Introduction to the Lesson
The story gives an account of the storm that hit the coastal town of Ersama in Odisha state in the year 1999. A young boy Prashant faced the fury of the storm and reached his village. The details of how he worked hard to help the villagers overcome the devastation caused by the storm inspire us to have courage and a positive approach towards life.
Lesson and Explanation
ON 27 October 1999, seven years after his mother’s death, Prashant had gone to the block headquarters of Ersama, a small town in coastal Orissa, some eighteen kilometres from his village, to spend the day with a friend. In the evening, a dark and menacing storm quickly gathered. Winds beat against the houses with a speed and fury that Prashant had never witnessed before. Heavy and incessant rain filled the darkness, ancient trees were uprooted and crashed to the earth. Screams rent the air as people and houses were swiftly washed away. The angry waters swirled into his friend’s house, neck deep. The building was of brick and mortar and was strong enough to survive the devastation of the wind’s velocity of 350 km per hour. But the cold terror of the family grew with the crashing of trees that had got uprooted and fallen on their house, some time in the middle of the night, damaging its roof and walls.
Menacing: dangerous and harmful
Fury: extreme strength
Incessant: unceasing, continuous
Swirled: moved or flowed along with a whirling motion
Mortar: a mixture of lime, cement, sand and water used to construct buildings
Prashant was a native of a village in the coastal state of Odisha. On 27 October 1999, he was on a visit to a friend in Ersama which is a small town in Odisha and a block headquarter in Jagatpura district. His village was at a distance of eighteen kilometers from Ersama. He had lost his mother seven years ago. That day, a strong storm gathered in the evening. Furious wind accompanied by continuous rain lashed the place. Screams could be heard as trees got uprooted and destroyed the houses as they fell on them. The water flowed with gush and swept away houses that came in its way. There was neck deep water in his friend’s house. As his house was a pucca house, it was able to resist the strong winds which blew at a speed of 350 kilometers per hour. His friend’s family was terrorised because in the middle of the night, trees had fallen on the house, damaging the roof and walls of the building.
The crazed destruction wrought by the cyclone and the surge of the ocean continued for the next thirty-six hours, although wind speeds had reduced somewhat by the next morning. To escape the waters rising in the house, Prashant and his friend’s family had taken refuge on the roof. Prashant will never forget the shock he experienced at his first glimpse of the devastation wrought by the super cyclone, in the grey light of the early morning.
The storm continued for the next one and a half day although the wind had slowed down. To escape the rising levels of water, Prashant, along with his friend and his family, took shelter on the roof of the house. As the day dawned, Prashant saw the destruction caused by the super cyclone.
A raging, deadly, brown sheet of water covered everything as far as the eye could see; only fractured cement houses still stood in a few places. Bloated animal carcasses and human corpses floated in every direction. All round even huge old trees had fallen. Two coconut trees had fallen on the roof of their house. This was a blessing in disguise, because the tender coconuts from the trees kept the trapped family from starving in the several days that followed.
animal carcasses: dead bodies of animals
blessing in disguise: an apparent misfortune that eventually has good results
Tender: soft, raw
As far as Prashant could see, he saw a cover of muddy brown water. There were the remains of shattered houses surrounded by the water. Dead bodies of animals and human beings floated in the water. Huge trees had fallen and were floating around. Two coconut trees had fallen on the roof of their house. Initially, they thought that the trees had damaged the roof and walls of the house but later, they realized that this proved to be beneficial for them. As they were trapped in the house, they ate the raw coconuts from these trees and saved themselves from dying due to starvation.
For the next two days, Prashant sat huddled with his friend’s family in the open on the rooftop. They froze in the cold and incessant rain; the rain water washed away Prashant’s tears. The only thought that flashed through his mind was whether his family had survived the fury of the super cyclone. Was he to be bereaved once again?
huddled : together in a group
flashed through his mind: came to his mind
Bereaved: to have lost a family member or a friend to death
They spent the next two days on the rooftop. Everyone was so scared that they sat together in a group. It was very cold and the continuous rain washed away Prashant’s tears. He was worried about his family members. Maybe he could have lost another family member and would be in grief over the loss of a loved one once again. This thought worried Prashant.
Two days later, which seemed to Prashant like two years, the rain ceased and the rain waters slowly began to recede. Prashant was determined to seek out his family without further delay. But the situation was still dangerous, and his friend’s family pleaded with Prashant to stay back a little while longer. But Prashant knew he had to go.
