The Late nineties saw some serious changes in the present Capital of West Bengal. To start with its name changed from Calcutta to Kolkata. Cell phones came into existence and the distant future of paging devices looked bleak. Maintaining a cell phone was very costly, there were charges for incoming too. People talking in mobile in public were stared upon by the masses with jealousy and awe.
The idea of having personal computers for residential use was considered as a luxury. The only internet connection was available from Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited. There was only one scheme which will look crazy in today’s scenario – 500 hours @ Rs 10,000 per year. It was to be a one-time payment. Incidentally, our family was among the first lot of subscribers opting for this crazy scheme in 1997 after my brother brought home a personal computer from Singapore when he came from home to take a break from his first overseas job.
With the arrival of the internet, I got introduced to email. Although I was working with computers in my office, there was no facility of email there. A software named Trumpet Winsock developed by the unsung developer Peter Tattam was used to get connected to the internet. First it was the Shell account with a black creepy screen where the white typed letters appeared in a halting fashion. Vsnl provided us with an email id. We later dumped it and upgraded to Hotmail with its graphic interface.
I did not use Hotmail for long. Initially, the account had a lot of security loophole. After having my email hacked for several times, I switched over to Yahoo.
In September 1999, the newly named Kolkata was flooded due to torrential rain, that too in just a day’s rain.
Earlier the Guardian had written about the name change of the city as ” The city so redolent of the Raj has tossed away the stain of its imperial past along with its name (it hopes), and from next month will be known by its Bengali equivalent: Kolkata.”
It rained so heavily in just one night, it seems that nature agreed with the legendary newspaper’s opinion and was adamant to wash out all the colonial remnants of the city along with its old name.
The last time I had seen such a disastrous situation in Kolkata was way back in 1984. We were stuck at home for more than two days. There were boats floating in our lanes to help volunteers provide food supplies to houses.
My uncle who stayed at Pittsburgh wrote me an e-mail asking about the situation. I replied with a rather long email giving a detailed description.
16 years later I have been able to locate that mail in my yahoo Inbox and decided to share it in my blog.
I am reproducing the email here keeping all the Bengali terms intact. I have explained them in brackets.
Pity, I was not that much a shutterbug at that time, so I do not have any photographs of 1999 disaster. The photographs I am sharing here was taken in 2006 in a similar water logging scenario at Kolkata.
Here is that email:-
Sep 26, 1999
The rain was 330 mm. It was bit less than the record of 1978. But in 1978 this rain accumulated in 5 days, whereas this time it was the result of an overnight shower. Condition are still horrible in Laketown, Bangur, Khidderpore, Gariahat, Ballygunge Phari. Water is still waist deep there. There is no drinking water available there, added with load-shedding. People are evacuating from their house to their relative’s house in safer areas. Dad’s friend Mrinal Kaku had to leave from their posh flat at Laketown to a relative’s house at A.P.C. Road. Reason? No water.
Our ground floor had knee deep water. Dad was unfit to bat because of ‘Joy Bangla’ (Conjunctivitis). Mom too had ‘Joy Bangla”, but as we all know that in Indian Cricket, Sachin Tendulkar always wants to be included in the team, even if he is only half fit, similarly in a crisis situation like this Mom cannot let herself sit idle whatever be her health’s condition. I was batting in great form because I had to do a lot of ‘running between the wickets’. Although I am basically a stroke player, I love running between the wickets. So, I ran with three ‘tosshoks'(mattresses), five ‘leps'(blankets), and dozens of pillows, clothes from the ground floor to 2nd floor. Mom busied herself in fast cooking and storing of water, transferring goods from low leveled kitchen to Dining room very bravely with a wet handkerchief tied on her right infected eye as the water rapidly gushed into our house.
