The Heart-wrenching Calamity
Debashish, the new District Magistrate of Goalpara district, entered his new office. He had a huge mix of feelings rumbling inside. Something tugged at his heart. This was his home land, Assam. He was born in a village here, though he did not know which one. His Dadu (Jhakia Master, as he was called by everyone) belonged to the village, Nepali Khunti, here. Being the gold medalist of his batch and already having made his mark at work, he had been given his choice posting as the District Magistrate. Debashish had plans to do a lot here. He looked around his office. It was a well-furnished, nice big room. He went to the wide windows and stood looking out. There were many green fields beyond the stretch of buildings and houses and, far beyond, he could see the mighty Brahmaputra flowing in all its majesty. Did he have any score to settle with it? With the mighty river? He was not too sure. Debashish opened his briefcase, and took out a photograph. He gazed at it lovingly and then replaced a painting, hanging on the wall, with it. The picture had a man around sixty years of age, a woman in mid-thirties, and a ten-year-old boy with an impish grin. He then went to sit on his chair, from where he got lost in the picture, again.
Jhakia master, as he was called by everyone, seemed to be in a hurry.
“What happened, Master? Why are you rushing like this?” asked Haria, the cobbler.
“Haria, my daughter Munia is in labor; I am going to call the mid-wife. It seems these rains are in no mood to stop. It looks like they will bring down the skies,” Jhakia master’s voice faded away.
The incessant rains, going on for the past four days, showed no signs of stopping. In fact, they kept getting more intense. If, that is, it was really possible. There was water everywhere. The howling winds were having a battle with the trees; trying its best to uproot them. The Brahmaputra and its tributary Krishnai River, were so over-flooded, as if they could not hold any more water.
Jhakia master was the village school teacher. He was a very good teacher, and all the children loved him. Because of this, he was respected by one and all, in the village. He would be around fifty years of age, and had two sons and a daughter. All the children were married and had kids too. Munia, his daughter, had come to her parent’s home for her second delivery. Jhakia Master tried to walk as fast as he could, but it was getting more and more difficult in that terrible weather.
Suddenly, there was a big hue and cry. Shouts and screams filled the air. The dam nearby had collapsed and the entire village of Nepali Khunti was fast getting inundated, in front of his eyes. Jhakia Master did not know what to do and, before he realised, his whole village had almost disappeared. Jhakia was out of his mind. His family, his house, his land, his cattle, nothing was to be seen. Jhakia started pulling his hair and screaming as loud as he could, but it got drowned in the fury of Nature. Jhakia started running in the direction, opposite to his house. He reached a small hillock and, without the tiniest of hesitation, jumped into the turbulent waters of Brahmaputra.
Jhakia was washed away by the furiously crazy waves of the river. He became a tiny peck in that frothy, brown aggressive waterbody and kept being pounded and thrown up by the waves. Being battered like that by the river for quite some time, Jhakia had lost all his senses. When he opened his eyes again, he found himself entangled in the branches of an almost uprooted tree. He looked around and got a jolt to see a dog whimpering, stuck there on a branch above him. He was then in for another shock to see a young woman, with an infant tied to her breast, unconscious, hanging from another branch. Her hand was dangling on one side and her head and legs on another. Jhakia was all awake now. The roots of the uprooted tree were barely holding on to the soil. Jhakia somehow pulled himself, and crawled on to the land. He stood up and looked around. No signs of habitation could be seen. The rains had now stopped to a mere drizzle. He tread on the branches of the tree and carefully pulled the mother and child, on to the land too. The dog, on its own, slowly, crawled on to the land. Now, on what seemed like an island, was Jhakia, with a mother and child and a dog!
It was nothing short of a miracle that the infant was alive. Jhakia cupped his hands and filled some water in them and splashed it on the face of the woman. He rubbed her palms and feet and, after a while, as a result of such efforts from Jhakia, the woman groaned and opened her eyes. She looked at Jhakia blankly and then suddenly she sat up with a jerk, and hugged her baby tight, as if Jhakia would take him away. It did not take much time for Jhakia to make out that the woman was of unsound mind. She held the baby and kept blabbering away, making it very clear that she would not let Jhakia take her baby. Jhakia then somehow assured her through words and actions, that he had no intentions of taking the child. That she and her child had nothing to fear from him.
