come hail or high-water
Considering the fact that I work-and love working-for a newspaper and am still so frighteningly ill-informed on current affairs, my mother is not so amused; on bad days, downright annoyed rather. The 'issue' has catapulted to the level of becoming a daily bone to pick on and all truth be told, I think she has reached a stage where it has become a sort of a safety net. If nothing else, she manages to hurl this bit of "inadequacy" (shall we see it from her point of view?) at me somewhere between every fight, and like most mothers, with their needlessly honed skills of exaggeration, towards the end of the row I am left facing charges of illiteracy.
However, I have been aware of the worsening flood conditions across Bangladesh for some time now. Aware from the snatches of conversation or flashes of reports in between surfing TV channels or at its worst, from dark-eyed updates from my grandmother about just how far and wide the waters have reached in Sirajganj. Yet somehow, the penny hasn't dropped. Or hadn't until very recently, at least.
Perhaps having the (mis)fortune of being raised in a country where the threats of a natural disaster cease to exist from this way or that initially made the prospect and consequences of a flood criminally alien for me, but in saving grace, realisation dawns in the most unexpected of ways. In this case, an image. Subject of the photograph: an old man making his way through chin-high water. In his hand: a pot held high. Inside the pot: a huddled child.
But it isn't any of this that gave rise to this reflection. Before peering into his expression, I was almost certain his still eyes would stare back at me with dread and grief of the highest order, and in all honesty, that would have been easier to deal with. On the contrary, he looked straight into the camera with an almost half-amused expression. I suppose I would have felt the same way; a twisted sort of amusement had someone been photographing me in a state of such severe plight.
And it made me realise. Realise that we do not really understand, nor do I think it is possible from where we stand. From the higher grounds (both literally and figuratively) that we set ourselves on, is it really possible to fully grasp the anticipation, the fear, the fading rays of hope, the urgency, the loss, the devastation?
I figure (but this is all just speculation) that it must be a multi-stepped process, this flood. Start of the season, agriculturalists must beckon the rain. Ironically, the same people that will be most affected by it in later weeks. And in this preliminary stage, the heavens need to part, rain needs to fall, harvests need to flourish.
And when they do come, I'm sure they are appreciated. But one week too many, pleasantry must be ousted by suppressed fear and anticipation. The outcomes of excess rain are none unknown, and while it continues to pour, the dread of another '88 or '98 must be suffocating. Yet however predictable results may be, the fear-strangled wait is inevitable. Wait and watch- helplessly, while it continues to pour.
Third stage- bad dream come true. Crops ruined (the very crops for which the rain was hailed), livestock dead, less than one square meal a day. Water creeps into dwellings. Creeps in and stays. And not only stays but also rises. Once again, I don't think I understand how it is done. I don't understand how people live with whatever height of perpetually logged water inside their bedrooms. Perched on the bed more often than necessary? But what about the water in getting to the bed? The closest I've come to this is skipping from one brick to another over stagnant ankle-height water in front of a university building. Thirty seconds (without actual contact with the water) had me feeling all icky throughout Economics, so no I really don't think I understand.
Stage four- bad dream gone worse. River in the bedroom, sea in the front yard, ocean on the horizon. Priorities change. They must. Forget the fields sowed all year, let die the cattle that gave the milk and would have been sold at profit during Eid, let rot the furniture that will not be replaceable and forget the house whose tin roof drained a lifetime of savings. Priorities change and with a roaring sea outside the window, it's only and all about survival.
Destination towards: quite unknown, nearest relief camp maybe. Home, field, family, life to come back to: there is none, underwater maybe. With the sea outside the window, forget everything else…except a pot.
By Subhi Shama Reehu
Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain