The abrupt shift in the Kosi’s course has flooded fields, submerged villages, drowned people but it has, so far, failed to snuff out the romance in the life of “perhaps 18 or 19-year-old” Tuntun Kumar, a “flood victim” at a relief camp in Purnia’s spanking new Aastha Mandir.
Despite the catastrophe around him, Tuntun remains lost in the thoughts of Archana Devi, his “16 or 17-year-old wife” who is stuck in her marooned village.
Though Tuntun and Archana married last year, their union was to be consummated in October. Till then, Tuntun was to continue living a bachelor’s life in his village, Borarahaha. Archana would stay on in Ratanpatti, a hamlet 10 minutes away from Bororahaha. Both villages, I was told, are in Madhepura.
But nothing works as it should. On August 18, the ‘barrage’ in Nepal burst open. On August 20, the sarpanch in Tuntun’s village warned of the approaching waters. On August 22, the Kosi “suddenly appeared” and like a fuming Kali, devoured everything in sight. Tuntun’s family — his parents and two brothers — clambered atop their house and helplessly watched as the Kosi took over their 10-acre dhaan ka khet. The shock of the loss, amounting to half-a-year worth of earning, around Rs 50,000, made Tuntun forget Archana, for a while. She soon returned to haunt him. But there was no contact with her village. Was she safe? Nobody knew.
After two days on the roof with the water showing no sign of receding, Tuntun’s family decided to escape. They left behind the buffalo and the father (“who would take care of the buffalo?”) and waded for seven kilometers in 4-feet water. “I feared for Archana,” says Tuntun. “I had no idea of her whereabouts.”
They finally reached dry terrain, a place called Bhangaha. A further 10-minute walk took them to the highway at Mirchi Wali chowk where they hitched a ride to camp 50 kilometers away.
For more than a week, there was silence from Archana’s village. “Tuntun wouldn’t even eat properly,” says Anil Kumar, a fellow refugee. Tuntun would repeatedly call on her mobile phone but the line remained dead at the other end. Then on September 6, Tuntun dialed again, expecting a dead-end. But magic — Archana’s phone rang and she picked up.
“Hum kub milenge,” she asked in her “meethi voice”. “Wait for the paani to go down. Phir mil jayenge,” Tuntun replied.