Wisdom of the Wild

By Ratnottama Sengupta

Protima could not believe her eyes when she got back home from the shelter after the super cyclone had spent itself. Her milch cow was standing on the pukka road that led to the river Mani — one of the many arms of the Hooghly before it flows into the Bay of Bengal. Right next to the cow stood Lalu and Bhulu, the two pariah dogs who had made her courtyard their home. All three wagged their tails as she approached them. But she stopped short as she looked towards the pile of hay stacked next to her kuccha* hut: On top of the pile, were the hen and the ducks!

Protima was amazed. They had stood there all through the stormy night of rain and gale, as Amphan churned the water of the Bay and flooded the land on both sides of the river that flows 50 meters from her house. They did not run amok when the hurricane winds blew away the thatch roof off her mud walls…The television channels had been blurting the news for days and days that the government had alerted the state about the cyclone that was to land at a speed of 160 kmph. How fast is that? Who knows! Even cars, if they come to this remote corner of West Bengal, don’t run at more than 40 kmph.

The panchayat had organized for the villagers to seek shelter in the local school which was a double storeyed structure. That’s where Protima had followed her husband just before the wind started its tandava* in the afternoon; he with his nonagenarian father on his back, she holding the hands of her younger twins and her elder daughter clutching the free end of her sari. Only, even as they were fastening the doors before rushing out of the hut, she had unlocked the coop to let out the hens and untied the rope around the neck of the cow. That proved a saving stroke: the cow moved away from the house far enough to be safe from the flying roof, yet close enough for Protima to find her when she came back home.What is more, the two dogs followed the cow and not only kept her company — they even held on to her tail and sought the support of her hind legs to keep their noses in the air when the salt water of the ocean came riding the fresh waters in high tide.

Although it came up to her belly and chest, the cow stood stock still and did not kick the canine members of the assorted family. The ducks too did not ditch the hens. They could have paddled away in the flooding water. They didn’t. They inchoately knew that the hens do not swim. They had all come out of the coop and assembled on top of the haystack — quacking and clucking, clucking and quacking even when the birds on the swirling trees had stymied their cheeping.

Miles away from Raidighi, Protima’s mother Chhabi was reminded of the earlier severe cyclone Aila that had struck precisely eleven years ago. That day the second named cyclone of the North Indian Ocean had come at a speed of 110 kmph leaving a million souls homeless. That time too, all the members of her neighbour, Haran Sardar’s family had scurried off to seek the safety of the only concrete structure — the middle school — in the village on the vicinity of Gangasagar in the Sunderban region.

In the haste stemming from their anxiety, they didn’t notice that their father, an old man in his seventies, had lagged behind to secure their meagre belongings and beddings. However, as the strong winds coincided with the high tide, the water rose faster than he expected, and cut him off from the safe house. But Haran Khuro* was a wood cutter whose feats are still narrated to the younger lot. He looked around him and swiftly climbed up on the nearest tall tree and, at the fork of two sturdy branches, secured himself with his coarse cotton gamchha*.

A while later, as the swift waters rose further, he noticed a black keute — Bengal krait — emerge out of the whirling white and slither up the bark of the same Hetal tree. The old man at once untied his gamchha, clambered up a few notches and found himself a perch in the highest of boughs.

As the water kept rising higher still, he noticed a tiger emerge out of the cluster of Sundari trees. Swiftly, though, noiselessly the feline came and seated itself at the foot of the very same tree that had already given shelter to a venomous snake and and an infirm biped. “Oh God!” Haran Khuro thought to himself. “I climbed up the tree to be safe from the flood — but where can I go to save my life now?” Sheer helplessness got the better of him and he fainted then and there, fastened to the tree by the gamchha around his waist.

That may have saved his life. Or was it the innate instinct of animals — wild, venomous, or social — not to be hostile and fight with another being faced with the same wrath of Nature, but to live peaceably? For, two hours later, when the waters receded, the tiger ambled back into the forest, the keute slid down the tree trunk and returned to its hole in the ground; and Khuro‘s sons rowed down in a fishing boat with a search party looking for the father.

He? He was still tied to the tree with his worn-out gamchha…Young Sujata had yet another story about the coevality and harmonious sharing of the living space by the humans and wildcats of the region that is the breeding ground of crocodiles. Kaal Baisakhis are a routine feature here. These Nor’westers frequent the southern tip of Bengal in the summer months of April and May, often with violent hurricane-speed winds, causing tornadoes. Just before sunset or immediately after it thick dark clouds appear in the southern sky foretelling gale-speed winds and torrential rains.

