Sunday, April 8, 2012

Baro Mashey Tero Parbon

There is an adage that says “Bangalir Baro Mashey Tero Parbon” (Bengalees celebrate thirteen festivals in twelve months). Actually the saying is way off the mark – a survey needs to be conducted to arrive at the actual number of Hindu festivals celebrated in Bengal. A district-wise break-up is also necessary to reveal deeper truths. In the two months that I have spent in the Sundarbans I have already encountered about half a dozen. That is an average of three per month. Leaving aside the monsoon months when it would be difficult to celebrate anything but inundations, there could be eighteen festivals per year on a conservative estimate. Add to that the festival of other religious communities and compute the total number, one will realize the immense loss in man-days and how much work is realistically possible in a given year.

In the nine weeks since construction work on the Olive Ridley Shelter started, the number of working days excluding Sundays comes to 54 days – of which 12 days have been lost to festivals. That leaves us with 42 working days. With an average of 6 people working it translates to 252 man-days. Every week at least two of them will not turn up for work on two days – that is a loss of 36 man-days. Therefore of the 42 working days, we have effectively worked for 36 days! 36 days in two months. That is incredible India for you!

To top all of this, just when I was thinking that I have the schedule under my belt - they want to take off again for 2-3 days next week for “Charak Pujo”.  I try to reason with them and then try a bit of cajoling, but they are unrelenting. With a poker face I tell them, “Why don’t you postpone your festivities by a week?”

“The Gods won’t wait for us!” Bablu parries. Then realizing that I have the status of the employer, he adds, “If we could, we would have done that for you. But, everything is written in the almanac. We are powerless.”

Festivals are a way of life here – the brisk business of selling Ponjikas (Hindu almanacs) on the Canning Local is indicative of that. Gupta Press and Beni Madhab Sil are laughing all the way to their respective banks. Poor man’s loss is rich man’s gain. I am getting immensely frustrated with all this… and the frequent nor’westers is worrying.

Of course, one will say that I am speaking from an employer’s point of view, but, what about them – the workers? Every day they absent themselves they lose much needed income. It is well known that they have meagre opportunities of finding work here in the Sundarbans - the reason for the exodus to Kolkata and the general degradation that they have to face living in cramped shanties in the city. I am yet to fathom all this and understand the psyche of the people of the Sundarbans. 

On the brighter side much has been achieved in 36 days. That’s some consolation!

With all this and much more running through my mind, I go to bed only to realize that I will have to bear yet another night of Kirtan. I prick up my ears and I am surprised to hear the music of distant deserts…this is a Muslim version of the Naam Sankirtan.  I fall asleep to the pleasant, stretched-out melody born in the desert sands somewhere in the middle-east.

Olive Ridley Shelter: Update

The outer dome is complete in all respects waiting for the lime and sand plaster. The bamboos have been drilled node by node and the chemicals have been filled. The armature for the inner dome has been fixed with spacers to leave a gap between the two domes for air circulation. The bamboo matting for the inner dome and walls are ready and work on fixing them has started. The earth work on the ground floor is done and waiting for the final coat of clay slip. A long week is ahead of me and I am dreading the Kal Boishakhi (Nor’wester storms) and the absenteeism. Laurent will join me to start off the plaster work.

An evening of poems

Diganta accosted me one evening and insisted that I listen to him read out a few poems. I was surprised that he wrote poetry at such a tender age. But, my young friend turned up with a printed souvenir commemorating the golden jubilee of a reputed school in the Sundarbans. The poems were of uneven standard, but, most of it dealt with the flora and fauna of the area, extolling Sundarban’s beauty. These were so similar in content that it felt like West Bengal Tourism Corporation had commissioned them. After, about an hour of tedious poetry, I chanced to see the only poem written in English. I have removed the name of the school and the poet so as not to hurt sentiments, but, I really wished to share it with you without any comments (click on the picture for larger view). Enjoy!

 The First Nor’wester in Maheshpur

It hit with a swirling motion just as I was about to eat my lunch. I sat in the verandah next to the kitchen of the Ashram hoping it would not spoil my lunch. But the wind picked up speed and off flew chairs and clothing and everything that lay about. A big leaf came and landed on my plate. That was when I took refuge inside the kitchen to finish off my lunch. From the window I could see the destructive power of the storm and lashing rain. I quickly gobbled up my food and started enquiring about the children. Haradhan Babu had taken the usual initiative and had herded them indoors. But, the older ones ran around in the rain collecting hail stones and mangoes. They collected more than a tin load of them.

After the storm

When the rain and wind stopped I made ready to leave for Kolkata. With my back pack and camera bag slung across my shoulder I started walking towards our site through the now slushy village street.  The thatched hay roof of the boy’s hostel had gaping holes in it. A part of the school perimeter wall had crashed down.  As I advanced, all the destruction was there to see. Trees uprooted, branches broken off, houses damaged, roof cave-ins, et al. People were picking up things and searching for their belongings in the wreckage. On the way to Canning there were mangled electric poles and more damaged trees. I later learnt that the storm barely had a wind speed of 70kmph. I shudder to imagine what these people have in store for them if a super cyclone ever hits the Sundarbans.

The import of this first hand experience of a storm in the Sundarbans strengthens my belief that there should be more experiments to build smaller, stronger and low cost dwelling units here. I got on the internet back home and again searched for whatever I could find on Bamboo – the timber of the 21st century. Here is a link for you to get more information:

A happy Poila Boishak to all of you. Until next week then...


ED said...

Shelter looks gorgeous.

As for the poetry, to borrow from the poet, “my heart become lock” – loved it!

S Sen said...

I loved this post.