The water went on coming in as it was still raining. The level was increasing and I saw that if the Divan in the drawing room were not raised a bit higher, water would get into it. Although it was empty after I have transferred all its content to ‘tintolla’ ( 2nd floor), if water gets into it the ply will be damaged. So I got eight bricks from our terrace garden and with a bit help from Mom, I put that Divan on the top of the bricks. While I was going towards the terrace, I saw that there was an artificial waterfall created in the stairs of the 2nd floor from the terrace. The water was getting through the in-house drain pipe on the 2nd floor all right, but it was a hell of a problem to get to the terrace. The water flow was also getting diverted & there were chances that it may turn towards the 1st floor.
Any guy would have panicked in this situation, but being an experienced campaigner of Calcutta flood (I was in this house during 1984 flood), I immediately understood the reason for this catastrophe. I managed to go on the terrace someway, found out the water outlet. It was difficult to see as it was raining like hell & the terrace was under ankle deep water. Anyway, I located it and found what I expected. The dried leaves of the rooftop garden had clogged the outlet. I removed them with my hands slowly one by one. With a roaring gurgling the water passed through the drain & the terrace was cleared. The waterfall stopped & we were saved from double flooding.
Next thing that needed attention was the refrigerator. It was damned heavy to be pulled up. I could have given it a try if Dad was fully fit. But he was having pain and was not able to open any of his eyes. But to put the fridge even on bricks needed Dad’ s help, as mom could not have lifted the fridge while I put bricks under it. Or put bricks under it, while I lifted the fridge. That time water was above ankle deep in the Dining hall.
So, I had to get Dad downstairs & after some terrible moments, we finally lifted it on the top bricks. But that made the fridge unbalanced, it could not be closed. The ices were still in the refrigerator, & a lot of fish was there too. We decided not to take out the fish now, as the ice would keep it fresh until evening. Then I started putting utensils and the three Gas cylinders in the 1st floor. We took only the burner in the 2nd floor, as there was 1 gas cylinder in reserve there.
Wading through waist deep rain water
Around 12:00 p.m. the rain stopped. We had lunch of Rice, Dal and ‘Bandha Kopir Tarkari’ (Cabbage). The fish were all fried in the evening and left in a container or else it would have decomposed. By this time the water level started getting down. I made the election graffiti on the wall opposite to us as my marker. In the evening cooking became relatively easy as now we did the cooking in our original kitchen in the 2nd floor. That room is generally kept closed after we shifted kitchen to ground floor.
Water went down from the house in the late morning hours, and the tedious process of washing, scrubbing of the floor, cleaning of toilets, washing of cloth began. Washing machine could not be used as because dirty water had got into our ‘choubaccha’ (water tank) in the ground floor, & that water simply could not be pumped into the reservoir.
The water from the streets went in the late evening. The streets were dirty, slippery & there were no streetlights, so it was extremely dangerous to go out. Thanks to God that our phone was working, drinking water was coming and the lights were there in the house. The lights, however, went off at 5:30 p.m. & electricity came around 10:30 p.m.
Then it rained again heavily in yesterday ( Saturday) night & the streets were waterlogged. The water was above ankle deep in today morning. The sky did not seem good, so I did not wait till the clearing of water and went to the market to get all the essential items.
Now the situation is bit under control. In Laketown, Khidderpore, Bangur, Paikapara & Birati, the water may take another 5-6 days to get down. Plus they have no light, water or phone connection. In Bangur guys are getting water from Saltlake by paying money.
Imagine situation outside Calcutta !!
After this when political parties ask for vote, I feel like bashing them.
P.S. Ultimate picture which can be considered as icon of Calcutta water logging:-
A man going to the office wearing a shirt & a lungi, wading in the waist deep water, with a bag on his shoulder & a MOBILE in his hand.
Sadly, the situation has not changed 16 years later. The only change I can see is the waterlogging clears off at a slightly faster rate thanks to a new pumping station. And … of course, Mobile is a very common thing now.
Also, people do not talk only about Kolkata when it comes to waterlogging during rains. The other Metro cities especially Mumbai and New Delhi are not much behind in this respect.