Thursday, October 29, 2009

The countdown begins

There is hardly 48 hours to go... The countdown has begun. The state inter agency group - West Bengal, of which I am the State Coordinator will have its official website launched at 17.30 hours Indian time by the honorable Minister in Charge, Department of Disaster Management, Government of West Bengal at Hotel Peerless Inn, in Kolkata.

All are welcome!

(N.B. Today I had a quick peep into the website as Jadavpur University with whom I have made a contract for designing and maintaining the website gave me a pre-launch view into the site. Thanks to Professor Chandar Majumdar who has become a great friend of mine in the process of planning, designing and developing this website.)

Emergency Needs Assessment Trainings

The months of September and October will be remembered for some of the deals I struck with two organizations. The first is with RedR India (Registered Engineers for Disaster Relief) whom I could get to train 150 staff of over 50 non-governmental and government organizations, and have them trained properly in doing needs assessment in emergency situations. The trainings took place in North Bengal in Malda, Jalpaiguri and Siliguri, with logistic assistance from RCHSS,
an organization based in Malda, and in Dhamakhali, Kolkata and Kharagpur, with logistic support from PRISM. I must also thank Mr. Aniruddha Dey who has been a great support to me and an elder brother, patiently assisting me with whatever voluntary support he could give.

The second deal is with Concern Worldwide. I could strike a deal with them for financial support for the training in emergency needs assessment held in South Bengal. I thank both RedR and Concern Worldwide, (specially Mr. Sebastian of Concern) for their extended support. Oh yes, I
could meet my old friends Sameer Karia and others in the process. The months ended with another deal with Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) who have sent four interns for building a state level vulnerability and hazard mapping.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pokers and Movers

In the so called developed world we have Packers and Movers who pack your things and get you move to newer destinations. I found a new genre of people -- Pokers and Movers! I am speaking of two new friends I have from the Netherlands. These people whom I met in Kolkata couple of weeks ago were "extreme" travelers for any Indian standards. Being women did not stop them from moving to unknown destinations. Most of the times when they took guides, I found that they were guiding the guides! And one of them is also an acupuncture therapist. She volunteered to help me with some poking... The first day wasn't painful, but the second day was. And she attributed it to the activated vessels in my body. But for a third round.... thank God, we ran short of needles, and so I escaped with just two rounds.

As for the results, I can still feel it. I feel extremely tired, and my body is aching for some rest and sleep. Who ever thought, just 10 needles pierced all over your body, sometimes screwed as if my body was some sort of a nut, and then pulled out and pierced in another part of the body, could actually make a person feel so tired?

These women never seemed to be settled in a place. Throughout the day, they moved around, and only for a dinner and to discuss about their adventures they would drop in the evenings. If you ever visit Netherlands, (beware!), they might be waiting to poke you... Ha...ha..ha...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Herd of Migrants

I was returning from Raiganj to Kolkata last week. I saw once again the usual herd of migrants, having filled the Malda town railway station. There was no place to walk on the platforms, on the veranda outside, why, even on the road outside. All of them having filled the place, sleeping out there.... Waiting for the next train that will take them to Delhi...or Mumbai, or Chennai or Bengaluru. Their dream destination. They would work for weeks. Most of them go for the 50 days contract. According to the 50 days contract, the laborer gets 5,000 rupees for 50 days of work with simple food and accommodation in a crowded room or on the road side, or under a building. I call it a herd, because there is always some leader whom these people blindly follow.

On the East Canal Street that I take to go from Seva Kendra to Kolkata station there is a place where people keep thousands of sheep and goats that are ready for slaughter. (You can never miss the place as the stench emanating there just stops your breath.) Hundreds of them stand on left side of the road, and in the evenings they put them in small rooms on the right side of the road. They seem to have no problem in taking these sheep and goats each day from one side to another, although hundreds of them are replaced each day. How do they manage it?

