As we traveled through the bumpy mud road that parted from National Highway 34, after crossing about 6 kilometers from Karandighi, (35 kms north of Raiganj town), we were greeted by a bullock cart that was carrying three others and some bags of wheat, two bags of cement and few rods. Once we crossed it, we entered Basudebpur, the little hamlet that is dotted by palm trees, and it was almost empty under the scorching noon. Accompanied by two other companions and the driver, our Scorpio was soon surrounded by couple of women, three men and a dozen children. As I got down, I was looking for some known faces. I had been to these areas almost eight years ago. Nothing much has changed.
The Santhal tribal people who live in the midst of the village surrounded by Muslims and Scheduled Caste communities on either side were still living with hope, living in present! When I walked into the first house I felt comfortable with, I found a boy of about 12 years old. There was some light in his eyes. I could read that he is educated. I enquired. He said he is studying in the fifth grade. And when I walked in, I found a old lady whom I could recognize, and fortunately she could recognize me as soon as I introduced! I requested her to take us around the village. Soon some more known and unknown faces joined us.
I saw at least six fully damaged houses and several partly damaged houses in the hamlet of about 30 odd houses. All of tribals. I saw the men sitting and drinking the liquor drawn from palm trees (toddy), and all that the men and women could utter at every house was, they received nothing after the tornado that tore their houses apart on the fateful night of 13 April.
We checked with them. They had gone several times to the Panchayat (local government office). But the crowd at the panchayat was overwhelming, and they were asked to come another day. Well, these people had no money to travel, nor the voice and strength to stand and receive the tarpaulins.
We walked further. At the farthest end of the village was the house of Denis Soren. (That’s how she pronounced it.) Her house was flat. She is a young widow. Has a child of about 5 months old, and another girl studying in upper kinder garden. Her husband died when she was just three months pregnant. The house on which it was built is a declared “waste land”. With no other assets, and the house flattened, with nothing to cook, she wanted to go to see her elder child whom she had not seen in weeks. Tears were rolling up her eyes, as there is no one to help her collect the broken tins, nor to repair her house. She is, luckily, the only person who had received a black polythene sheet (as tarpaulin) and three kilograms of rice. And she had eaten all that stuff in the last four days.
We were dumb. We had no words to console. We took her on our air-conditioned 850,000 rupees worth Scorpio, and dropped her at the boarding school where her child is. On the way, we gave her some money, which would probably buy her some oil and soap for her child, and purchase some pulses for her own survival for few more days. The support from humanity never seems enough to get her out of poverty. Alas, you could still see thirst in her eyes.