Frenzied winds and mammoth waves that came with cyclone Aila three months ago here may have come and gone, but the misery they brought with them, lingers on. Now that the waters have settled, a stoic calm has descended on the people of the Sunderbans.
Adversity has given way to opportunity; the villagers have found new means of eking out a living in these troubled times.
“As the estuarine waters entered our fields, they brought with them lobsters and fishes in the hundreds. All we had to do was set up traps and catch them,” said Sumana Mondal.
Gule, as estuarine fish is locally known, was caught in such large numbers that the market price of the fish was affected, said Bikash Mondal, a local fish trader at Anpur village. “Prices for gule fell from Rs.140 a kilo to Rs.70 in the market at Canning,” he said.
Back to the jungles
But in three months, the fish catch has shrunk and the waters have been pushed back to the canals. Since the villagers must search for alternative means of livelihood, many have gone back to the jungles.
In the last 10 years, the number of people who went to the recesses of the forest had declined. However, in times like these, they have to go — braving the threat the tigers pose, said Arindam Mondal.
While the men re-enter forests, the women step into the waters to comb them for prawn larvae. A thousand larvae fetch Rs.70 from the traders. That too has its dangers.
“The chance of a crocodile making away with a limb is imminent, but we are used to taking such risks,” said a smiling Sharaswati Sardar.
After the rains
Once the rains are over, the catches will dry up as will the drinking water they collect in suspended tarpaulin sheets, but Arindam Mondal is unfazed. He’s certain that something else will come up.
Experts and veterans have written off the croplands as infertile for at least a couple of years, but tillers trudge on in ankle-deep waters, sowing paddy in the very same fields.
“It will not be the usual yield, but who knows we might be able to harvest a small crop,” said Tarak Mandal, a daily-wage earner, who works in the rice fields.
Quite accustomed to the administrative apathy, they will go to the Panchayat or the Block Development Officer, demanding the Rs.10,000 compensation for their damaged homes.
The children are back in schools, with or without books. The younger ones miss the midday meals that are no longer served.
“Often, we don’t have classes as some teachers have left, but it’s still fun to go to school,” said Sonali Burman, a middle school student.
With their lives so closely entwined with the waters that surround them, the people of this tide country have gone back to the daily rhythm of the tides.