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Brave hearts, golden hearts

Stories of courage in great adversity, and of unity despite squalor, are emerging amid tales of misery from the flood ravaged expands in northern Bihar. Neelesh Misra and Amitabh Jha tell more.....

india Updated: Sep 06, 2008 23:24 IST

Swept away by the furious river, the speech and hearing impaired man sat trapped in the bamboo bush for more than 10 days, a deadly snake twirl around his head and a dog gnawing away at his feet, assuming he was dead.

But Govind Shah, 40, was alive, hungry and desperate after the flood swept away his son –– surviving on little else but the willingness to live.

Stories of courage in great adversity, and of unity despite squalor, are emerging amid tales of misery from the flood ravaged expands in northern Bihar.

Shah was washed away from his home in the Murliganj area by the furious current; he watched helplessly as his son was also engulfed by the waves.

“He cannot speak or hear since birth –– he couldn’t even call out for help,” said Dr SNQ Nashar, the doctor who first treated him. “He is severely hydrated but ok.”

In another part of Murliganj, 56 –year-old labourer Manzoor Alam had been woken up by the neighbours’ desperate screams on August 20 at 3:30 am.

Soon after, Alam and his wife Hasna Khatoom began walking in chest-deep water with their seven-year-old son and took the neighbour’s mentally disadvantaged teenaged daughter as well. She had been left behind; this seemed the only way to save her life.

“I was trying to save her in the current –– and then all of a sudden my son was swept away. I saw him die before my own eyes,” Alam said tearfully. “But I still didn’t let go of the poor child.”

Schools are shut across several districts to house flood affected people and security forces. But teachers – even those not ordered by the government –– are busy distributing food to children and supporting them in relief camp.

The camps have brought Hindus in a harmonious community existence with Muslims, and affluent rural families –– now ripped of all their belongings –– with the abject poor.

When a Muslim woman was in labour in a relief camp, two Hindu women delivered her baby girl.

And in several areas, poor villagers have stepped in with donations of grain and clothes to help the displaced since government relief has been hard to come by.

More than 16,000 people squashed together in a relief camp in a mango orchard in Janaki Nagar village got only 10 quintals of water, 100 sheets of plastic, some rice, and milk powder from the government, said Mukesh Kumar of the Panchayat community.

“We didn’t know how we would manage –– but people are coming on their own, giving small donations of food and milk,” he said.

“More than 600 people have come to my village and are staying at the schools,” said master Mohiuddin, a 55-year-old teacher from Zorganj village in Purnia district.