After one such evening Sujata and her younger siblings had gone off to sleep on the floor of the hut while their parents had retired to the sole cot in the room after making their Grandpa comfortable in the apology for a veranda that had no side walls but still had a roof overhead. Next morning the mother was woken up by the old man’s voice. “Ei byata, where has this dog come in from? Jaa! Go make yourself comfortable elsewhere. Hey! Why lean on me? You’ll crush my frail bones by your weight! Go away…”Alarmed by the monologue, she hurriedly opened the door. And froze. Nudged by the sleepy old man, the cub Panthera Tigris had got to its feet and was stretching itself out of its slumber.

It turned its head at the sound of the door opening, looked into the eyes of the lady of the house that had sheltered him from thunderous sleet, and sauntered away towards the jungle…..As I listened to these ladies from Bon Bibi‘s* domain, a single line from the Hollywood movie Black Panther kept playing in my mind: ‘In times of crisis the wise build bridges while fools build barriers…’

How very true! In the face of tidal waves and hurricane winds, tigers and snakes, cows and dogs, hens and ducks exist in harmony. But our political netas?! They sharpen their knives and reach for arms. The BJPs and INCs, TMCs and CPMs, SJDs and DMKs, the Republicans and Democrats, the Tories and Labours of the world can’t stop bickering, they all try to score over their opponents. Why do they only think of fishing in troubled waters?

*Kuccha — impermanent, mud hut

*Tandava — Shiva’s dance of rage

*Khuro — Uncle

*Gamchcha — A light strong absorbent piece of cotton, often used like a towel

*Bon Bibi — Forest queen

*Netas — Politicians

Ratnottama Sengupta turned director with And They Made Classics, on the unique bonding between screenwriter Nabendu Ghosh and director Bimal Roy. A very senior journalist, she has been writing for newspapers and journals, participating in discussions on the electronic media; teaching mass communication students, writing books on cinema and art, programming film festivals and curating art exhibitions. She has written on Hindi films for the Encyclopaedia Britannica; been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. The former Arts Editor of The Times of India is also a member of the NFDC’s script committee. Author of Krishna’s Cosmos and several other volumes, she has recently edited That Bird Called Happiness (2018/ Speaking Tiger), Me And I (2017/ Hachette India), Kadam Kadam (2016/ Bhashalipi), Chuninda Kahaniyaan: Nabendu Ghosh (2009/ Roshnai Prakashan).


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.




Double dread

By Madhu Srivastaw


Corona cries all around

Amphan raged destruction             

Yet I am me

Living on day to day

Settling my daily scores

Domestic, parental chores

Transferred money to PM fund

Gave food to beggar that came home

Wrote a poem or two

As Amphan screeched it’s belly out

Wrenching people’s life in tears

Rendered roofless by a spat of wind

Precious trees breathing life

Uprooted, broken, lying low

Immersed in darkness of night

With cyclone screaming raging rife

I kept the kids with me in bed

Diverting them in singing sprees

My mother with her heart in mouth

Kept her fingers clasped in prayers!

It diminished slowly…flew apart

Taking away our comforts fast

Electricity snapped; network gone

At least we had our homes intact

Yet we cribbed, sulked, complained

Though hundreds had lost their homes

Torn apart by Amphan’s fury

Coastal areas lost their lives

Electric poles all headlong down

Uprooted shrivelled trees abound

Government help haplessly seek

Only God can save us now

As though Corona was not enough

He sent Amphan to double the dread!


Madhu Sriwastav is Assistant Professor of English. She is based in Kolkata. She is a poet, translator, critic and reviewer. She has published poems in various national and international journals and anthologies. She has performed poetry in several poetry festivals. She writes on anything that touches her. She is working on her upcoming book of poems.





Amphan Stories: Uprooted Trees & Broken Nests

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

The giant tree was pulled away from the bosom of the Earth after an intense struggle that lasted for several hours in the dark. It was razed to the ground much like the vandalized bust of a dictator overthrown in a coup.  

The birds in all their wisdom had chosen to build their nests in the sturdy tree that came with the implicit assurance of a safe haven. The tree that listed several encounters of surviving severe cyclones in its resume had caved in this time after four decades of brawny existence.

Birds asleep quite like passengers in long-distance trains that collide in the middle of the night – a big jolt wakes them up to discover their world turned upside down. Something similar must have rattled the birds when they found themselves closer to the ground through the thick foliage of leaves that cushioned their unceremonious fall. 

