Bhaskar Chitrakar, 42 years old, a Patachitra artist
OR IN THE ACCOUNT: Caligate
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I have never heard such a sound in my life, said Bhaskar Chitrakar, a native of Caligat, one of the oldest districts in southern Calcutta, and Prime Minister Mamata Banerji. The 42-year-old artist is one of the last Patuan artists in the region, where hundreds of artists, including six generations of his family, once practiced Caligat’s famous paintings on scrolls, depicting myths, legends, socio-political commentaries and satire of the ruling class, particularly the grandmother.
Chitrakar followed the news of the cyclone on TV and social networks, but nothing prepared him for the actual landing on 20 August. May sooner. As the dark clouds lingered and the high speed winds, accompanied by rain, grew stronger, a terrible howl penetrated the sky. It seemed so dangerous, says the artist, who at the time was at home with his mother and older brother. The family closed the windows and stuffed in, waiting for the ominous sounds. Ask anyone around me – including the bazurga (old people) who survived several storms – but no one has ever seen anything so horrible, says Chitrakar, who uses the word bhaiyankar (scary) several times when he talks about an orphan.
A few hours later he took the courage to take a look. Trees have fallen everywhere. Calcutta is famous for its trees. Some are as old as the hills. But most of my neighborhood isn’t worth it anymore, he says. This keeps the roads in the region blocked. Whatever happens, the milk truck always comes. But it wasn’t the first time he came, says Chitrakar, who couldn’t take care of his brother, even though he lives nearby. The day the cyclone broke out, the network was down. One day later, she was incoherent. The road was blocked by fallen trees.
However, Chitrakar considers himself lucky when he reads the news from the villages – especially in the north and south of Pargana, where whole houses have been demolished. Actually, he’s more concerned about the lockdown. Cyclones come and go. But this lockdown has radically changed life. Paisa aata aa nai hai, but kharcha khota jaata hai (the money doesn’t come, but the expenses go on), vouches for him.
It continues to create jobs. Chitrakar is known for combining the traditions of Caligatine painting with contemporary themes from everyday life. Today we see the influence of Covid-19 in his work – with a Bengali grandmother, his wife and cat practicing social detachment, with changing scenes in the house and the crow trying to find a cure for the crown.
He’s also trying to write down his experiences with Hurricane Amphan. Abhi soch raha hun (I still believe). I’ve already received an order from a Bengali collector in London. But it will take some time to accept and absorb everything that happened during the cyclone. Caligat patachitra is a Wyong chitra full of satire. I’m trying to find humor in this tragedy, he says. -Buy Avantika
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Some of them (booksellers) say that they are now starting to sell vegetables.
Isha Chatterjee, 31, Marketing Director, Patra Bharati and CEO of BEE Books.
OR IN THE ACCOUNT: Rue du Collège
The 21st. May appeared on social networks with shocking photos of College Street in northern Calcutta. Clusters of books swam in deep water, their pages were soaked and torn. The beloved book lovers center looked devastated: The iron roofs of the stalls were torn off or crushed under the branches of fallen trees.
I don’t know if the small booksellers will ever come back, calls Ash Chatterjee, Marketing Director of Patra Bharati, a Bengali publisher (owned by her family) and CEO of her English daughter BEE Books. Many of them inherited their business from their fathers and grandfathers. They do not belong to a trade union and do not have a professional licence. Some say they’re about to start selling vegetables.
Chatterjee also suffered heavy losses. Water flooded his bookstore on College Street and a warehouse on nearby Amherst Street. Nobody expected her to climb 3-5 feet, she says. Books fell off the shelves, glass shattered. Because the prices of printing paper fluctuate, publishers have large stocks. That inventory was destroyed. Chatterjee has not yet formed an opinion on the state of the printing presses. Long periods of power outages, followed by sporadic interruptions of the water supply, made it difficult to pump water. A loss can lead to rupees.
