It’s that time of the year again. My facebook page is flooded with posts and shared memes, either commenting on how the national media and the centre ignores Assam’s flood or asking people to donate stuff. The great floods of Assam are such a part of Oxomia life that it affects not just the affected but also all others who are affected by the effect on the affected. It affects the Oxomia jati, irrespective of whether your bheti has been washed out by the Lueit, Kolong or Pagladia. In fact you could be comfortably perched on a hilltop like me and still be affected by flood. I will tell you how.
However westernized I may be in my half-pant and boy cat hair, I must admit that like a true Oxomia, I too have an emotional attachment to the floods. To me it brings in feelings similar to that of what I get every phagun, bihu, durga puja and my birthday. Before each of these seasons and festivities there is a change in weather and that sets a corresponding emotional ball rolling. For example, phagun comes just after the winters. With its dry wind and slight warmth in the air comes the feeling of unbearable lightness which the Assamese call Urunga. The durga pujas bring in the autumn indicating the end of the oppressive humidity and the floods. The heart clears up along with the skies. You feel festive. My birthday comes in December. The setting of winter is evident in the increased consumption of alcohol. The party season is here.
The floods of Assam, as annual as bihu, durga puja and my birthday are brought in, well obviously, by the rains. Sometimes it is as early as May, you are still delaying taking the blankets to the dry cleaners and there will be the unusually heavy pre-monsoon showers. Normally the pre-monsoon showers are heavy but brief and you give yourself a mental high five for being so clairvoyant (and not lazy) about taking the blankets to the cleaners for you will need them for few more days again. The showers bring in the greenery and a coolness about the air. But the unusually heavy ones will last for days, the unletting dark skies bring in a feeling of gloom and end of the world. You know the floods are here. Soon my facebook will be affected.
Each year thousands of people in Assam get affected by flood. This year’s number is hovering somewhere around 12 lakh. Death toll around 60. 23 out of 32 districts affected. Like each year the thousands affected by flood have taken shelter in the high lying areas around them. Mostly these are the highways and river embankments – the very things that have turned the natural phenomenon of flooding into a disaster. But let’s leave that out of our Oxomia national sentiment. Like each year they wait for the relief to come. Like each year the government announces flood relief packages of crores and crores of rupees. Like each year they get nothing. The lucky ones get one time relief of rice and salt. The unlucky ones of Bongalis, Biharis and Mias do not get anything. For like our Oxomia national sentimental issue of flood, the other Oxomia sentimental issue is that of the ‘bohiragoto’ – the outsiders. So what outsiders have been living, workings, tilling land and selling cheap labour in Assam for ages? So what thousands of ‘Oxomia’ young people are going out of state these days looking for work and a similar fate could await them? So what there is no such thing called a definite Oxomia people, for we are forever divided into bamun-kachari, mahanta-doom, upper assam–lower assam, tribal-non-tribal etc etc? When it comes to the flood and bohiragoto we are suddenly one jati. People taking flood relief to camps think nothing of dividing the flood affected according to language and religion. In fact some flood affected are told in their faces – ‘ ami bongali-bihari k saharjyo nidiu’. We do not give relief to Bengali’s and Biharis. This has happened this year. It happens every year.
What also happens every year is that the national media pointedly forgets to report Assam’s flood. If there is a flood in Rudraprayag it is all over national media, people like the great Khans and Kapoors or Bombay are throwing charity dinners and organizing concerts to raise funds. If there is flood in Gujrat the prime minister is there swimming against the tide and announcing GST free relief of packaged undhiyu and dhokla. Assam gets reported once in one channel somewhere. Our mai-bap, the ‘centre’ to whom we give our votes and have sold most of our self-respect to remembers Assam only after the state’s media and the social media has cried itself hoarse. But one thing the ungrateful Oxomias do not see is that we do get a ‘nisukoni’ (condolence) package every year. By the end of the floods it is announced. By the end of the financial year it is pocketed. So it is not like the government or the national media does not pay any attention to Assam. We should look at the bright side too. For someone wise on facebook has already said – why blame the government for everything, we citizens have some responsibilities too.
