An apocalyptic nightmare is following a relentless tragedy. The unimaginable devastation in Bengal, Orissa and Bangladesh is still to be deciphered. At the time of writing 72 have lost their lives and property worth billions of rupees destroyed. Cyclone Amphan, at brutally harsh speeds, arrived amidst the infinite doom and despair of the pandemic, in the backdrop of the continuous suffering and brutalization of tens of thousands of migrant workers, especially in the Hindi heartland, something unprecedented and a phenomena unseen in any part of the world, including in the sub-continent, not even in Africa. In a quick response, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has graphically listed areas which have been completely destroyed, especially in South Bengal, and other partially destroyed places, declaring that it will take at least 10 days or more to get a clear assessment of this mind-boggling ravaging of landscapes, homes, urban structures and rural agriculture. The list of casualties is to be yet ascertained though both the state governments were quick to provide relief and rehabilitation, and rescue lakhs to safer destinations.
One hopes fervently that the PMO would react positively and fast, and actually choose this opportunity to be generous, use the millions in the PM Cares fund for immediate and large-scale relief, and provide all kinds of material and administrative help in restoring normalcy in the cyclone-hit states.
Mamata Banerjee has said that she has expectations from the Centre, and Delhi should consider the situation in terms of humanism, not politically. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised all help, but no one knows what goes on in the mind of a one-dimensional and monolithic regime, as the experience of the lockdown has so manifestly proved time and again. One hopes fervently that the PMO would choose this opportunity to be generous, use the millions in the PM Cares fund for immediate and large-scale relief, and provide all kinds of material and administrative help in restoring normalcy in the cyclone-hit states. One also hopes that the relief package is not as paltry as it was in Kerala when the state fought the battle so bravely and effectively after the floods.
Apparently electricity was quickly restored in parts of Kolkata, but telephone lines have been shut, and visuals by concerned citizens on the social media has only proved that the destruction has been massive and needs super-normal efforts, so as to restore the sanctity of daily life and infrastructure, in the times of a pandemic and mass physical and social isolation.
Why much of the national media has deliberately chosen to ignore the cyclone and its aftermath does not really need rocket science to prove anything. Some of them have been recently spending much of their prime time in attacking China and Nepal, playing the patriotic card, even as the plight of the migrant workers continue to be ignored. One presumes that the national conscience is now sick and tired of this pliant and heartless sections of the media, its fake news and its editorial decisions, almost on the verge of willful perversity, and who have deliberately and remorselessly destroyed every little iota of media ethics, professional objectivity and human conduct. In that scenario, the best case scenario is to look at the ravaged landscaped in the face, and get on with restoring life and landscape back to some semblance of normalcy.
One only hopes that the thousands of poor who inhabit this demographically and geologically fragile land mass, and the wildlife, including the famous Royal Bengal Tiger, are safe. Indeed, ‘The Hungry Tide’, that extraordinary novel written by Amitav Ghosh, with Sunderbans as the epicenter, comes to mind.
Surely, both Bengal and Orissa need all the help from the rest of the nation. Kerala and Punjab can show the way, among other states, and so can Delhi, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Indeed, all chief ministers across the states should help out, and so should the army, in these difficult circumstances.
Hands and minds should reach out to Bangladesh as well, which has a strong voluntary network, and a reasonably strong human development index in terms of the social sector. The story of Sunderbans, an ecologically precious hot spot, is yet to unfold. One only hopes that the thousands of poor who inhabit this demographically and geologically fragile land mass, and the wildlife, including the famous Royal Bengal Tiger, are safe. Indeed, ‘The Hungry Tide’, that extraordinary novel written by Amitav Ghosh, with Sunderbans as the epicenter, comes to mind.
The legendary Kerala experience should be at hand now: decentralized and collective relief operations at war-footing and at mass and grassroots level, the administration and bureaucracy in full gear, every citizen a volunteer on the ground, and every known professional and other skills in full display at every level without any hesitation, or discrimination. The states cannot be left to find their own feet beneath the ground. The aftermath of the cyclone should be declared a ‘National Disaster’ immediately, and the Centre should take it upon itself to reach out without any delay.
A time of unimaginable suffering and crisis, truly. However, these are times when the human will and its capacity to turn the tide, is also tested. The nation should stand with Bengal and Orissa. The world should stand with India and Bangladesh. It’s time to rejuvenate, restore and resurrect. It’s time to heal.