. She also told us how her second son and grandson were almost swept away about 200 meters to the river by the flood, but was saved when they grabbed a tree, and came back "home" after the water receded a bit. A home where almost nothing usable is left. The fish she was catching was small salt water fish and shrimp, since all the sweet water fish have died in the flood. Her stock of rice and lentils (dal) were washed away in the flood. She got a sack of rice and some dal through Panchayet, and that is what her family is surviving on. Despite that, during our conversation, she asked us thrice to have lunch at her house. She said "Let me go home and put rice in a pot, and cook these", pointing towards the fresh catch of shrimp. We declined and went our way. In the evening, we met the lady again. This time she was coming back from the river bank, where a relief boat just distributed small packets of rice and potato. She was carrying a packet of rice, and a packet of potato, each about 500 gms, but didn't forget to ask us if we have had lunch. Sometimes, it is difficult to answer these simple questions.


"Silence doesn't mean I have nothing to say. It might mean I have too much to say" - B. O' Hemian, circa 2009.

The last two weeks just flew by, and took me back in time to several degrees:

25 years ago
First, my friend Aniruddha a.k.a Shantu got married. Now, he is my, what some people call, Chuddy buddy. Just that we have been friends even before that. We grew up together in the same neighborhood part of a gang of four, played together, fought each other and more importantly together against others over trivial matters. On his wedding day, some of us started discussing the weird and comical things that he has done in his life, and we just couldn't stop laughing. Seriously, we could write a book on that. Good times!

10 years ago
Next, my friend from Bangladesh, Zaved bhai and bhabi came over for a medical checkup. This was the first time I met him in 8 years. The three days that they stayed with us were spent talking about the time when I was in Bangladesh almost a decade ago. As usual, three days seemed to be too less for all the talking we had to do, and all the food that I had to introduce them to. Hopefully he will come back soon, and we will talk about the good times again.

5 years ago
Then Shaji a.k.a Motey came to Kolkata on office business for a day, and we met up for a late night winding down session. We met after exactly a year, and as expected we started talking about our life in Delhi and what our friends Ganja, Ghansu, Sudzi, Sallu and others are doing. The couple of hours that we could manage to chat was enough to take me back to Delhi, 5-6 years ago, and the good times there.