Being Women


What happens when it rains incessantly? When the river overflows, rushing into villages, taking with it whatever it can?

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 yet to unleash its full splendor.

Deepika put her sleeping baby inside the mosquito net and lowered the flame on the kerosene lamp on the dressing table. An ominous feeling engulfed her. 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. Removing her “Chador”, she slipped inside the mosquito net and lay down beside the sleeping Niyor, finally, thankful that the day had come to an end and she can let the bed bear the burden of her tired aching body.

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. 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. The night seemed eerily silent. There was a strange reprieve from the endless barking of the street dogs. The buzz of the crickets, and fireflies, and of the cloud of mosquitoes that hovered over the mosquito net, were, strangely, absent. Deepika hugged Niyor tightly for reassurance. Gradually the warmth from Niyor’s tiny body seeped into her and her eyelids grew heavy drowning her in 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, to see the rain dance upon the land, bringing reprieve from the dreadful heat of the last week.

The rain started to fall in torrents. A loud rattling sound slowly penetrated the deep fog of sleep and woke up Deepika.  She scrambled out of bed and raised the wick of the lamp as she called out in 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?” she asked, frustrated.  But seeing his face etched with worry, she felt her heart squeeze.

“Is it Dilip? Is he alright?”

“The Hatimura Dyke has broken, Bou and the Brahmaputra is rushing towards us in full force.” Jagat’s voice trembled with fear.

Jagat’s words struck her with terror. Dilip was away. What was she going to do all alone? How was she going to shield Niyor from the angry river’s onslaught? Myriad thoughts swirled in her mind. Jagat’s voice brought her back to the present predicament.

“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.”

Damayanti’s frantic wail alarmed Jagat further.

“I’ll release Damayanti and join you.” Saying so, Jagat ran towards the cowshed leaving Deepika stranded alone and really frightened. Chanting Krishna’s name, Deepika wrapped the sleeping Niyor in a towel, picked up a water bottle, a few of Niyor’s clothes, and a packet of biscuits and tied it all in a Gamosha and ran towards the front door. A loud creak followed by a whooshing sound made her quicken her steps. Just as she reached the gate, a cold sensation stroking her feet stopped her in her tracks. Time had run out. With profound sadness, she looked at Niyor. His serene face transmitted some amount of determination and courage into her sagging spirits. As rushing water rose over her heels, up her ankles to her calf, trying to dislodge her, she caught hold of the gate’s fence post, holding Niyor tightly to her bosom. She looked around her; utensils, stools, chairs, trunks, TVs and other knick-knacks came floating by. Water had, now, reached up to her waist. Then she saw something that sparked some more hope in her. It was Damayanti being carried along by the speeding current. She raised Niyor onto her shoulder, above water level, and waded cumbersomely towards Damayanti. Somehow, she managed to catch hold of Damayanti’s neck and held onto her firmly. Holding Niyor with one hand and clinging to Damayanti’s neck with her other, they were all swept away by the force of the water.

A few moments later, or maybe hours later, she had lost all sense of time, Deepika felt Damayanti struggling to keep afloat. Fortunately, both Deepika and Damayanti were good swimmers and they somehow managed to keep afloat. The rushing waters hurled them along ferociously. Deepika’s breath sagged and her eyelids drooped. She stroked Damayanti’s neck, thanking her for her efforts to keep them safe. Her thoughts wandered towards Dilip and remorse hit her as she realised that she won’t get a chance to say goodbye to him. Fatigue and hopelessness gripped her and she let her eyelids drop. Suddenly she felt as if the waters had stopped moving. She opened her eyes. The sight she saw brought out a smile on her lip. She realised that she was entangled in a mass of water hyacinth and the waters were moving slowly. Damayanti lay still. On her left, she saw the shore bathed by the soft rays of the rising sun.  People lined up along the shore, trying to capture the destruction with their mobile phones. Renewed energy flowed through every cell of her being and she struggled to rise above the water hyacinth which was threatening to suffocate her and her son. The renewed energy lent voice to her parched throat and she shouted, “HELP!”, with all her might. But her voice did not carry over to the noisy crowd. She and her baby were unnoticeable amongst the water hyacinths.

Then, from out of nowhere, she saw a young boy on a Bhel (a contraption made by tying 3 to 4 banana stems and used as a raft) rowing towards her, tearing at the water hyacinths. “Krishna has heard my call,” she laughed as relief washed over her. Within seconds the bhel reached her and the boy caught hold of Niyor. Placing him securely on the raft, the young lad pulled up Deepika. She looked towards Damayanti and then up at the boy with pleading eyes. The boy reached out and touched Damayanti’s limp body and realised that the cow had given up her struggle some time ago.

“It’s no use, Baideo,” he addressed Deepika.

Deepika’s eyes filled up with tears as she thanked the brave soul for keeping them safe. The boy rowed them out of the mess towards the bank. As they reached the banks, eager hands pulled them out of the raft and led them to the makeshift shelters made for the flood-affected people.

Deepika was bone tired. She just wanted to lie down for some time, be alone. But this was a relief camp. Different people from different villages, people like herself, had sought refuge here. Some had lost their dear ones along with their property. Some had lost only their property. There was wailing and crying everywhere. Some people just lay stunned wondering how to begin their lives once again.

Deepika looked around at all the hopeless people around her. A feeling of gratitude came over her. She was safe, Niyor was safe and they had Dilip safe somewhere in Guwahati. They will find each other and be together again. They’ll build their lives from scratch. At least they still had the land to build their home.  A smile brightened up her tired face. They still had tomorrow.


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