Odisha’s twin calamities — cyclone followed by floods — have not dampened the determination of young girls to study. Despite their homes being swept away by torrent winds or washed away in floods, what some of the school-going girls saved were their books.
“Padh kar hi main Priyanka Chopra ki tarah ban sakti hun (I can become like someone like Priyanka Chopra only through education),” was the realisation of Bhagirathi Saumitra about importance of education. And this was evident from her effort in drying her class VIII textbook in bright sunshine after cyclone hit her New Podampita Village, around 170 km south of Bhubaneswar.
In some more houses in the village, girls could be seen drying books along with staple diet for the family — grains and fish. When everyone in her village ran to a hill for protection from the cyclone, Saumitra could only manage to collect few of her school books.
“We asked her to take some food for the night. She refused and insisted on taking the books,” recalled her father Chandra Balaram, while rebuilding his thatched mud house.
Around 440 km towards north in flood hit Balasore district, Anita Patra has repeated Saumitra’s act. She collected her wet books when her family abandoned their marooned village to take temporary shelter on the national highway between Kolkata and Chennai.“I have to complete my home-work after the Puja holidays. Two days were wasted because of floods,” she said, not distracted by honking trucks on the highway.
In flood affected and Muslim dominated Gopinathpur village, more girls attend school than boys. These girls are now fluent in Hindi and Oriya and read a bit of English also, whereas many of the boys are comfortable talking only in their mother tongue Oriya.
A girl dries her text books in the sun at the cyclone Phailin-affected Buxi Palli village near Gopalpur, Odisha. (Arabinda Mahapatra/HT Photo)