Imagine those moments of confusion and hopelessness when they extricated themselves from the wreckage to fly off to nearby safety. The swaying electric wires clutched their nervous feet as they tried to make sense of the world during the incessant downpour, vigorously shaking their rattled heads to puff up resilience in their wings, waiting patiently and calling out other members of the family to unite. 

In the wee hours of the morning, I woke up to hear fresh new voices in the garden. As I opened the window of my study, the reality outside and my imagination matched like the blood group of two strangers. The guava tree was the makeshift home where the homeless birds had now gathered and perhaps united with their loved ones. Their chirping was probably their excited conversation to chalk out the future plan of rehabilitation. More birds flew in and sat beside their families, sharing updates of empty spaces available in the mango and jackfruit trees where they could build new nests. Agile and faster than human beings in rebuilding homes, some were already flying around carrying pieces of straw and wires in their beaks as the new foundation for cosy, durable nests to cuddle in.  

Quite a few of their flock sat still and gazed at the uprooted tree, perhaps fondly recollecting the good times they enjoyed up there. Like us, they were probably fond of living in grandeur. Maybe they were also proud of having an opulent residence in a giant tree that looked like a mansion. With no other tree of such magnificence around, they would now have to settle down with some modest options.   

I joined the birds in observing the uprooted tree. The vacant space was brimming with strange, unfamiliar brightness. What stood hidden behind the tree all these years was now clearly visible. The balcony of the neighbour was in full view. The death of the tree had brought us visually closer. I was not too happy with the new reality and I do not think he would be happy either to reveal the colours of his innerwear left to dry on the balcony railing every day.

I was habituated to look in that direction because of the giant tree. I looked at it whenever I was thinking of ideas. The circle of leafy delight energised my mornings. The sight of the tree stirred and stimulated creativity. Now the neighbour would think I was gazing at him or waiting for the beautiful women of his household to stage an appearance there. He would go further to call it an invasion of privacy – the arousal of voyeuristic tendencies.

I suspect my repeated gaze would make him erect a glass window to cover up the balcony area, to stay safe from my ogling. I would still be looking at the giant tree because it is planted in my mind forever. I would still look at it through my inner eye and seek inspiration. Difficult to make people understand that creative folks often fix their gaze at something but they think of something completely different.    

The relief team arrived with a truck – hearse to ferry the mortal remains of the tree. They were more brutal than the cyclone as the dead tree was axed further, chopped into small logs to be sold as timber. Only the tree trunk was left behind and people gathered to click its photos for their social media feeds. Some strangers passing by stood silent to mourn its demise more sincerely than the residents around. The uprooted tree created no signs of emotional distress in the people who lived in its vicinity. Perhaps it is true that the death of a family member does not necessarily cause much agony to the survivors in the family – people who have no blood relationship are also likely to shed more tears.  

A fleeting thought of grafting its small branch in my garden – with a concrete slab to perpetuate its memory – did cross my mind. And the epitaph recording the cause of its death: Amphan. Does a tree deserve to be immortalised? Does a tree become evergreen in history? Or it remains just like us ordinary mortals who come and go? Enlightenment makes all the difference. We are all uprooted from time to time, in so many different ways. The uprooted tree left behind a lot for me to dig up within.  



Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short fiction and essays have been published in Kitaab, The Bombay Review, Deccan Herald, The Assam Tribune, The Sunday Statesman, Earthen Lamp Journal, and Readomania. Pal Motors is his first novel.




Cyclone Amphan & Lockdown

As cyclone Amphan fireballed and ripped through Kolkata, Nishi Pulugurtha gives a first hand account of how she survived the fear and the terror of the situation

Forecasts and news did not prepare us for the actuality of it all till it actually happened.  We had taken all necessary precautions but what happened on the evening of the 20th of May 2020 rattled and disturbed a lot. Cyclone Amphan was moving slowly over the Bay of Bengal and was expected to make a landfall in the southern parts of Bengal and lash the city of Kolkata as well.

News of this nature is troubling and more so in times of the pandemic. As it is we are all at a loss, stuck at home, worried about how things would turn out. As news kept pouring in about the cyclone which turned in to a super cyclone, the common refrain was why now. Things seem to be getting worse. At a time when we needed to maintain social distancing, people were being evacuated into cyclone shelters. This had to be done, the cyclone would wreak havoc and arrangements had to be made for lives to be saved.

