Man proposes, Bihar Sarkar disposes: Surviving the Patna floods

Seven days without power in the state capital! I shudder to think what the smaller towns, where the media isn’t active, must have gone through

A scene at a hospital in Patna, Bihar 
A scene at a hospital in Patna, Bihar
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Subhash K Jha

I never want to see rain being glorified in Hindi cinema again. All those incandescent melodies about…oh!...how gloriously romantic the rains are, like Rimjhim gire sawan sulag sulag jaye mann, Rimjhim ke geet saawan gaye and Abke saawan mein jee jarey rimjhim tann pe paani girey, came crashing down once the heavens opened up on the capital of Bihar like never before. At least, not during my lifetime.

I’ve never seen a deluge so dreadful, devastating and frightening in my entire life.

It started on the night of September 27. As usual, I was watching a film at night. It was a thriller, ominously called A Dark Place (that’s where I was heading, though I didn’t know at that point of time). I finished my film well past midnight and went to sleep, smiling as the next day, my idol, the Goddess of all Melodious Things (one who sang all the aforementioned rain songs) was turning 90.

Yes, it was the mighty Mangeshkar’s 90th birthday and we, Lata bhakts, in our family had big plans. Every year, we feed a girls’ orphanage, make the inmates cut a cake. As a return gift, I get to hear one of Lataji’s songs sung diligently by one of the girls.

The Bihar Sarkar, in all its wisdom and foresight, decided to deprive me of that annual privilege. You see, man proposes. But Sarkar disposes. We elect these earthly gods, bestow them with superhuman powers, then watch them misuse, abuse and blatantly subvert those powers. For years, I haven’t cared about who comes to power. This deluge has made me care. I watched my life come to a standstill for a good seven days (the ordeal is still not over) with no help in sight.

For the first time, I broke the rule of no personal tweets and posted plaintive pleading tweets to the Bihar administration. As the rains pelted down, I became urgently traumatised. My stress level rose along with the water. With every passing hour, my dread grew wings. By Sunday evening, I was a nervous wreck.

The water had already entered the ground floor of our home. What was there to stop it from entering the first floor as it did in so many houses in Kerala last year? Certainly not the Bihar Sarkar. The administration sat, waiting for the rains to stop before taking any action. This is to say, the water level kept rising while my electorally chosen mates just sat around, probably watching Arnab Goswami screaming with Pappu Yadav about the inept Sarkar.

I also saw aaadraniya Nitishji guffawing at some media persons, heckling them for being so bothered about one deluged mohallah when there was so much happening in the world.

You are so right, Nitishji. We, in the Rajendranagar colony, were wrong to get so terrified. After all, it’s just water (off a duck’s back). We had been chosen for this special treatment by the Gods. There were torrential rains everywhere in Patna. But only we in Rajendranagar were submerged neck-deep for almost a week (as I write, the water is yet to recede completely). This has got to be a sign from above. Right, Greta Thunberg?

Speaking of Greta, I wonder what aadarniyaNitishji and aadarniya Patna DM Saab Kumar Ravi think of the teenaged environmentalist? Not much, I guess. They were too busy being at loggerheads with one another to bother about the ‘Greta’ good, ha ha.

On a more serious note, we need to acutely think about what the closing-down of all environmental checks and curbs means to civilisation. There were old people stranded in their homes without water and food. The Sarkar (jai ho!) released boats and tractors filled with water and food after the rains stopped.

Nao, think about it. As these boats cruised the Venetian canals of Rajendranagar, they threw food and milk packets and water battles at homes. This meant one had to be a good catcher to get the goodies. These Santas in their sludgy sleighs wanted the junta to come down and get the bounty. We had to wade through the neck/shoulder/waist deep water to reach salvation.

This is what old people were being asked to do by not very polite social workers. One shouted from his boat, “Aapko khaana pani chahiye toh paani sehna padega.”

Kyun bhai? Kyun sehna padega? We are tax-paying citizens. I pay an average of Rs 20,000 per month as electricity tariff. Why was I without electricity for a full seven days? Think about it. Seven days without power in the state capital! I shudder to think what the smaller towns, where the media isn’t active, must have gone through.

In desperation, I tweeted to my democratically chosen Member of Parliament aadarniyaRavi Shankar Prasad for help. He didn’t respond. He had once spoken to me on the phone and complimented me. “Aapko kaun nahin jaanta?” His words now come back to me in a ricocheting rebuke. “Aur aap logon ko kaun nahin janta?’

Panch saal ki chandni aur phir gayab…But we will live with the trauma forever. And, the losses. At least 40 to 45 dogs and puppies perished in the water. Animal rights activists, please note. Human rights activists, just forget it. A natural calamity of this magnitude is just not for you to handle.

Bheegi bheegi raaton mein aisi barsaaaton meine kaisa lagta hai? Kishore Kumar had once asked famously.

I will tell you kaisa lagta hai. As though the Gods have taken mass leave and left us to our devices. I think I survived on the good wishes of my friends in the Mumbai film industry who showed genuine concern.

But Javed Akhtar Saab offered more. He offered some thought provoking consolation. “We go through this in Mumbai every year at least twice. It’s not about the Bihar government. It’s about governments everywhere. They sit on the funds meant for monsoon disaster.”

The funds expire. So do our hopes.

Someone tweeted sarcastically against my protests and pleas, saying, “If you don’t find the administration effective, I am sure the BIG B is just a call away.”

I can see my dear Shatrughan Sinha guffawing at that. I know he would have been just a phone call away if he was still the MP from Patna. But then why must we Indians depend on personal relations to be treated decently by our chosen democratic parliamentarians?

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