The rain stopped after two days. It seemed to Prashant that the two days’ time was as long as the duration of two years. This shows that it was very difficult for him to pass the time as the worry about his family’s well - being worried him. The rain had stopped and the water was receding gradually. Although it was dangerous to go out, he did not waste any more time and left to find his family. His friend’s family requested Prashant to stay back but he left.
He equipped himself with a long, sturdy stick, and then started on his eighteen-kilometre expedition back to his village through the swollen flood waters. It was a journey he would never forget. He constantly had to use his stick to locate the road, to determine where the water was most shallow. At places it was waist deep, and progress was slow. At several points, he lost the road and had to swim. After some distance, he was relieved to find two friends of his uncle who were also returning to their village. They decided to move ahead together.
With the help of a long stick, Prashant started the eighteen kilometer long journey back home. As he passed through the flood water, the journey got inscribed in his mind forever. He had to use the stick to guide him and find the path where the water was shallower. At some places the water was waist deep and his pace slowed down. At some places, he lost a track of the road and had to swim to save himself from drowning. After sometime he was relieved as he got the company of two friends who, along with their uncle were returning to their village. All of them proceeded together.
As they waded through the waters, the scenes they witnessed grew more and more macabre. They had to push away many human bodies — men, women, children — and carcasses of dogs, goats and cattle that the current swept against them as they moved ahead. In every village that they passed, they could barely see a house standing. Prashant now wept out loud and long. He was sure that his family could not have survived this catastrophe.
As the group proceeded, they got to see horrible scenes. They had to push dead bodies of human beings and animals which were being swept around with the current of the water. As they crossed villages, not even a single house was seen. As Prashant’s fear grew, he wept loudly. He was sure that his family members would not have survived the disaster.
Eventually, Prashant reached his village, Kalikuda. His heart went cold. Where their home once stood, there were only remnants of its roof. Some of their belongings were caught, mangled and twisted in the branches of trees just visible above the dark waters. Young Prashant decided to go to the Red Cross shelter to look for his family.
Remnants: small remaining quantities
When Prashant reached his village, Kalikuda, he became numb on seeing the remains of his house. Their belongings were scattered in the water and some things hung on the branches of the trees, just above the flood water. He decided to look for his family at the shelter set up by the red cross society.
Among the first people he saw in the crowd was his maternal grandmother. Weak with hunger, she rushed to him, her hands outstretched, her eyes brimming. It was a miracle. They had long given him up for dead.
eyes brimming: eyes were full of tears
At the Red Cross shelter he saw his maternal grandmother. She appeared weak but was glad to see that Prashant was alive. She rushed to him with her arms open and her eyes full of tears. It was a miracle for her as the family had thought that Prashant would not have survived the storm.
Quickly word spread and his extended family gathered around him, and hugged him tight in relief. Prashant anxiously scanned the motley, battered group. His brother and sister, his uncles and aunts, they all seemed to be there.
Motley: desperate, varied in appearance or character
As Prashant’s extended family came to know that he had come, they gathered around him and hugged him in relief. Prashant saw that everyone was worried and injured. He met his siblings, uncles and aunts.
By the next morning, as he took in the desperate situation in the shelter, he decided to get a grip over himself. He sensed a deathly grief settling upon the 2500 strong crowd in the shelter. Eighty-six lives were lost in the village. All the ninety-six houses had been washed away. It was their fourth day at the shelter. So far they had survived on green coconuts, but there were too few to go around such a tumult of people.
Tumult: uproar of a disorderly crowd force
The next morning Prashant realized that he had to get over his emotions and take charge of the situation. The huge crowd of around 2500 people in the shelter was full of sadness as they had lost everything in the storm. 86 people had been killed by the super cyclone. They had been at the shelter for the last four days. They had been eating raw coconuts but now these were insufficient for the large number of people.
Prashant, all of nineteen years, decided to step in as leader of his village, if no one else did. He organised a group of youths and elders to jointly pressurise the merchant once again to part with his rice. This time the delegation succeeded and returned triumphantly, wading through the receding waters with food for the entire shelter. No one cared that the rice was already rotting. Branches from fallen trees were gathered to light a reluctant and slow fire, on which to cook the rice. For the first time in four days, the survivors at the cyclone shelter were able to fill their bellies. His next task was to organise a team of youth volunteers to clean the shelter of filth, urine, vomit and floating carcasses, and to tend to the wounds and fractures of the many who had been injured.