After getting hold of themselves a bit, in some time, all of them got up to explore the land. The dog ran ahead, as if to do a recce, but found nothing. There were some big trees here and there, laden with fruits that could satiate the hunger of the human explorers, but the dog found nothing to eat. It would soon get dark, and Jhakia wondered where they could take shelter. Suddenly Moti, as Jhakia had named the dog, started barking excitedly. He seemed to have found something. Jhakia reached there to see a stilt hut like structure, made of wood and some leaves similar to palm. It looked as if someone used to stay here, for there were some pots and utensils made of mud, a small fire place made of bricks, and a few other items like an old black lamp. Moti was furiously digging for something; the mystery got solved when he dug out a few bones, and sat with these, in pure joy.
Jhakia, Munia (as what Jhakia had named her, after his own daughter), with the baby and Moti took shelter in that little hut. Within days they were in for another surprise. One morning they found, a few mounds of grains and some vegetables, kept at some distance away from the hut. Without any hesitation whatsoever, they took all of these and started cooking. Munia would assist Jhakia in cooking and in all other work. Jhakia named the baby, Debashish, the blessing of Gods, for indeed it was only God who could have saved him in that torrential rain and the wild river. Actually, some tribals lived on that island and they took Jhakia and Munia, as messengers of God. With that belief, they happily kept supplying them with food that they grew for themselves. Along with the food they would, every time, keep some money too as offering. From where did they manage to get the money, was a mystery to Jhakia.
Time rolled on and Debashish kept growing. He was now Jhakia’s sole purpose for living. He started teaching him from a very young age, and was delighted at the boy’s brilliance. Being a teacher all his life, Jhakia, with full interest, taught Debashish all the subjects of a school. He had made a strong boat with wood from the trees and would use it once in a few months to go to the nearest village, to buy clothes, books etc., from the money that kept on coming to them as offering, all through these years. Maybe the tribals felt safe and secure, with Jhakia and his new family staying there.
Debashish was now a young lad of fifteen years. Nepali Khunti too had been rehabilitated. Very few people of Jhakia’s times remained now. His school now had a new building. One day, Jhakia took Debashish along to his village Nepali Khunti on his boat, to meet the Headmaster of his school. After giving his own introduction, Jhakia master introduced Debashish and expressed his desire that he be allowed to sit for the Standard-X Board examination, along with the other students. The Headmaster was aghast at such a request, but on Jhakia’s insistence, agreed to test Debashish’s knowledge. He couldn’t believe the amazing results of the test and immediately did the needful to enrol him as a student of his school. Debashish topped the Board examination and left one and all wonderstruck. That was just the beginning of Debashish’s march to a brilliant future.
Debashish had his own dreams; big and clear. He wanted to upgrade and develop the district, where his mother and Dadu, as he called Jhakia, came from. He had heard the story of destruction and natural calamity, from his Dadu and everything that followed thereafter. His mother, though with an unsound mind, knew about nothing but her son. She could never tell her own story, to him. With time, she became assured of him and she perhaps derived satisfaction in seeing him grow up. She would, most of the time, sit by herself and sing such soulful songs that brought solace as well as tears to both Jhakia’s and Debashish’s eyes.
Debashish had topped the Administrative Services examinations in the country and, after his training and other routine postings, had chosen a posting at District Goalpara, when he rose up the ranks to become a District Magistrate. Sitting on his official chair and gazing at the photograph, all his past years whizzed past his eyes. The love and longing, mixed with a tinge of fear, on his mother’s face; and love, pride and blessing on his dadu’s face, as they both stood at the bank of the most powerful and the biggest River Brahmaputra, seeing him off for his posting, moistened Debashish’s eyes. He rang the bell. The second officer came in. Debashish gave his orders, loud and clear!
“Get me the officer heading the Floods Control Division of Goalpara, please.”