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."