Cyclone Relief – West Bengal 2009
With great difficulty we managed to carry all the stores and supplies from the launch alighting point to the village. Many locals also helped us. The village was totally ravaged by the flood waters. Roads were washed away and houses damaged. Huge stacks of hay had been displaced and were now sitting bang on the middle of the road because of the surging waters.
We started the medical camp within half an hour and the doctors started seeing patients at a brisk pace.
By the end of two hours they had seen around 150 patients. The devotees set up the kitchen and got ready with the cooking. This village though it appeared cleaner than the earlier, the no. of diarrhea and scabies cases was much more than in the previous village. Scabies being a contagious disease spreads fast and so the doctors had to put many of the patients on antibiotics. In the evening the devotee served hot meal to around 500 villagers. After hearing about the quality of food, we were warned that there would be a huge crowd to eat food the next day, as all the nearby camps had decided to stop their cooking and join the people in our camp area for food.
It was getting hotter cause of rise in humidity. The next everyone got up earlier than normal around 4 am…. Life in the village starts quite early. With the first rays of light people start getting into activity mode. Women folk will go the nearby hand pumps and start collecting water for cooking etc. Many of them have an early bath also, as it gets more crowded near the hand pumps, as the day progresses. Men will insert a neem stick into their mouth and keep chewing on it. That is how they brush their teeth. Some of them will soon enter the fields etc or get into their respective occupation. In the afternoon a siesta is quite common. People have an early dinner by 7PM…that’s early as compared to the time people have dinner in the cities in India. One of the main reason for this early to bed and early to rise syndrome is the total lack of power. No power, no lights, no TV, no theatres, no computer, no internet, no late night parties, no distractions at all. 8 pm and its lights off…the whole village in pitch darkness and than another world awakens… the world of slithering animals…busy crossing roads and fields.
So after waking up, everyone got ready early for a long hot day of intense activity. 100’s of kilos of rice was cooked on that day with extreme difficulty….you may wonder why? As we have understood there was flooding in all the villages and people lost their possessions, etc. But the most hurting of all this was losing dry firewood.
All the firewood in the area was wet or soggy and refused to burn, phewing out thick smoke as the cooking was being done. I would often visit the kitchen to give a helping hand, but on that day I felt that my eyes would pop out of its sockets because of the searing burning sensation. You could not stay in the kitchen for more than 30 secs and so the devotees took turns staying in and out of the kitchen. These were people who had always cooked food using cooking gas in their houses and were not very accustomed with fire wood. Even the locals who were helping and who only cooked food on firewood could not bear this burning sensation and refused to work their. Than what talk of our poor devotees! It was real tapasya on that day. The blinding smoke and heat inside the kitchen and the hot and 85% humid weather outside really tested everyone one’s resolve to serve. Finally the cooking was done. The locals estimated that more than 3000 people had been fed lunch on that day…though I felt it was a little on the higher side.
In the noon there was a case of severe dehydration and a woman had to be put on drips. After she stabilized she was sent back home. Early the next day morning at 2 am the woman was brought again in a semiconscious condition as her family had not given her enough fluids. She was in a totally dehydrated condition and was given several bottles of saline. Soon a boy, another woman and later a teenager was also brought in a similar condition. They were all put on drips and the doctors kept continuous vigil on them. Since there was no place for them to lie down, they all laid down next to each other in the verandah. The saline bottles were hung from nearby pillars as there was no other stand available. Soon they all stabilized and were sent went back.
– Sadasiva Chaitanya