Cyclone Amphan is a story beyond that of an unparalleled natural event. It is a story of human plight. A story about communities almost descending into anarchy; about the privileged being humbled by lost amenities overnight. It is a defining moment in our lives where class mobility has moved backwards for everybody, presenting us with struggles that we generally pay others to go through on our behalf.
In Ajoy Nagar, residents haven’t had electricity in two days. They allege that the municipality has been providing power to a select few in the area. Residents assert that power should return for all or that everyone should collectively be kept in darkness. Early in the morning today, people took to the streets to form a human chain, obstructing traffic to garner attention. They plead for the basic amenities, and refused to break their chain until steps were taken.
In Kanchrapara, along with the lack of electricity, there is an overwhelming water crisis. Pumps had been disabled since the morning of May 20, in anticipation for the storm. To that effect, a single jar of water is being sold at over Rs 100. It is not even purified mineral water, but just any water, from anywhere. This marks a new low in the state of West Bengal. The price of bottled water is on the rise. With every tank that is promptly emptying, the affordability of such a high priced basic amenity is creating a further class distinction.
“Dragging an empty drum to the municipality tap at 6 am in the morning is a new, humbling experience,” a resident commented. “Throwing caution to the wind, people have long forgotten the rules of social distancing as we jostle and fight our way to the tubewell.”
The tension of being affected by coronavirus has been replaced by more potent, more immediate worries about day-to-day survival. Could one have ever imagined that water would one day be sold in the black market in areas that are not drought-affected?
In East Barisha, people have plunged into distress over access to food rations. Due to the nature of the storm, giant fallen trees, uprooted pavements and debris have caused massive road blockages. The pathways through which the bazaar could be accessed, or food would be distributed, have taken a serious hit. As it always happens during a shortage of resources, the residents helplessly watch as rapid inflation hits their already flickering morale.
In the Minakhan Thana area, almost 80% of the houses have been destroyed. Residents are taking shelter in local schools or the rare cement houses. The produce they were to sell – that is, from the trees bearing mangoes, coconuts, jackfruits, etc – have been robbed by the storm. A resident stated that they were somehow charging their phones, but at a hefty amount. The few stores with generators are charging Rs 20 rupees and above per phone charge. It might not seem like a lot to the privileged, but it is a significant amount to daily wage earners who have been unemployed for months owing to the COVID-19 crisis.
Even in the midst of calamity, the residents of Jayashree Park, Paddapukur, were looking to salvage whatever the storm would spare. The ground floors of all buildings surrounding the pond were knee deep in water soon after the cyclone hit. Lamp posts and open wires had fallen into the water, posing a huge threat of electrocution. At 1:30 am, the whole area smelled of burnt wires. Yet, around 3:30am, the residents tiptoed downstairs to collect the fallen mangoes, and gather fish which had overflown into the land.
It is evident that there has been a massive shift in our mentality overnight. The rules are different, the new ‘normal’ is nothing like we had ever imagined. It is like watching a society be built again, from scratch. In the midst of this darkness, we hope that the Centre and the state won’t make us fix this dystopian nightmare all on our own.
Featured image credit: PTI