Everyone for someone, and Vice Versa
On 13th November, as I glanced up from the newspaper at the breakfast table, the television channel was innocently displaying signal number two for Chittagong and Mongla. I went back to my ruti and vegetables.
At lunch the signal, I noticed again on telly, had been upgraded to four. That called for cancellation of our launch booking to Sutiakati (that's in Pirojpur, 55 miles up north of the Bay of Bengal), and we decided to take the road, not that crossing the Shandhya River in any sort of turbulent weather was lost from my mind. But then that's the only way to go to my roots. It was a long awaited visit that we had been planning for a long time. It kept on getting postponed, as in the urban lifestyle this excuse or that always crop up to procrastinate a trip to one's village far off.
On the 14th, we started out after lunch in a hired vehicle in very fine weather. The weather guys always get it wrong was my quiet smug conclusion. Aricha/Paturia ferry crossing was a cakewalk, but not getting a berth on the other side delayed our berthing by an hour. That meant a night halt at Barisal at our cousins where we reached ten-ish late in the evening.
Exchanging pleasantries in the living room, my attention was drawn by the digital scroll at the bottom of the TV screen that said loud and clear that the signal had been pushed to the limit to No.10. It was then that I noticed that it was also raining outside.
At Fajar on the 15th the rain had not let up. We moved out for our village around nine in the morning. Our vehicle had to be parked this side of Shandhya. My uncle had sent the largest available trawler with four chairs and six umbrellas. That was the size of our entourage, a term justified considering the local hospitality that we were granted.
We crossed the river over to Sutiakati in heavy drizzle, but there was no mentionable gale. Noon time the weather had cleared. Throughout the day this fair and wet weather played with our subconscious where signal number ten had made its home. Electricity remained cut off from four in the afternoon.
The local union chairman was a busy man since then. He rang this member and that, responding to the call of the TNO, instructed concerned persons to seek the darwan of the three pucca schools in the vicinity, spread the message that a big cyclone was indeed coming, that the library room should only be locked, that all other rooms in the school should remain open should people living driven from lost shanties find it necessary to consider such a shelter more accommodative if and when Sidr did strike. To me it was all over cautiousness and well, over reaction. The wind had not broken loose. There was enough daylight too.
At past nine that night, heavier rain made us believe that the worst had gone past, a selfish feeling considerably reinforced when an aunt in Khulna further southwest informed us over mobile telephone that they had been hit by a severe storm.
Another almost simultaneous mobile call from a cousin wised-up by television in Dhaka (we were the house lit by candlelight alone) announced that we in Pirojpur would be hit two hours later. Such precision in news matters always makes me doubt the source and I let it pass knowing that this cousin enjoyed the role of first-to-know. The rains continued and the drizzle was not really ever gone.
We were in our house with walls made of wood planks and CI sheet roof, kept in place by wooden posts resting on a brick plinth three feet high. The windows had wooden <>palla<>.
One by one the power charge of our mobile sets was giving up. There was no way to recharge. We were indeed burning the pre-midnight candle. The wind was picking up, but nothing to really worry about we thought in silence I think.
At precisely 10.50PM, Sidr arrived in our courtyard in full fury pounding on our wooden house, engaging all in a jostle. For the next one hour fifteen minutes Sidr hammered our environs relentlessly. There was no respite as the mighty wind whistled and swooshed past and around us varyingly at different heights so it seemed from inside. We were hit even from the north. We just sat there.
News came sporadically on one of the surviving cell phones, a service surviving throughout the storm and after in our area, that our family poultry farm in a nearby village had gone down with thousands of chickens, that water in the river had risen, that concerned relatives from abroad were calling...
At one stage the house had begun to shake. A similar two-storied house nearby was turned upside down. We moved to the innermost room, seeking additional protection from the sheer arrogance and sustained stopover of Sidr.
And then she was gone, in a snap. There was no systematic retardation of the winds. There was a sudden unbelievable silence. She was gone; the irate woman who for the past over an hour hollered all to fear had made her point and left.
We have to pick up the pieces, rebuild on the remains, gather the uprooted, nurture those broken in the middle, some have been thrashed to strips. Not all of them are trees.
Please extend anything and everything you can for the victims of the biggest storm to hit our coastline in living memory.
A few hours before Sidr hit our remote village, I had logged on to check my mail on the mobile. I was struck by this dated 14 Nov:
Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2007