Saturday, 22 December 2012

Story of a little village road...

... the ever energetic Suchismita

Suchismita was the highly energized one. So high voltage, that we had to find new ways to keep her focused and channelize her energies. Though she was also the one coming back with new ideas and arguments, which took the class forward.

Suchismita had an older brother and no father. He committed suicide, a few years ago trying to repay a loan he had taken to start a new business. Suchi, 13, wasn’t aware of the reason. I was told by the cycle van driver who took us to her house.

Suchi and 9 of her friends from class 9 of Dhablat Lakhsman Paribesh School were in an 8-day workshop making a film on sustainability. Their vision of sustainability, from their lived experience. I was the trainer who was a teacher and a co-learner at the same time. We were in the biggest island in the Sunderbans delta. All of 300 sq Kms. called Sagar.

Each child made an interesting journey to school. We thought we should explore Suchi’s. Just to know our filmmakers better. Suchi’s grouse was that on exam days she would be very anxious waiting for the boatman to finish his lunch and take her across the river. This excited me and Dharma, my co trainer, to do this journey with Suchi, one day after the workshop was done.

Suchi was thrilled. Her Sir had decided to visit her home. Evening was closing in. A small rivulet was to be crossed first. We waited for the only ferry boat in service and then waited for it to be full up before we could cross. A daily passenger Suchi, was today in the limelight. Everyone was asking- who we were? She proudly announced that she was making a film and these were her filmmaking Sirs.  

The boat ride was short. Then the cycle van. A flat bed made of wooden splats on two wheels drawn by a cycle. You sit on the wooden splat bed, careful not to get your legs entangled in the wheels. The ride took us about 30 minutes. We had to take a longer route today because the shorter one was being flood repaired.  Bobbing up and down on the village mud roads, we came upon a scene and there was commotion. Members of a family including women and children were sitting out on the road. On inquiring, we learnt that there had been a theft in their house.

The light was fading fast by the time we reached Suchi’s straw, mud and roof tiled house. Powered by their own solar ‘plate’ on their tiled roof. Her mother promptly produced tea for all of us and we had a few laughs over Suchi’s overflowing energy levels. Her house was next to a small patch of forest, which gave them fuel wood. No famed Sunderbans tigers on this island.

By the time we were out of her house it was pitch dark. There were no streetlights as is common in rural areas. Our cycle van driver produced a contraption which was a torch slung by a string over the cycle handle, pointing towards the road, throwing a small pool of weak yellow light. Visibility wasn’t more than a few meters. The road was a raised strip and the sides ended up in a ditch before the rice fields began. Once one of the back wheels was found precariously fighting a complete dislodge into the ditch. Thankfully it won that round and we all were still safe. We crossed the family out on the road. The cops were awaited still. One oil lantern had been added to the crowd.  Amidst the cacophony of cricket, the village was lit by tons of flickering oil lamps though a few low voltage CFL bulbs were also on display powered by solar plates. What I dreamt that night was, what if our cycle van had lost the battle and we overturned into the ditch?!

The children were making a film on the proposed development of the island. A port, a bridge joining mainland Kolkata to their island and power stations were proposed. Tourism and infrastructure development were next. The children were apprehensive of the new proposals of the adults.  They were ready to take an extreme ‘all development is bad’ tenor in their film, had it not been for my trip to Suchismita’s house that evening. Is, having streetlights in their village a bad idea?  Roads, which don’t flood every monsoon? A small bridge across the river, which may help Suchi bring her cycle across and not wait for the boatman to finish his lunch on exam days?

Controlled and an inclusive development is good. But a runaway development especially for an island ecosystem, could spell doom is what their film said.

Ajaner Deeper Golpo- A story of an Unknown Island.

Perched on the edge.... on the way to Suchi's village

Krishnendu Bose
New Delhi
22nd December 2012

Watch this space to view this film…

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