Every Srinagar on earth is perhaps destined to have a Dal Lake. Srinagar, a moderately upscale Guwahati locality I live in, has one on the bend of the main lane. This perennial pool expands into a black-brown ‘daldal lake’ whenever it rains heavily.
This Tuesday, the downpour was heavier – and longer – than usual. And our Dal Lake embraced the gooey pools of other localities to drown almost half of Guwahati, the alleged Gateway to the Northeast.
A call woke me up at 7:30am. It was from Manik, the driver of the school van that takes my elder son to school. “Dada, Tarunnagar (adjoining locality) is under neck-deep water. I can’t take my van out. Please excuse me today,” he said.
I wobbled out of bed to inspect the surroundings. Neck-deep was an overstatement; the world outside seemed abdomen-deep.
But Manik needn’t have worried. Before he had called, the school authorities had pasted a notice outside the gate: “School will remain closed today due to water-logging”.
Office managements don’t think like schools. So Rana Kalita, one of my Don Bosco schoolmates, reluctantly stepped out of his house at Nabinnagar stripped to the bare minimum, his formals and shoes wrapped in polythene. “Barely a foot of my five-feet gate was above water. I waded to the gate but returned because it was deeper beyond,” he said.
It was worse in areas further away, such as Anilnagar.
Srinagar, at least, was navigable. For the rickshaws, at least. The rickshaw-pullers made a killing, pulling instead of pedalling people for Rs 150-200 to the nearest bus stand. The inflated fare worked out to Rs 20 per 10 feet. If no one complained, it was perhaps because staying dry in a vast body of yucky water mattered more.
“What’s the flood scene? Are you filing anything?” Upala Sen, our Nation deputy chief called around 10am. “Filing is no problem. Going out to collect information is,” I said, explaining how one of the enquirers of the marooned was marooned.
Guwahati has been prone to water-logging ever since unplanned urban expansion claimed a network of beels – marshy water bodies – that worked as natural drainage for excess rainwater. Road engineers complicated things by raising road and lane levels after every rainy season.
Water-logging worsened with every inch the roads rose.
Two days before, I had had to beat a retreat from Jorabat, the junction beyond the south-eastern end of Guwahati from where the highway to Meghalaya capital Shillong breaks away from the highway to underwater Kaziranga and beyond. That junction has had an acute water-logging problem ever since work on East-West Highway commenced half a decade ago.
Today, I had to return from the ABC Point where Rajiv Bhavan is situated. Because the marooned of Tarunagar and other adjoining localities had blocked the thoroughfare for two hours seeking an end to their water woes.
God perhaps has the answer. Or chief minister Tarun Gogoi, once he returns from his US trip.