Simple, they do not kill three sheep / goats. They are the team leaders. They walk ahead each day taking the entire herd back and forth, across the road... leading them to slaughter, and they themselves, do not get killed! This is what happens to rural India. Led to slaughter by the wickedness of a few.

Catholic Relief Services is doing a study on migration of people from the Sundarbans in the post-Cyclone Aila context. As the number of people who have migrated continues to increase, we find that from more than 60% of families people are migrating to other parts of India. Welcome to the new brand of India. Nomadic India!

Crowd and Stress

The other day a friend told about a research by some scientists on if crowding leads to increase in stress and violence. According to the research, twenty five rodents were used for the research. In one box twenty rodents were left together, and in another of the same size and type five of them were left. They were fed regularly. Over a month, it was noticed that the rodents in the crowded box were becoming more and more violent, irritated, and on test it was found that they had higher adrenalin than the rodents who had more space to move about.

India is becoming one big crowd. The governments are busy working on controlling the masses... the naxalites, Maoists, terrorists, murderers, rapists... the list seem to have no end. Over the three months I have been in Kolkata I too begin to understand what it means. I have done more work than what I do here. My working hours have normally ranged between 14 - 18 hours a day. But I had never felt stressed and irritated. But, here in this big city of Kolkata, I feel the pinch. You develop a sense of rejection. After all, this is a world of too many choices. And you need to reject all others to make one choice. This is a crowded world, where everyone tries to push and pull, to make their own way. It is within this you need to find your way. No wonder, it adds on stress. It lets your adrenalin work harder. This world kills... along with all the pollution that is home to Kolkata.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Vini, Vidi, I'm Vera!

The first intern since Chelsea left India, and I settled in south of West Bengal has arrived. Vera Schmidt. That's her name. Vera arrived on 30 Sept 2009, and she is staying with me here in Kolkata. She is just getting herself settled, and is expected to be the longest serving intern with me, as she plans to be here for about a year. Welcome Vera ! Friends from Germany will be able to read the blogs of Vera at Vera in India or at

Leaving the boring days behind...

It been since long that I wrote an article in my blog.... May be my regular readers have stopped looking at it, because there is nothing new in it. Yeah, life had been pretty boring in the last couple of months, in spite of the fact that I have traveled a lot within the state for organizing several trainings and meetings, and to Delhi to give my suggestions to the revision of the Sphere handbook, and organizing multi sectoral assessments in the flood affected districts of Hooghly, Malda, Jalpaiguri and landslide affected district of Darjeeling. Since 24 August till 8 September, the days went very
quickly, as I traveled between the northern districts of Malda, Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar and Darjeeling, organizing 24 team members, training them to do a multi sectoral assessment in those flood affected districts. And by the time the reports of North Bengal assessments were ready, there was heavy rain in southern districts of Bengal, followed by the Damodhar Valley Corporation opening over 300,000 cubic feet per second of water suddenly, in order to save a dam, leading to severe flooding in Hooghly district, and four other districts in Bengal.

That called for more action, more meetings, more visits and assessments of the damages etc. The reports are currently available in the "Public Library" that comes with this blog. Then came the visit to Delhi for three days, to work on the Chapter 3 of the Sphere handbook, specially on the food security part. My contribution to the chapter has been highly appreciated, specially for working on the new framework of the chapter which indicates poverty and socio, economic, and political contexts in which malnutrition and food insecurity appear, besides writing a new definition for the "food aid".

(In picture : people in ad hoc relief camps, and a house fallen down the hills during a landslide.)
Following all these I arranged for training of 75 persons selected from six northern districts, and trained them in doing quality Emergency Needs Assessment, with support from an organization called RedR India. The experience was really good as I could slowly begin to influence the lives of many. That is what I miss the most. I seem to be working the whole day. But I am not able to directly influence the lives of people positively. That
separates me....distances me from the people. I want to go back to them.... To be with them. To live and work and die with them!