The Flood

Sunday, 28 February 2021



The Flood

Nisha Mahanta Bordoloi | December 21, 2018 11:24 hrs

It was the month of August. The air was heavily laden with unshed humidity. Dark clouds hung low over the night sky, obscuring the moon which was on the last leg of its journey towards unleashing its full splendour.
Deepika lowered her sleeping baby inside the mosquito net on the 18th century, teak, four-poster bed that had belonged to her husband’s great grand-parents and handed down over the generations. As she lowered the flame on the kerosene lamp on the dressing table, an ominous feeling engulfed her. 

Her heart seemed as heavy as the clouds that hovered over their dilapidated home; another 18th century handover of their great grand-parents. Lost in thought, she loosened the hair that had been wrung up into a tight bun at the nape of her slender neck and let it tumble down her gently sloping shoulder to lay quietly on her pert bosom heavy with the milk for her 7 month old Niyor. She removed her “chador” and with only her petticoat and blouse, slipped in inside the mosquito net, lay down beside the sleeping Niyor and kissed the top of his perfect round hairless crown. Finally, embracing the moment she had been craving for since the sun went down, Deepika lay down her own head on the soft cotton pillow that Dilip, her husband, had made with his own hands. A sigh of relief heaved out of her, thankful that the day had come to an end and she can let the bed bear the burden of her tired aching body. 

Unlike other days, sleep did not come easily today. She missed the loving hands of Dilip softly caressing her hair and moving, delicately over her back , the curves of her hips and waist and coming to rest on her bosom, lulling her to sleep. He had gone to Guwahati to attend his nephew’s wedding, which Deepika had to miss because of young Niyor. Besides that, the ominous feeling hadn’t left her yet and it now squeezed her heart and constricted her throat. An unknown fear! As a city girl and an only child, Deepika had grown up like a tomboy and had never felt any fear. So this feeling now puzzled and deeply disturbed her. She tried singing a naam ghoxa that she had learnt from her late mother-in-law, hoping for relief from that feeling and praying for sleep. But sleep still eluded her.  The incessant mooing of Damayanti, the milking cow, and their only property of any value, added to her distress. With a prayer to Krishna, she forcefully shut her almond shaped eyes. It was then that she noticed that, except for Damayanti’s mooing, the night was eerily silent. There was a strange reprieve from the endless barking of the street dogs and even the buzz of the crickets and fireflies and the hum of the cloud of mosquitoes that hovered over the mosquito net, were absent. Deepika was sure that some evil was about to enter her life and destroy it. She ran her calloused hands over the scrawny body of her baby to ensure if he was alright. She hugged him tightly for more reassurance. Gradually the warmth from Niyor’s tiny body seeped into her body and soul. She felt her eyelid grow heavy and allowed herself to drown into a fitful slumber.

Unknown to her, outside, the wind had gathered speed and was whipping up a storm. Those who had not yet winded their day heard the wind howling and came out to their front porches, wondering at the destruction of vegetation that was sure to follow. But they were thankful that, at least, they would be reprieved from the unbearable heat that bore down on them since the last month. They were thankful that monsoon had arrived. 

Other states of Assam dreaded the arrival of monsoon that was the harbinger of destruction of lives, homes and properties. But Kaliabor had never reeled under floods since 1968. Many had almost forgotten about it, and the new generation had only heard of it as a fireside tale. As Deepika slumbered, the rain started to fall in torrents. It took countless precious minutes for the banging on the window to penetrate the deep fog of sleep that lay upon Deepika’s fatigued brain. As the loud rattling sound finally reached Deepika, she jumped up with a start and scrambling out of the bed, raised the wick of the lamp that lay flickering on the bottom of the wick tube. Covering herself with the discarded chador, she forced out a strong voice, “Who is it?”

“It’s me, Jagat, Bou.” The voice of her neighbour, full of alarm and concern came floating overriding the sound of the rain pellets on the tin roof. Relieved, Deepika opened the window and asked, “What’s the matter Jagat? Why did you have to wake me up at this hour and just when I had finally grabbed a few winks of sleep?” she asked in a frustrated voice.
Seeing Jagat’s face etched with worry, the dark thoughts resurfaced and she again felt her heart squeeze. 

“Does this have anything to do with Dilip? Is he alright?” Fear for Dilip assailed her. 
Though, Jagat’s next words comforted her regarding Dilip, she understood the reason for the unreasonable fear she had been feeling since the late evening.

“The Hatimura Dyke has broken, Bou and the Brahmaputra is rushing towards us in full force.”
The words sent a chill down Deepika’s spine. Dilip was away. What was she going to do all alone? How was she going to shield Niyor from the angry river’s onslaught? As myriad thoughts swirled in her mind, Jagat’s voice brought her back to face the present predicament.

“Don’t waste time trying to save anything Bou. Take just the bare necessities and come out quickly. We are all moving towards Xonarigaon. The land there is at a higher level and hopefully the Brahmaputra won’t reach it. Be quick! There is no time.”

Just as he finished his warning, Damayanti wailed more frantically and Jagat became more alarmed. 
“Bou, run to our place through the front door, the backyard is starting to flood,” Jagat shouted. “I’ll release Damayanti and join you.” Saying so, Jagat ran towards the cowshed leaving Deepika stranded alone and really frightened. Forcing herself to be calm and chanting Krishna’s name, Damayanti wrapped the sleeping Niyor in a bed sheet, picked up a water bottle a few of Niyor’s clothes, a packet of biscuits and tied it into a bundle in a gamocha. A rumbling sound approaching from almost behind her made her steps quicker and she ran towards the front door. Just as she opened the front door, she heard a loud creak followed by a whooshing sound and knew she was doomed.

(To be continued…)

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