– Satyakam Ray
Odisha is a place of ancient temples and a hermitage of beautiful scenic places. But most of the time, it has been in national and international news as the receiving end of severe floods and cyclonic storms. As it is close to the Bay of Bengal and many large rivers flow through Odisha’s various districts, such natural calamities are unavoidable.
Odisha’s coastal plain has the hexadeltic region’s name or the gift of six rivers. Baitarani River forms the Middle coastal plain, along with the Mahanadi and the Brahmani rivers. Baitarani River is one of the six major rivers of Odisha.
The Baitarani River originates from the Gonasika. It flows mainly between the Keonjhar district. But the flood in the Baitarani River also affects nearby Jajpur and Bhadrak districts. The river enters a plain at Anandapur and creates a zone at Akhuapada. The river drains into the Bay of Bengal after joining the Brahmani River near Chandabali.
The fourth chapter of the Anandapur Chronicles is based on the floods caused by the Baitarani River near the town. Continuing the conversation over tea, Maa reminisced about one such severe flood she witnessed back in the day. It was the year 1975-76.
Heavy downpours happened for nearly 3-4 days. The upper source of the river was flooded near the Gonasika, and the after-effects of such incidents were reflected almost immediately in the Anandapur basin region. Within no time, floodwater entered Anandapur town in the nighttime.
Our grandfather’s place is situated on a slightly higher plateau. There is a small alley on the backside of the house, and the chain of small-time laborer huts lies. On every flood occasion, these huts often collapse by the floodwater. That year was no exception. The flood victims took shelter on the house veranda in the morning.
The floodwater entered the areas surrounding the Uterashwar temple and the Bridge chhaka. The Brajabandhu Vidya Pitha (the High school) was not established. But the building was present. The old D.I. of the school office was operating from that building then. The flood sob story revolves around this building.
The main protagonists of the story are three people. One person was Nrushinga, one worker in the office. Another person was the driver of the office Jeep, who belonged to Cuttack. There was another person present at the office premises during the flood time. These three persons stayed in that building as the water rose during the daytime. All other office workers left the premises. Adjoining people also left their homes to take shelter.
Floodwater surrounded the office from every side. The time was 4 pm evening. A crowd gathered outside the office and stood at a safe distance, watching bemusedly. For some reason, the trio wanted to stay at the office premises. They took shelter on the office terrace. Nobody could guess for what reason!
Being a teenager then, Maa went near the crowd out of curiosity. The public was getting bigger, and so was the floodwater. Now, the floodwater rose to waist level. The river flow was very sharp. In no way could the trio escape the building. The crowd could see the three figures standing on the terrace, helplessly waving to the people and pleading to save them at any cost.
Local authorities arranged speed boats and lunches to help those in immediate danger. The water current was so strong that even the sturdiest among the lifeboats could not handle it. They sank, leaving the boatmen to swim across the flooding river for survival. Anyhow, the boatmen managed to escape the watery grave.
The police and local authorities tried to assuage the panic-stricken trio stranded on the terrace. Everyone requested them to keep standing there and not jump into the rising water at any cost. Prayers and excerpts from the Bhagavad Gita were broadcasted using loudspeakers to boost their ever-dwindling morale.
In the meantime, the crowd could see only 2-3 hands waving furiously, begging for help. Their cries were not audible as the water roared, silencing every other noise. And, making matters worse, the light was fading. By that time, Maa had returned home, and night had arrived.
The time was 11 pm. The water level was at the same level as that of the terrace. Unable to cope with the anxiety and ‘what-if’ scenarios, the trio jumped from the balcony to swim across the river. The police and a few dispersed crowds were still present. They were horrified by seeing this type of audacity and frightened to think about what would happen to the three people. It happened in a rapid time. The crowd’s apprehensions came true.
Only one could swim the flooding river as he was a better swimmer. It was the Jeep driver. The other two local people sank, washed away in the roaring current. Two human lives were lost in the process. They didn’t heed the warnings and repeated requests from the local authorities.
The next day, the two corpses were spotted at a distant place from the building. The water level had also dropped by then. The water level never crossed the terrace. Had they waited a bit longer, they could have been saved easily. It was a matter of little patience and maturity. Maa had seen a corpse lying on the ground the next day with his head down and swollen stomach.
The jeep driver who escaped this fateful day later recalled the incident. According to him, the three could not wait till last as they had lost hope. Even though the roaring water mortified the two who died, they managed somehow to gather some strength to jump into the water to swim. It was a matter of grit and a severe urge for survival. But the boldness hardly matched the skillset of swimming in the bulging water.
There was the biggest ever flood Maa had seen during her stay at Anandapur. It was a shocking incident, nevertheless. This incident teaches us one lesson: no matter the adversities, one should keep patience until the end.
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