Flood flashback


Chitra Ahanthem
The rains it seems are good only in films. The languorous pitter-patter of rains over the past week in Imphal has led to the inundation of small lanes and many roads across town. On a happier note, the rains have not spared anyone but merrily mired people in slush and mud, regardless of social hierarchies and flooding embankments and residential areas and office complexes. Whoever thought rain could turn out to be a great social leveler? The rich and the powerful with all their might and the grandeur of their homes have to face the ignominy of having their homes encroached upon by water from nearby drains that in turn have become mere slivers of water being clogged with plastic and other rubbish. Drains have more or less disappeared from sight over the years following the concrete jungle fixation, the greed for more land and the presence of the evil plastic bags that everyone seems to love throwing everywhere.
And while nothing about floods can be romantic, the current situation of flash floods arising out of water deluge following brief showers brings back the memories of excitement associated with floods, and a big one at that. The 1989 floods happened sometime in summer, which makes that spectacle more than two decades old. We were in school then, a period that was yet to be marked by internet or mobile phones or even cable TV. Doordarshan and All India Radio were the only means of entertainment and news but our own inherent tendency for kumhei meant that people would go out in droves and move about town taking stock of how the flood was advancing. They called it “eeshing chaoba yengba”  and it was more or less effective in warning people about when to pack things in the house and get ready for the flooding. Sometimes, people would set up their fishing nets in places where there was flooding and come back boasting about their catch. In most cases, it was the news that came from this ventures that would warn people much before the local news on AIR!

Nude wires over the Nambul river, plastic garbage in background Photo credit: Chitra Ahanthem

Looking at it now, it is rather strange that before my own experience of the 1989 floods, we had only the hearsay of our own parents of their flood experiences during their own childhood. This gave it the rose tinted outlook: floods sounded like so much fun! That would be an understatement in more ways than one. For starters, my father ended up joining his friends for a “eeshing chaoba yengba chatba” expedition and it was while he was away that the floods decided to come calling! As my younger siblings slept through the night, I was slogging with my mother: we had to pack books and clothes and keep them on higher locations inside the house. We had to wedge in bricks under the hen-coop and repeat the same exercise for the small thatched granary that we had at home. Father came in home after we had done the first stocktaking and calmly said, “the floods have come.” It was as if we still had that fact to be pointed out to us when we had been already been scrambling about with water swirling around our ankles in the house!

Scene in the heart of Imphal: Paona Bazaar. Photo credit: Chitra Ahanthem

But that frantic rush as it turned out later, was not enough. My treasured comic collection was sogged and so was a large part of the granary. My younger brother who had been besotted by two small ducklings and had them in a small cage was heart broken to find later that the waters carried away the ducks: cage and all! Much later after the water receded, the paddy that got wet developed white moulds but the price of rice had gone up after the floods. So we ended up eating pungent smelling rice for a long time and I pestered my parents asking whether our paddy had turned to the huikap breed (it is said that huikap is so called because the taste is so vile as to make even dogs cry!) because of the floods. This would come later but after the scrambling, there was the element of fun that started out with the first morning after the floods came: the sight of an uncle and a cousin rowing on a raft made of the trunk of banana plants. Of course, the lanes in our locality will no longer fit such a contraption now but back then lanes within Leikais were broad and people asked about the welfare of their neighbours. Uncle was telling us that people had started packing their belongings and taking shelter in his building and other tall structures. He sent in a rickshaw to ferry my siblings and myself and we spent 3-4 days with our extended family in their building, a tall one that was still being constructed.
The most vivid memory of that time is the picture of all of us surrounding grand-father as he would tune into the local news on AIR and hearing about when the flood level would go down. There was great excitement and chaos when some snakes came out crawling and the usual circus following naughty children trying out water adventures: the later got taken care of through some trashing! But the fun times did not last long: we had two doctors in the family and they promptly vaccinated all of us children so we did not get any funny infections (am not sure what those injections were about still). Then my maternal grand mother came to fetch us to her home at Kakwa, which was not touched by the flood. I stayed with her for 2 weeks till it was announced that schools would be open once again. That brought the end of all excitement but the after effects of the flood was still around when we got back. We came home to the sight of our mother scrubbing the mud off the hens!
That was then and much has changed. While there are many places around Imphal and its outskirts that stay under flood for a day and more, thankfully they do not remain submerged for days on end. Having said that though, it would be disastrous to remain complacent about floods. The sight of nude electric power lines and cables hanging oh so near above the water surface on the Nambul river is enough to give me ulcers. The flash floods that happen after every brief downpour also continues to be an eye-sore and speaks volumes of how we are not taking care of waste disposals and drainage and sewerage around our houses. Most houses have got added height in their ground floor structures following ground leveling but if each of us can care enough to also think of what lies beyond our own homes, then we could actually get down to living without the slush and the mud. So long as drains remain clogged with plastic or worse, get to vanishing point, the sight of concrete surrounded by slush will remain.

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