4th August, 2016
I was shifting my things back and forth between two places the other day and I had to book a cab from North Guwahati to the main city. Instead of finding a traffic jam on the Saraighat bridge like we usually do, we found one on the road through fancy bazaar. When I finally got to see why, it almost scared me to death. I am a thalassophobic, which means I am scared of deep, dark water. But it was not my phobia, the river was swollen to brink, the water was churning up almost to the main road. People were stopping their cars, getting down from their bikes just to click a photo, to feel ‘thrilled’ I guess. It seemed like a parade, with the people.
But the river seemed angry. The water was flowing angrily, angrily fast and carried branches, trees, debris and God only knows how many houses.
The cab driver, who was silent the entire journey, saw the water current and told me how back in 2004, the floods had devastated his village.
‘Our father was really old, we had to stack beds and chairs on top of each other and then put him on the top. We later found a fox hiding inside one of the crevices formed by the beds. But the water took away everything’.
‘Was the water till your waists?’, I asked naively.
‘It went over the roofs’, he said. Somehow, it felt like even he stopped caring about it.
Why is it that every year we realise how grim the flood situation is, after there is a flood situation? Why? And even after it has forced 1.2 million people to abandon their water-logged homes and take refuge in shelters, we are still crying over our social media pages that the national media has failed to take notice. But, did we, even for once, think if we are doing our bit?
Somewhere in the middle of all this social media chaos over who noticed whom, almost 60 percent of Kaziranga has submerged, forcing all the animals to move to higher grounds.
One of my friends, who happened to be on the highway around Kaziranga that time, witnessed a one-horned rhinoceros trying to cross the road to safety. But the people were too excited, trying to get a better look, maybe click a photo, which left it stressed and traumatised to even move.
I know the demographics of Assam. I know the plains are prone to floods. But this was pure selfish and arrogant behaviour that we humans had put up.
I was arrogant too, I never cared, because I couldn’t understand what havoc the water wreaks. Floods? Sure. We had been writing articles, letters to the editors, extempore speeches all through middle school. But floods? Actually?
Two years ago, I was volunteering to distribute some relief materials for the people who had lost everything in floods that year, somewhere in a remote village near Goalpara in lower Assam. I still hadn’t realised the intensity of the destruction until an old wrinkled lady showed up and asked us with all her sincerity if she could have some of the relief materials (which included food grains and clothes) too, even though her house hadn’t been washed away unlike the others present there. She said she had only lost everything else, but she still had a roof over her head which made her concerned if she really deserved help more than others who had nothing, not even a home to call their own.
And we are crying over attention.
Whose fault is it really, I wonder. Maybe when I grow up, I’ll understand. But what I do understand now, is that everyone, every single one of us, is responsible. We are responsible when we let the window of our car down to toss an empty packet of chips out, we are responsible when we let the bathroom light on after we have used it. We are also responsible when we turn a blind eye to the government not sending UCs of all the fund that comes in every year for providing relief to the millions (yes, millions) affected by floods. We are responsible for our ignorance.
The masses need education, information about family planning, land encroachment, pollution. But what about us? We who are educated but still are just plain ignorant every day while the environment deteriorates further?
What’ll make us care more?
Why don’t we care that every year the floods cause a little more destruction than the last, every year the temperatures get higher and the monsoons more erratic, every year the technology advances and we upgrade our phones, our clothes, our lives but never care to upgrade the environment. Never care to plant a single tree, never care to help a single defenceless animal, never care when the floods wash away everything some of us have.
But I have hope. My young people fail fast, but they learn faster. I have hopes that we will learn to care enough before it gets too late.
And we are crying over attention.