As Amphan wreaked havoc through Kolkata, it left behind a stream of changed priorities and perspectives and new realizations. Amitava Nag jots down his stream of consciousness, surviving 6 days without electricity supply.
Since last Thursday I get up rather early in the morning. I suddenly realise now how important it is to hit bed by 10 at night because there isn’t a thing to do anymore once the chips are down and the Sun is out. Getting up, my first job at dawn, even before the Sun comes out is to check our reservoir, the water level to be precise. I am not sure what I need to verify each day, may be the height of the wet mark inside gives me comfort and a sense of happiness, a feeling of relieved freedom.
Every day I hope that the Corporation Water Supply doesn’t forget us. It does not, to be true, never from the very first day itself. Though it was just a trickle in the first few mornings. The valve on our reservoir has been defective for quite a while. When the supply recedes, the water flows back, out of the reservoir with the urgency of errant boys when the school bell rings for the last time in a day.
The supply of water at designated hours in mornings and afternoons, at 7:30 am and 4:30 pm, is the only sense of time for me. The rest of the day is all the same without a need to know the exact time. Like in islands marooned after shipwrecks we read in novels and adventures too good to be true, time has to wait now. For us to be back on time.
In Aparajito, Satyajit Ray’s masterful second part of the Apu Trilogy, the grownup Apu hurries his mother Sarbajaya at 7:30 in the morning. Apu has to be ready to catch the only morning train to the big city, Calcutta, his El Dorado. Sarbajaya has never needed to keep a precise time. The movement of the Sun is all she relied on. Even later on in the film, in frail health sitting out under a tree she would look at occasional meandering trains hoping one would bring her Apu back to her from the city. Apu returned finally but it was late. The train marked Sarbajaya’s only hope, her only sense of accurate time of the day. A quaint trickle of water enthuses mine. Yet, I have no wait for an estranged son. The son helps me in filling up buckets and cans, utensils of all shapes and sizes. And discarded bottles of packaged water waiting to be thrown away in garbage vans.
The fear of living dry is painful within my cocooned, comfortable world of trading tragedy and embodying lunacy. Storing water is my new-found addiction, my suddenly-realised efficacy. Looking at the reflective Sun within the bends of the captive liquid gives me a high. For all Calcuttans who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s including me, with our daily dose of power-cuts and water shortages, we all remember those lanky dark men ferrying two big metal buckets of water twice a day to fill up the domestic reservoirs inside our damp, low-lit apology of a bathroom.
Water had been scarce, with no associated profundity. With time we all moved up the social rugs and transferred us to digital panels of life. Those of us who hoarded water then do hoard books now. It was a survival necessity gone cynical. This is a cynical requirement for our social survival – for our decorative shelves and derogating self.
Now I realise how we stopped understanding the importance of staying simple, being earnest. And becoming timeless.
With Covid-19, with a burgeoning pile of work, the sense of space has been rendered redundant. We have now scattered us all over the globe like petals over a pyre. With Amphan, I have lost the sense of time – to wait and, to wait. Not in my undergrad classes did I ever understand the meaning of continuum in quantum physics. Now, after 6 days without electricity, I guess, I do.
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