Thursday, 25 February 2021

Being A Friend (In)deed For Families Of Uttarakhand Flash Floods

 



It is a bright Sunday morning as I sip tea in a cosy corner of the balcony, planning my day ahead, when a sudden phone call from office disrupts the ritual.

I am told that due to an emergency situation having arisen in Tapovan Vinshnugarh, post the catastrophic flash flood that happened a week ago, I’m required to reach the site at the earliest possible. My mind starts wandering frantically. I perhaps know what it is!

Immediately, I make a move from Delhi to the site through a bafflingly long journey, meandering through colossal Himalyan mountain ranges with ruffling Ganges flowing beneath.

By the time I reach, the evening clouds have already descended with a rain storm, dropping the temperature to two degree centigrade. Within an hour, we are briefed about our critical tasks.

Natural calamities cannot be averted but how well is it managed defines a team. And now is the time!

 

*****


On February 7th, at around 10:40 am, over 150 contract workers were discharging their duties in the NTPC’s Tapovan Vushnugarh Hydropower Plant – like any ordinary day.

Just then, a huge turbulence from the valley headed towards the site making deafening uproar. Even before they could fathom it, a giant swell of water spewing muck and smolder crashed on them giving no time to shout or even turn around to gasp. Within seconds, the fiend washed the workers off their feet, burying them deep under silt and water. The uber scenic Tapovan valley, including the hydropower plant, got mercilessly rampaged.

Within minutes, Team NTPC stood steadfast on the ground in a 24*7 rescue and relief operation alongside assistance from the central and state agencies. It had taken upon itself a daunting task - to help unite families, compensate for the losses and bridge the broken chord of hope.

The task was unnerving but the spirit to heal it up was one notch higher.

 

*****

 

The task assigned to me is not as simple as I thought it would be.

It is my seventh day when I have been going around the rough hilly terrain as part of the Relief Team to meet and counsel families in Chamoli district whose members have gone missing in the flood.

Every single house is gloomy with a distinct sadness and a perplexity of not being able to find a closure. While the hopes of their lost ones coming back kindles on a bleak flame, there is also no news of their death as many bodies have yet not been found. The void of long wait in their eyes yearns for an answer – an answer that they seek from us.

Some story imprints simply fail to leave the mind.

After a steep climb of over two hours uphill, at the foot of Shivalik, we enter an extremely small, dark hut. Even in the icy Himalayan weather, it is kept warm with a kettle of boiling water kept on cooking fire. It is here that I meet her – the timid lady in her early thirties – surrounded by two little children, an ailing mother in law and several relatives who have gathered to console her. After the catastrophic flood, her husband has gone missing for last twelve days.

‘He won’t return, didi,’ she says to me.

As I hug her, she breaks in my arms wailing loudly and then whispers, ‘Do you know I am pregnant by six months?’

Her tears wet my palms. I hug her even tighter. I am no longer a relief team member but a woman who wants to take away all her pain but feels frail in front of nature’s ire.

Yet, I must do what I can! Pass all our strength to her! I put myself into her shoes for a moment, try to live her emotions and feel her agony. We stay in silence holding one another for a long time. Sometimes silence does a magic that words never can.

She asks me several questions, most of which would never have a perfect answer, but I take each one up trying my best. Between a heart-melting conversation, welled-eyes and disquiet, I take a pause, hold my heart and explain her what no one else would – how to utilise the monetary compensation effectively so that it helps her gain back the ground and resurrect the family.

Yet again I realise that there neither is and never shall be a rule book for handling difficult conversations. No words, stories or one-liners either! The only chord that connects hangs on the subtle string of empathy.

One after the other, I meet hapless mothers who refuse to accept their loss of their sons. I meet sobbing sisters who have fumble speaking of their good old days. I meet old, physically frail fathers who still await their child’s comeback. I meet wives whose tears have dried up and toddlers who are unaware of what calamity has struck. I meet the newly born and even the unborn!

With every family that we touch, I leave a part of myself there and take back a part from them. At the end, we are all made up of the same fabric – the one which rests on hope.

In my sixteen years of career with NTPC, it has taught me to be compassionate, stay strong, be resilient, hold hands in times of crisis like a family and never give up. It is time, I pass on the strength to those who need.  

Until Tapovan heals, lost men are found, homes are rebuilt and the sun begins to shine back on the snow laden peaks with the same glory as before, we shall stay in solidarity.


“Hope is the thing with feathers,

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all.”


And so shan’t we!

NTPC’s hard work continues. The rescue and relief operations speed up. While I move ahead to touch more lives and help them stay strong. 




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