College Street is slowly catching up, but she may never find her old noisy avatar. The publishing sector had already been included. Our sales are largely linked to the 300 book fairs held throughout the year in all districts. The cancellation of these events has hit us hard, says Mr Chatterjee. Booksellers who had makeshift stands on the sidewalks, she adds, were the ones who suffered the most. They sell mainly used books, with little profit, and depend mainly on daily cash flow. After the blockade many of them returned to the suburbs. After Amphan’s death there was only a quarter left to save the remains.
Chatterjee and other industry representatives are currently trying to raise money to support booksellers. However, the disorganised nature of the sector makes the distribution of aid difficult. It is to be hoped that some book fairs will resume towards the end of the year, says Mr Chatterjee. But right now, we don’t even know where to start. -Somak Goshal
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The Mandrite God
Continuing without electricity is a big problem.
Mandrita Bose, 30, poet, writer and publicist.
OR IN THE ACCOUNT: Santoshpur
The cyclone changed the daily routine of Mandrita Bose and her parents. They were deprived of electricity for almost a week and went to visit their close family every day. Often they waded on their knees in still water to recharge their phones and stay in touch with the world.
The poet and publicist Bose lives in a two-storey apartment complex in Narayani, near the road to Santoshpur. Continuing without electricity is a big problem, she says.
Because their complex had no electricity, they could not pump water for their house. Bose and his 67-year-old father carried buckets from the ground floor to their second-floor apartment. Some of the older neighbors living upstairs have had to do this several times. The company’s tap in the complex is the only other water source for more than 70 families living there, but the supply is limited to several times a day.
The ground floor is flooded, says Bose. The water didn’t recede until the fourth day. We needed water. We can’t do anything without them: We should use it for cooking and cleaning. That’s the minimum necessary.
There wasn’t enough food either. We couldn’t use the fridge, and the food, lots of fish, was ruined. There was also no electricity in the nearby bazaar, so it was difficult to get basic food, so we had to resort to cooked food, she says.
The Bose family was too often afraid to leave the house, not only because of the constant blockade, but also because of the many reports of people being electrocuted by power lines damaged by trees that fell during the cyclone.
Almost a week later the electricity was restored, but they still can’t use powerful appliances like refrigerators. I remember the current on the 20th. May at about 5:30 in the morning. But I am relieved and very grateful that things are going better to some extent, she says. -Nitin Shridhar
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I thought I couldn’t survive that night.
Jarna Mondal, 45, part-time helper.
OR IN THE ACCOUNT: Yagatpur
It was 1:30 in the afternoon. After lunch, cooked lentils and mashed potatoes, Jarna Mondal from Yagatpur, about 5 km from the airport, noticed the cloudy sky and that the hurricane storm announced by the authorities would arrive at any moment. But she didn’t expect him to rip the roof off her head and make her as good as homeless. Around 6:00 p.m., when the strong wind picked up, I noticed that the nails holding the roof tiles were loosening a bit. After a while I heard the tiles rattling in the wind. An hour later, a large piece of roof tiles was torn from both rooms of my house, remembers Mondal, who worked as a part-time cleaner until a blockade was erected in March.
She and six members of her family, including her two-year-old grandson, sat in the house all night under an improvised roof of a torn tarpaulin. It rained heavily, we could only cover our heads, we were half soaked. I thought I couldn’t survive that night. But I prayed to God for my grandson. I wanted him unharmed, Mondal said.
The next morning there was another test. Both rooms were flooded and the house was flooded with water from the overflow. A bag of rice stored during the blockade was damaged. Someone gave me a bag of rice for free during the lockdown, that’s all I had so far, Montag says.
Earlier Mondal earned about ₹10,000 a month, while his two sons together earned ₹12,000 a month by driving an Autoricxi and selling fruit. Since they have been isolated, they live in their houses and have exhausted their savings. They have no money to repair the roof and the landlord has ignored their request to repair the roof. Living under a sail is our new normal life, Mondal says. -Sonia Sarkar
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I was terrified like a storm chaser…
Chirasri Chakraborti, 46, photographer and storm chaser.
