Monday, 20 October 2014

Crisis Angel



                 He was perched on the roof of his half constructed house. The ground floor was the only one that had been inhabited so far. The first and the second wall-less floors above had just the support beams and the roofs. Keeping him company were hundreds of other men, women and children of the neighbourhood. He didn't know exactly how many. After a point he had stopped counting. From where he sat, he could see a mother and a child clinging to each other on a tin roof surrounded by the swirling waters across what was once a road. The tin roof  was all that could be seen of the twelve feet high structure. He looked on helplessly.

           It was a little before the year's Durga Puja festivities. It had been raining incessantly for the past few days. That was nothing new. The sky didn't seem like it was in a mood to relent. He would have to take his car to the local primary health center. He generally preferred walking to his work place or taking the rickshaw. With the rains, it most often got a tad bit difficult to get one. He didn't like to keep his patients waiting, most of whom came from the villages around Dudhnoi. Reversing the car out of the gate onto the road that had ankle deep water, he reached out for the ringing mobile. 

"Doctor saab, where are you? "
"I am on my way. I will be at the hospital in ten minutes. Is it an emergency?" he answered.
"Saar, don't come!" his assistant shouted wildly down the phone, " they are announcing that within an hour the water will drown  Dudhnoi ! Saar, stay at home!"
" Who asked you to drink early in the morning? What's wrong with you?" he thundered back at his assistant.
"Saar, I am not drunk! Listen to me! Go back! "

Getting out of the car he concentrated on the road. On the water. It was more than ankle deep now. It was rising. And fast. He quickly took his car back into the compound and rushed into the house yelling for his wife. His mind was in a spin assessing his sparsely furnished new home. A few phone calls had confirmed his assistant's warning. He rushed around stuffing the important papers and documents in a briefcase, some which seemed to elude his muddled brain.The water had reached his top door step.  Next he tried to pack his medical books, kit and case studies. He stashed his laptop, chargers and other gadgets and dashed them all to the roof of the half constructed first floor  with a polythene sheet trailing behind him. When he came down, the water was playing at his feet. His wife was rushing around to salvage as much as she could . They carried up whatever food they could take and all the medicines they had in the house.  The rains continued to lash in a dance of madness.

      The cloud burst over the Garo hills had washed away  many villages in the furious flash floods. In it's wrath the water was filling up in all places that it spread to. From the first floor, he could see the water submerging half of his ground floor home. And then they came. Wading through the rising water, carrying whatever they could in little bundles. Men, women, young lads, old people looking up at the owners of the house in apology. He beckoned them all in directing them to the stairs. People continued to stream in and soon the first floor was full. The new people who came in now moved to the second floor. People shifted and  sat on their haunches to make space for all. Weary mothers soothing the frightened children. Wisened old people looking on in acceptance, of what fate had in store. Looking down at the rising water, the men were trying to fathom the grim future, now with their homes submerged. All through the night they kept vigil and at the same time  trying to call for rescue. 

    It was in the wee hours of the morning that he saw them from where he was perched. The mother and child clinging to each other on what now looked like a tin float, what was once a roof. It was a matter of minutes  before the hungry water swallowed this island of hope and the two refugees. Just then a rescue dinghy appeared swiftly making it's way towards the duo and pulled them on. Minutes later the tin roof submerged in the water just as his own ground floor home was lapped up. 

     All the people on the two floors above, kept an eye on the water level with  bated breath. If this continued, where were they to go? By a stroke of luck, the water had stopped rising after devouring his ground floor home. There was nothing anyone could do except wait and watch. Gradually some of them were rescued. The swollen waters also relented and gradually  receded after showing it's might. What was left behind was soiled, ravaged homes, scarred people with an uncertain future. And yet they did not forget to thank the doctor and his wife for offering them their home to save their lives and keeping their families intact. Life limped back to a semblance of normalcy as people went about picking up the threads, sorting out their own bewildered thoughts and also what was left of their belongings.

   "You know, I feel blessed despite the losses" the doctor said to his wife as she pulled out her soggy silk mekhela sadors from the bed box.
  "Yes, at least we had space for all those people" she observed tossing away the unusable children's sweaters stowed away from last winters. She couldn't bring herself to discard the tiny pink frock from her daughter's first birthday.

" We have never had a house warming because we didn't believe in it. But I think we could never have had a better house warming than this. All of us together over coming the perilous times and sharing the grief of our losses...They came like angels in the hour of crisis."

This post is inspired by a true incident in the recent Assam Meghalaya flood fury and written for In my recent visit to Assam, I was told of this incident of hope and brotherhood. Wish more stories of #MyCrisisAngel are told.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Game Of Blogs - Siege Saga - Chapter 23

Team Name: Story Weavers
Read the first part of the story here.
Read the previous part here.

      Jennifer knew she would eventually get around Kareem's directives. She just had to get into  the hotel now. This was  payback time for the little goodness that life had shown her. She shut her eyes for a few minutes to steady her heart. It was a decision she would have to live with all through her life. If she survived this madness, that is. There were two results she could foresee. Either Kareem would be sacrificed or both would be sacrificed. In the past few minutes, Jennifer had realised how the promise of heaven had been a lure for promising jihadis. Would Allah, or any God for that matter , ever be happy with this blood bath? Which God would ask for children to be slaughtered ? Which God would demand it's pound of flesh in return for a seat in heaven. She had caught herself pondering  over those words in her college text book. 