I feel it is really unfair to blame us the citizens too. It is particularly unfair to blame us the middleclass citizens in the cities whose hearts bleed annually and collectively in different groups of collecting flood relief materials and making facebook posts and comments. So what our granaries have not been washed out with our year’s supply of dhan like of those in Kaliabor and Marigaon? That is because we do not have granaries. We store food in refrigerators like clever people and that is why we can still put photos of our fancy barbeque-nation food on facebook while collecting sira and gur for the affected.
We are sensitive and we know what the flood affected villagers need. Each of them need 500 ml bislery water to meet their drinking water requirement. And they need anything we can give them – one kg rice, 250 gm sugar and one packet tiger biscuit. Being absolutely gender sensitized we also think about the women. Women’s biggest problem in any situation is that they bleed every month. The village women they bleed every month into patches of old cloth. They wash and dry them. But during flood they need sanitary napkin. For the old, soiled, torn clothes that we donate to them every flood are not good enough to make sanitary napkins. So we ask people to buy packets of sanitary napkins and go and give them to the affected women. One packet each. We give relief like this one time. This helps them for the entire time they will be in relief camps or will be going back to their lost homes and picking up living from the scratch.
And the kind middleclass people are particularly generous when it comes to old clothes. For what to do hey with all these clothes we have to keep buying to keep up with the latest trends. That white peplum top I got last season, those blue spaghetti tops that is a tad faded and that beige pencil skirt that got stained with wine at the club, they are absolutely in wearable condition. And I am sure the flood affected women would love to wear them on top of the sanitary napkins I have given them. Those torn jeans my son has been wearing for years, they are an eyesore. I have been meaning to get rid of them anyway. Some village boy will love to feel like tiger shroff in those while rowing their banana plant raft across the flooded field to shit after dark. The faded linen shirts will protect the farmers perfectly from the summer sun. They are made using organic dyes and are good for the environment too. The whole thing will also clear a lot of wardrobe space for us to buy the latest clothes for the coming fashion season. And also people need clothes right? Like four changes a day and new clothes for every party. Those poor flood affected people have lost all their clothes. They will benefit greatly from my old, faded, sometimes torn, sometimes stained, almost new clothes. So we donate all our old clothes, without bags, for we need the bags to collect more old clothes, and give them away to the flood affected along with the bottle of water and the packet of sanitary napkin.
To do this we put many many facebook posts and send whatsapp messages in groups. We comment on each other’s posts telling each other how great and kind and absolutely unimaginably good people we are that we intervene a situation where even the media and government have failed. Sometimes we organize charity dinners and music concerts. Sometimes we ask businesses to donate. Sometimes we use our traditional practice of forcing people to be charitable by collecting sanda. Most of the time when we collect four bags full of donated stuff, we go and give it to some village. We are careful to remain loyal to our caste, religion, language grouping while doing this. The hindu oxomias will give to the hindus oxomias. The muslims to the muslims. The hindu bengalis usually do not donate and the marwaris leave it to their own local retailers to decide which community it should go to. They earn brownie points from bhagwanji in return. We also follow the appropriate protocol in the donation drive and inform media and try to get the local tv channel or newspaper to report our great action. And of course we put photos on the facebook. This will inspire others to do the same next year.
So the greatest thing about the floods is Assam, which the national media and central government has not understood yet, is that it turns the entire jati into a do-gooder nation at this time, every year. I have already made one whole advisory post, few comments, donated few packets of sira, sugar and biscuit and have successfully dumped all mine and my daughter’s old clothes in a donation box. Some flood affected babies will look really cute in mother care jumpers and polka dotted fur lined pink snow boots this year. It makes me feel soooooo good!