OR IN THE ACCOUNT: Patoules
Two days before Cyclone Amphan swept over Calcutta, Chirasree Chakraborty discovered that the clouds were intensifying and turning into a supercyclone. She was initially enthusiastic and wanted to visit the coastal areas of the state on the eve of her landing, but she did not, because leaving the house would mean endangering the health of elderly family members in this time of pandemic.
I decided to document the hurricane from my terrace. For safety reasons, I also decided not to shoot during the landing. There was a risk of being hit by flying debris or lightning while filming, explains Chakraborty, a member of the Kolkata Cloud Chaser photo team that detects, hunts and documents storms and clouds.
In the morning of the 19th century. The May clouds began to gather in Calcutta, and the guide cloud came from the southwest and announced the beginning of the cyclone around 1400 hours. The pattern was spectacular. I could click on some pictures of the guide cloud, Chakraborty said. I posted these photos on social networks, as well as warnings from the metro department.
Then came the day D-20 May. It’s been raining since this morning. At 4 p.m. the television announced that the head or most of the cyclonic storm would fall on Calcutta around 5.30 pm. The head of the cyclone is the most dangerous, because it causes maximum damage, said Chakraborti. I’m ready to document it. But at 17.00 hours it started to rain heavily with a wind of about 110 km/h. Unfortunately, all my balconies and doors face east. Despite the precautions taken, our three-storey building was flooded.
Instead of photographing or recording the video of the storm, the storm fighter began to wash the ground. The sound of the wind was frightening, almost like the howling of a heavy car. Sometimes there was a hissing sound. Around 8 pm the eye of the storm arrived in Calcutta, indicating that it will calm down, Chakraborta said.
That’s right. Suddenly. Chakraborta went out on the balcony to clean him from the water and look at the clouds, because his mobile phone was full of messages from crashers who wanted to know when the cyclone would leave the city. Around 11 p.m. Amphan left the city and left traces of destruction in the city and other parts of the state. I have witnessed many storms, including the collapse of Cyclone Bulbul and Fani last year and Cyclone Ayla in 2009. But Amphan gave me a little rest. Amphan was one of the strongest hurricanes that survived the worst times. Like a storm chaser, I was scared. I was terrified. -Sonia Sarkar
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I have the privilege of having a roof over my head.
Chanda Karanji, 74 years old, actress.
OR IN THE ACCOUNT: Salt Lake
As a bachelor in town, actress Chanda Karanji is always ready for the worst. She knows she has to fight alone. And this time, when she heard Amphan’s warning shots, she took all kinds of precautions. She was charging her phone. She’s filled her water bottles. She held the most important candles, matches, a torch and a long rope.
When she died on the 20th. May at about 6 p.m., when she heard the sound of broken glass in the neighborhood, she ran to the bedroom of her apartment on the third floor to check the glass in the window for damage. I tied the window to the iron rods with rope so they would survive the storm, otherwise they would have suffered the same fate as many others in my apartment complex, says Karanji, an elite resident of Salt Lake Salt.
When Karanji heard the incessant howling of the wind, she partially opened the door of her balcony to discover that branches of the Gulmohar tree, covered with flowers, were blocking it. Some of their plants were crushed.
I couldn’t keep the door open for long because the wind was strong. But I started filming the scene outside through the windows with my cell phone, Karanji says.
An hour later rainwater came into his bedroom, kitchen and dining room. Water leaked onto one of their shelves and damaged books and special editions of old Bengali magazines. It was very painful, there was no way to fix them all, Karanji says.
It rained all night. But she says she wasn’t scared. I must believe in the words of Rabindranath Tagore: It’s not my prayer that you’ll save me from all dangers, I pray I won’t be afraid if you’re in trouble. Karanji says it made me work all night.
Karanji, who also works as a translator, adds that her inspiration for the stay in the night of the cyclone comes from the indestructible Olan, the wife of the protagonist in Pearl S. Pearl S. Buck is the good earth. I realized that I have to believe that I also have the power to deal with the powerful nature, Karanji says. Moreover, I can never deny the privilege of having a roof over my head, which many people don’t have. -Sonia Sarkar
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