It started from the time of the Industrial Revolution. Modernity lifted its head from some unknown place and we were awed by its presence, its sheer brilliance and power. Nature became an external object left for us to conquer and tame according to our own needs. This idea was then spread across the world by the force of colonisation.
Come to 2020, we have been left with an ongoing crisis period, which is linked in some way or the other to climate change, which is a by-product of modernity as we understand it today.
The Cyclone Amphan made landfall in eastern India on May 20. In its path fell the states of Odisha, West Bengal and parts of Bangladesh. The most affected were the southern districts of West Bengal namely South 24 Parganas, Kolkata, North 24 Parganas and Midnapur. As I am writing this article many parts of the affected districts still lie in complete darkness, with thousands without homes, electricity, clean drinking water, clothes, and food.
Technological advancements made it possible for meteorological departments to successfully track the cyclone and its probable path which helped the authorities to evacuate 3 million people possibly saving thousands of lives. Amphan intensified rapidly in the Bay of Bengal to form a Super Cyclonic Storm. It weakened ahead of the landfall on Wednesday, May 20, to a very severe cyclonic storm, but was strong enough to wreak havoc across a wide area, including the densely populated areas of Kolkata where I live.
News channels covered this development very accurately, and a large portion of the population knew of the coming cyclone. Cyclones have become very frequent with the global rise in temperature, and the Bay of Bengal has been infamous for other cyclones that have originated in the past.
The previous year another strong cyclone affected the Indian state of Odisha and destroyed many densely populated areas such as Bhubaneshwar. I remember that it grew very weak when it finally reached Kolkata and no considerable damage was done. The coastal areas of the state of Odisha were affected severely and some parts of the state of West Bengal.
It started raining since the early evening of May 19. Strong winds were becoming frequent since midnight. It grew considerably cooler during the night and I slept quite peacefully totally unaware of the destruction that was about to begin the next day because of the spinning storm over the north-eastern part of the Bay of Bengal.
The next day when I woke up the sky was already overcast with heavy spells of rain and strong winds. By mid-day, the rain increased and I saw through my window strong winds violently crashed with the coconut trees swinging them backwards. There is a mango tree in front of my apartment and mangoes kept falling as people came out of their homes to collect them.
My mind was completely kept busy with the constant LIVE reporting of the Bengali news channels. Reporters of these channels travelled to areas which would be the first to get hit by the cyclone when it would make landfall. Those places experienced high-velocity winds even when the cyclone was 100 kilometres from the coast.
Even in Kolkata trees started getting uprooted. Traffic lights lay on the road as brave workers of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation kept on fighting the fallen trees to keep the roads clear, still unaware of what lay ahead.
RSMC New Delhi accurately predicted that Amphan would make landfall with maximum sustained wind speeds of 155-165 km/hour, gusting to 185 km/hour and torrential rainfall between Digha (West Bengal, India) and Hatiya Islands (Bangladesh), close to Sunderbans national park area.
The news channels reported that Amphan has made landfall at 2:30 PM IST. Suddenly the power went-off and many parts of the neighbourhood were left in darkness. The emergency power supply got triggered at my home and I could still follow the news.
Gradually, the telecast also got distorted and I turned my attention towards my surrounding. The trees were swinging violently and it seemed that they could break away at any moment. At 4:00 PM, the storm was just 30 kilometres from Kolkata. I closed my windows and doors. At 5:30 the windows and doors started violently shaking. The mobile network got weaker and it went dead. I charged my mobile and turned it off. The windows groaned and screeched.
I feared that they could break at any moment since they are made up of glass. At 7:30 PM, the storm suddenly stopped though it was raining. I turned on the TV and saw that we lay in the eye of the storm. The second part of the storm started after 30 minutes and the same groaning and screeching of the windows started. It continued till 10 PM. My phone was without any network coverage and later the emergency power also went off after about 12 hours of supply. I spent the night half-awake.
The next morning, I went out to buy candles since we anticipated that power will not return soon. The first thing I noticed that there were many trees which have been uprooted. They have blocked all the roads and major roads, like the NSC Bose Road which is near my home was completely not accessible to any traffic.
The trees had fallen on power lines, internet and cable wires completely tearing them apart. Traffic lights were uprooted, bent and lay on roads with lots of pieces of glass which were spread across the wet asphalt. Police kiosks were smashed by trees. Small shops like tea stalls were completely blown away.
There was a huge surge of people buying candles and everyone was struck by the experiences of the previous night. I saw many windows of other apartments lay shattered and got to hear that water has entered through these broken windows and have flooded their rooms.
The day was spent without electricity and I spent my day carrying water from a hand-drawn tube-well to my apartment. Gradually the night came and the candles were lit. I was left with no internet connection and electricity. Water was boiled before drinking as our water purifier lay dead.
My house is near a fire-emergency service brigade which is a priority zone. The electricity was restored the next day during noon. I turned on the TV and was horrified by the amount of destruction. I realised my sufferings are minuscule when compared with the people whose house were flooded, who were electrocuted in stagnant water, and whose houses and families were destroyed by the storm.
As I write this article, neighbourhoods in my own city have been without water and electricity for four days since the cyclone, and there are places where it has been still very difficult for authorities to reach and help them with basic food, clothing, and clean drinking water. The Indian Army was deployed recently to help with the restoration work and getting basic amenities to people who lay inaccessible still now.
I will write about this and what we can learn from these natural calamities in the following articles.