Sheikh Lalmohan charts a map around his seat. “There were several houses and roads here... We used to live there.” The unusual bit is that the middle-aged farmer is marking all this out in the muddy waters near the mouth of the Ganga. Lohachara, the island he used to live on, has gone under. Some of the inhabitants were shifted Ghoramara, another island 12 km downstream from the Haldia port. Some others like Lalmohan were shifted to Sagar, the largest island in the world’s largest delta.
But the hungry tides are relentless. Ghoramara and Sagar are under threat, too. The waters here are rising at a rate faster than ever and all attempts at stanching their effect are failing. If things continue this way, more than 1 lakh people in the region are likely to be rendered homeless by 2020.
This is the chilling message brought home by ‘Mean Sea Level’, a 58-minute film premiering in Delhi this Sunday.
Is this a ‘campaign film’? No, says writer-producer-director Pradip Saha. “A campaign film needs to get the message across fast, like an advertisement. This is a slow film in which the people do their own talking,” says the 51-year-old filmmaker. From that view, it’s a decelerated film on what experts term as “accelerated climate change”.
The message travels like a drop of sweat down the spine. Heightening the urgency are the constant laps of waves and a jangling, haunting score by Rahul, Amit and Aseem of Indian Ocean. All of it has been put together superbly in the sound studio by Asheesh Pandya.
Sugata Hazra, director of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, says, “A rise in the sea surface temperature is making cyclones fiercer and more frequent in the region. My 2002 study says some 23 lakh people will be affected if there’s a water surge beyond 2 metres.”
Why isn’t the state tackling the situation on a war footing? Saha says, “The state measures sea rise vertically, in millimetres. The people measure it horizontally, in metres the water has come in.” In between the two takes, a delta is slowly but surely going under.