At home, I heard my mother’s carer, Kajal, talking constantly about it over the telephone. She was calling up home and talking to her family members about it. Her home is in Namkhana, South 24 Parganas which would bear the brunt of the cyclone very strongly. Her sister who lives in Bakkhali by the coast, had been evacuated well in advance before the cyclone made a landfall. 

Kajal kept telling me that this was worse than the cyclone Alia as there had been announcements in Namkhana and Bakkhali about how high the waves of the Bay of Bengal would lash out as well. As it began to rain she spoke to her folks, they were all at home, and expecting the river waters to rise had moved everything at home to higher places. Her home is just beside a river. The last time she spoke to her family members was when it was lashing the place. The asbestos sheet that was their roof had been blown away and they were unable to move out of the house as three trees had fallen on the house and one was blocking the door. There were tears in her eyes as she said there was no way anyone could come to rescue her folks.

At about four o’clock I decided to venture out a bit just to have a look at what was happening outside and that is the first time I heard the sound of the wind. It was loud, real loud, of the kind I do not recall hearing in recent times.

It began raining heavily in Kolkata and at home we began securing the glass windows. The intensity of the wind began increasing and we readied candles and match boxes. I even made dinner early as I was sure the electricity supply would go off. I made arrangements for water, both for drinking and use too. Living with someone who is in an advanced state of Azheimer’s, I needed to be prepared with how to deal with things. Living in the moment is something that dementia instills into us.

Friends and cousins started enquiring about how we were holding on. Holding on is something that Amma and I have been doing since her diagnosis had come in. And it is something that every one of us is doing in times of Covid-19. As the storm raged on, the sound and intensity kept increasing.

The tumult of it all was frightening and scary. I opened a window to look out to see how things were outside and that is when I could hear even more loud noises. Many houses in the neighbourhood had fibre sheds on the terraces and as the wind raged, the tins intensified the roars. The sound was fiery and nightmarish. Within our compound was a two storied house that had such a shed on its terrace. As I looked out from the window, I saw a fibre sheet rip off and fly. It frightened me out of my wits.

What if it should hit someone outside. It would lash against electric poles and wires too. It was getting dark too. It was a scary scenario. I closed the window and rushed to be with Amma. She does not speak at all now for some years, the ravages wrought by Alzheimer’s, but it was clear that she was very perturbed. We were enclosed in darkness. I started speaking to her and sat beside her, comforting her. We sat huddled up together not knowing what would happen.

At about 7.30 pm, it seemed that the noises were less. I opened a window again to look out. The wind was no longer raging though it was still raining. My neighbours were out in their verandahs, torches and mobile flashlights on, trying to make some sense of the damage that had been done.

It was too dark to make sense of how things were but we did see our whole compound was waterlogged.  It was important be indoors, to try and be calm. I asked Kajal for news about her family and the state of her village. The last she heard of them was when they had been evacuated and were lodged in a neighbour’s house, all safe. That was at about six in the evening. She said she was unable to get in touch with anyone after that. She tried calling all those whose numbers she had, not just of her family members but also of local villagers, but to no avail.

We had dinner in silence, the electric supply was restored. Amma was taken to bed but she was awake for most part of the night, making noises once in a while. She usually sleeps till twelve, is awake for some time and then falls asleep again. She slept in the wee hours of the morning. I went out to have a look at things in the morning, water all around, my small garden in a mess, the plants mostly bent, fibre sheds strewn around in the compound, glass pieces on my car parked outside.

Thoughts of the pandemic were pushed back, all of us in Kolkata and all over Bengal and Orissa were more concerned about the cyclone and all the devastation it has brought.

I got a call from the local grocer at 6.30 in the morning, I had ordered a few things yesterday before it started. He called up to say that they were on the way. I told him that he could wait. He replied that things were all ready for delivery, moreover I might be in need. The young boy who delivered them told me that there was knee deep water in places.

I asked Kajal if she had any news of her family. She said she had been trying throughout the night but to no avail. There was no news at all. She was with Amma as she usually is. They were holding each other’s hands.

Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University, Rabindra Bharati University and the University of Calcutta. She is the Secretary of the Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata (IPPL). She writes on travel, film, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in Prosopisia, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Kitaab, Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The World Literature Blog and Setu. She guest edited the June 2018 Issue of Café Dissensus on Travel. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019). She is now working on her first volume of poems and is editing a collection of essays on travel.