Sunday, April 29, 2012

An Unseen Friend

In the first month in Maheshpur, while I was trying to read by the light of the solar lantern, pausing now and then to ease my eyes so they don’t develop a permanent squint, I overheard snatches of conversation between Amal Babu and someone at the other end of the line. Amal Babu’s tone went from banter to argumentative and at times the heated exchanges made me worry that this could be the last phone conversation he would ever have with the person on the other end.  But, their relationship seemed to be made of very resilient stuff. The next evening the conversation started all over again as if nothing had happened the earlier night. These snatches of overheard yet indistinct conversations intrigued me no end. Perhaps understanding my interest about this person, Amal Babu mentioned my name to him a few times in a way that I could clearly hear him. He came closer to my open window to ensure that my appetite was suitably whetted. I could not even guess what was being referred to, but, I presumed it was about my work here in the Sundarbans.

Amal Babu told me about him and thought we would become very good friends one day. “You will only need to meet him once and the two of you will hit it off!” he foretells. Amal Babu lovingly refers to him as Pagla or Kshyapa (both means crazy or madcap).

One evening Amal Babu handed me the phone and said “Kshyapa wants to speak to you!” I cupped the phone hurriedly and asked Amal Babu “But what is his name?”

“Chandan - Chandan Chakraborty.”

I introduced myself and asked “Yes, Chandan Babu what do you wish to tell me?”

Without much ado he said,” This house you are building will be of no use. It will all be under water very soon.”

“How soon?” I asked taken aback by this sudden attack.

“It will be sooner than you can imagine, ten, maybe fifteen years at the most. The Matla will shift to the east and should reach the school building”, he stated confidently.

“The Matla is about a kilometer from here to the west and there is evidence of large mud flats developing very fast on the eastern bank. How would this trend suddenly reverse itself?” I asked incredulously.

“I have studied this area; I am a Geologist and all our data points in that direction. All the rivers in this delta have a tendency to move eastwards. Why, you may even use Google map and actually see these shifts!” he said condescendingly.

Not knowing how to counter all of this and feeling a bit flustered about my ignorance on the subject, I switched tracks, “This makes my work on the Olive Ridley shelter all the more relevant. These experiments are necessary to prepare for the impending disasters that you speak of so eloquently. Should we then sit back and not try anything, just because some people in academia believe that doomsday is near?”

We got into an argument, banter and repartee continued for a while until we called a truce for the night.

Yet another evening and another phone call. Chandan Babu warns me not to use the water from the adjoining pond. “It is full of bacteria. They are used to it and you are not. I have experienced bad itches once. I carry my own drinking water ever since. If you sink a tube well which is not deep enough, the water is saline, if you sink it further in, the chances of finding arsenic is all too high.”

“What is the alternative? Rain water harvesting?” I asked.

“It’s all because of the lunar tides. All our problems would have been solved if we could shift the position of the moon a little further out!” he sniggered provocatively. I took the bait.

“Why don’t you write a project proposal on this and send it to NASA!” I quipped.

Chandan Babu laughed a genuine laugh probably for the first time.

Amal Babu is surprisingly up-to-date about the contents of my blog without ever reading them. There is no internet here. He stays informed because of Chandan Babu who relays the content of each post to his friend. The other day Amal Babu asked me why I did not report the incident with Kaushik to him. I explained that I had given the culprit a scolding and thought nothing more of it. I keep getting stories from all kinds of people and have never written about them in order of sequence. They appear in my blog only when they seem relevant to a particular context. Amal Babu smiled and said,”Chandan scolded me and said what kind of a teacher are you? Could you not teach your people to at least speak properly?”

I think I have a friend, who I have not met as yet. But, Google “Professor Chandan Chakraborty/ISI” and you will find him. I did that myself and was duly impressed by his academic achievements. To say that Chandan Babu is an accomplished person would be a gross under statement.

In the meanwhile he has been visiting Maheshpur on Sundays and therefore I keep missing the opportunity of meeting him in person. The reason for his frequent trips, I am told, is that he is keen on starting a project to study water level fluctuations, et al, so that he can take it to the next logical conclusion that would provide deeper insights into the subterranean nature of this area and could translate into benefiting the people of the Sundarbans. Needless to say, the Olive Ridley shelter could be temporarily used as a documentation and research centre equipped with gizmos that will transmit data directly to Calcutta. Laurent too wishes to do the same to collect data on how the shelter behaves during extreme weather conditions. I wish Chandan Babu all the luck in this world and hope that he will find dependable assistants from amongst the locals, who will deliver correctly and on time.

Through this blog, I warn Chandan Babu that whenever we meet, I will drop the ‘Babu’ affix. He can surely pull my leg, but, I will surely pull the age card on him!

Olive Ridley Update

 I was very disappointed with the overall progress made last week. The masons had done a shabby job. The bamboo scaffolding is down and has been taken away by Binoy to cut them up for furniture. So, to rectify the finish of the dome would entail buying more bamboo, which is not an option that I have any more. The clay is drying very slowly and to top it off, Binoy has not delivered the door and the windows. In fact from what I gathered, he has not started work on them yet. However, Amal Babu has intervened and given Binoy a piece of his mind, prompting him to promise delivery this week.

Despite the overall inefficiency and insincerity that the Olive Ridley house has been subjected to – it looks good. I promise it will look better when I am done!

The clay walls are yet to dry. They will resemble the ceiling colour when dry.

Laurent assures me that:

Wind calculations have been done to check overturning, as per national building code except for the wind speed which we took as 72m/s (Orissa super cyclone) instead of 55m/s. But, that is for overturning only. The strength of the dome and particularly of the overhangs above the openings has not been checked.

I think a huge cyclone would be able to ‘shake’ the dome and create cracks in the plaster, but probably not be able to destroy it”.

 And yet I have nightmares… 


Ladymegnanimous said...

incredible !

Abhisek Sarkar said...

I will be eagerly waiting to meet Prof. Chakrabarty. Is he working with ISI,Kolkata. If so its a lot easier for me to find him out.

gitanjali said...

Your shelter looks amazing abhida! have been following every step in your interesting seeing it being built up from scratch.

ED said...

A work of art, among other things!

Sush Sen said...

Prof. Chakraborty, thanks to you, is a friend now. It feels so great to know of these wonderful people, clustering to the Ridley House. The little cottage looks so inviting already. You must allow me to come over this monsoon and stay for a few days. I promise to tell stories in the dozens to the kids. :)


As a 'nearly finished' structure, this shelter looks very good.

How many sq. feet is the floor area?