         'The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..',

 Good Lord! Was she nuts? Taking the crutch of the blind poet, Milton, long dead centuries back? Steeling herself with this rediscovered wisdom, Jennifer approached the platoon that was preparing to move in. Suraj indicated Jennifer to join them with a slight tilt of his head. Jennifer knew she would be watched like a hawk from now on. It was going to get extremely difficult to get to convince Kareem and at the same time help the hostages in her own way. A faraway  vision from childhood danced in front of her eyes. She had seen a little girl in a long, frayed cotton skirt balancing her self on a two edged sword...

        She trooped in with the soldiers, ducking and stealthily moving from one point to the other. The moment they were inside the premises, she side stepped towards the fire escape. She slithered up the iron rungs one by one, the metal grating against her bare skin. She had just one thought in mind. To reach Kareem before the troops did. To convince him to give it all up. 5th floor was a long way to go. And the rate at which she was moving seemed like ages. Unknown to her, she was covered by  a squad of soldiers under orders, who followed her from two spirals down. Jennifer was under the delusion that they were sent to keep an eye on her. How was she to get a few minutes with Kareem alone with them following? She had to think of a way fast to give them the slip. She crawled on her fours and opened the door to the third floor. Kareem had mentioned that they had the fourth floor to the eighth floor covered. She very well couldn't walk into the fifth floor with those following and be a witness to the weepy melodrama between Kareem and her. The moment she let herself in, she made a dash for the service room holding her hands over her ears in an act of shutting out the noise. She was in reality allowing herself the lag of few minutes before those soldiers turned up to shake them off. She had to think of the camera in her ear ring too. 

        She hid herself between the aprons, mops and array of other cleaning equipments, holding her breath in the darkness. She could hear the thudding of the boots out in the corridor. She waited for a few more minutes trying to discern footsteps amidst all the din. there was only the staccato of the automatics and reports of the single barrels. Could she take a chance with the service elevator? It was just a few strides down her corridor, built away from the view of hotel guests. She knew Shekhar's men were alerted about her disappearance from the group. But she had to find Kareem. She peeped out of the room. The corridor ran all around the cavernous space that rose up from the reception lobby of the ground floor. Soldiers were stationed around the corridor. She slipped out and gingerly slid along the wall to the service elevator. Thank God for small mercies! She didn't have to wait for the elevator to come up. It was already on the third floor waiting for her with open arms. She slid in and went up to the fifth floor. This was one thing she liked about posh hotels. The noiseless elevators. She loved it even more today! 

     At the fifth floor, the door opened softly. She peeped out. There were more gun shots mostly coming from the floors above and below. Where was Kareem? She couldn't call him unless she wanted all the others to know. The cavernous well of the floors below had solidified into a huge conference hall on this floor that stretched out into a terraced garden outside. This was the space where the hotel organised the huge parties. She had to find him fast! Just then she heard some footsteps and almost whirled around. A large hand clapped over her mouth almost stopping her breath. She struggled to free herself from the tight grip of Kareem's. She would know those hands and skin even if she was blind. He pulled her to the terrace outside. Now they would know where she was. She couldn't hold her hands over her ears without Kareem getting suspicious. 

  " Kareem! Look, don't you think we have had enough of this! We don't have much time" Jennifer said with as much composure as she could muster.

" Ahana, we have no other life now. It's this way or that now," he smiled wryly.
" We can help the Forces to free the hostages and they will be lenient with us," Jennifer tried reasoning.
" And we will live happily ever after in this beautiful world, is it? Where will you hide, Ahana, from 'them'? You know it is not possible!" Kareem barked sarcastically.
" You know it yourself how they hunt the traitors and bleed them to death. Either we die fighting now or live with fear and die brutally eventually" he continued. 
" It is not easy. Who knows it better than us... We could try at least. I've had enough of this cat and mouse game. Enough! I am tired...Don't you see how wrong we have been?" Jennifer tried again. 
" Don't weaken me now, Ahana! You think I haven't thought of it? It's late! Too late! All those hostages on the sixth floor have lived with fear ever since this drama began. Some have been shot while too smart for their own good. And a few oldies have died because their weak hearts couldn't take it. And behind those menacing looks of six of our friends up there, there is fear lurking. Fear of being blown away! The only fanatic idea that keeps them hooked is that damned place in heaven!" raged Kareem.

He turned around to face Jennifer, his Ahana and looked into her eyes for a moment,
" Either we are dead or we are living dead..." he said quietly.

      Shekhar and his men got the information they needed, thought Jennifer. She hoped they got to see the desperation in Kareem's voice too. Just then there was a renewed burst of shooting. Kareem and Jennifer ran and ducked behind the out door bar. 

Read the next part of the story here.

Me and my team are participating in Game Of Blogs’ at with us.”