Thursday, 14 June 2012

Travel Blues (Part II) (Silchar to Siliguri)

RK Rishikesh Sinha

I get goosebumps whenever I recall the 1993-94 floods in Assam. The tandav of devastation by mother earth on the life and property of people is still fresh and it fails to go away. And in that time of flood, my father and I had to leave Assam. It was a tortuous, harrowing journey that we took from Silchar to New Jalpaiguri (NJP).

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Owing to flood, communication by bus between Silchar and Guwahati had been thrown out of gear. We started our journey from Srikona and boarded in a black-colour boat, usually seen in the Barak River and in its tributaries. Before me, I saw a vast sheet of water that stretched away out of sight.

At that moment, I had a wish if I could see a friend of mine at the spot since everybody would come to witness the level of water. As if God heard my wish, few minutes before we began our journey, I met my school friend Rajesh Sharma who came to see the water level.

It was painful experience for me to follow the same route that used to be once route to my school; but this time I will be travelling it by a boat. We started sailing, the bank and the people were becoming small, ultimately becoming invisible to our eyes. All that we could see around is water — and water. No sign of human, even vegetation. Nothing was spared. There was one boat and that was ours sailing in the sea. Neither there were boats ahead of us nor behind us. All that I was thinking where the people took refuge, where the livestock went. Something that was lingering was the only haunting hush and stillness after the engulfing devastation. Our boatman said that there had been stealing incidents from the passengers before. His comment disturbed the six passengers on the boat.

After few hours of continuous rowing sounds, there was a long patch of land like an island. It was Katakhal railway line. Since I knew the topography of the area well, I guessed there must be a river bridge, and the people of nearby village might be taking shelter in the railway line. But as soon as the railway line became clearly visible, my guess went wrong — there was no sign of human or cattle on the railway line. When I took notice of the boat’s position, I was awestruck and agitated that we were sailing above the Katakhal village. Learning the fact that like Katakhal village, how many villages above which we have been sailing, I was terrified inside. Water submerged everything.

I felt distress remembering an old lady who happened to be our relative. Her house was adjacent to the main road. Where she would have gone? Where her family would have taken shelter? I cannot recognize the entry of her house, where once our Shaktiman Army school truck had to be stopped due to some problem. And she came out with some plums for me and my friends. It was a proud moment for a little boy.

I saw the century-old British constructed Katakhal Bridge, a bridge that surprised anybody new to the region since it is used as a railway track as well as for vehicular traffic, something not seen in the rest of India. We passed adjacent to the bridge, sailing above the river, though there was no river. We sailed for hours without food or water under open sky since morning. And at last we saw the bank where our journey would end. Our journey in water ended reaching Panchgram at evening.

After one or two hours, we again boarded in a bus that would take us to Guwahati. As soon as it left Panchgram, I fell asleep. Next day early morning we reached Guwahati. We got down opposite to Apsara cinema hall. I read the name of the movie; it was Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke. There were no trains running from Guwahati to any part of India due to floods. We went to Paltan Bazar to board a bus to Siliguri.  

The bus was packed full. There were passengers sitting on the floor of the bus; seat for one person were seated by two persons. I was given a small cane-made mura to seat near the engine. It was so small that I could sit scarcely. Sitting in that uncomfortable position, we began our new journey and in this way we left Assam. From Siliguri, we caught the train to reach our destination Srinagar.
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