Prashant who was very young at the age of nineteen, decided to lead the crowd of distraught villagers. He formed a group of villagers, including the elders and the youth. They planned to force the local merchant to give them the stock of grains and rice to feed the people. The group succeeded and swam through the floods to get food for the crowd. No one was bothered by the fact that the rice was getting rotten because they were starved and were ready to eat even the rotting rice. The branches of broken trees were used to kindle a fire. As they were wet, burning a fire was an arduous task. It was a slow fire but they managed to cook the rice on it. The survivors ate a meal after four days. The second task of the group was to clean the shelter. They removed garbage, cleaned excretory wastes, dead bodies and tended the injured.
On the fifth day, a military helicopter flew over the shelter and dropped some food parcels. It then did not return. The youth task force gathered empty utensils from the shelter. Then they deputed the children to lie in the sand left by the waters around the shelter with these utensils on their stomachs, to communicate to the passing helicopters that they were hungry. The message got through, and after that the helicopter made regular rounds of the shelter, airdropping food and other basic needs.
On the fifth day after the super cyclone a military helicopter flew over the shelter and dropped food parcels. It did not return later but they needed food. So, the youth in the crowd gathered empty utensils. The children were made to lie in the sand with the utensils on their stomachs to indicate to the passing helicopters that they needed food. The helicopters got the message and returned with food and other necessities for the crowd at the shelter.
Prashant found that a large number of children had been orphaned. He brought them together and put up a polythene sheet shelter for them. Women were mobilised to look after them, while the men secured food and materials for the shelter.
Orphaned: a child who loses either one or both of his parents to death
A large number of children had been orphaned in the super cyclone. Prashant put them together under a polythene sheet. The women in the shelter were deployed to look after the children and the men arranged food for everyone.
As the weeks passed, Prashant was quick to recognise that the women and children were sinking deeper and deeper in their grief. He persuaded the women to start working in the food-for work programme started by an NGO, and for the children he organised sports events. He himself loved to play cricket, and so he organised cricket matches for children. Prashant engaged, with other volunteers, in helping the widows and children to pick up the broken pieces of their lives. The initial government plan was to set up institutions for orphans and widows. However, this step was successfully resisted, as it was felt that in such institutions, children would grow up without love, and widows would suffer from stigma and loneliness. Prashant’s group believed orphans should be resettled in their own community itself, possibly in new foster families made up of childless widows and children without adult care.
foster families: a family that provides custody or guardianship for children whose parents are dead or unable to look after them
The sadness of the children and women in the shelter was growing with each passing day. Prashant requested to work in the NGO called “Food for work”. In order to keep the children busy, he organised sports events for them. He took help of other volunteers to help the widows and orphans to return to normal lives. The government had proposed to set up separate institutions for widows and orphans but this proposal was successfully rejected by Prashant. He felt that these separate institutions would neither help the orphaned children nor would they be beneficial for the widows. These volunteers wanted to settle the orphaned children and widows in foster families where they would get love and security.
It is six months after the devastation of the super cyclone. This time Prashant’s wounded spirit has healed simply because he had no time to bother about his own pain. His handsome, youthful face is what the widows and orphaned children of his village seek out most in their darkest hour of grief.
After six months of the disaster, Prashant has come out of the grief of losing his mother because he was engrossed in helping others that he forgot his pain. All the widows and orphans looked up to him in their time of grief and so, he learned to come out of his gloom and smile.
Prashant was a young boy of nineteen years of age. He belonged to Kalikuda, a village in the coastal state of Odisha. He had lost his mother seven years ago.
On 27 October 1999, when he was visiting a friend in Ersama, a super cyclone hit the area. There was large scale devastation. The gushy winds and rains continued for two days. They remained on the rooftop of the house and survived on the tender coconuts from the coconut trees that had fallen on the roof. As the rain stopped, Prashant left for his home as he feared the worst for his family. He took a stick to help him find the road. At times, he had to swim through the flood waters. On the way he met two friends and their uncle and the group moved together. They came across dead bodies of human beings and animals which floated with the current. As they crossed villages, not even a single house could be seen. Prashant’s house was shattered too and he saw the belongings hanging on the branches of the trees. He wept as he felt that he had lost his beloved. He went to the Red cross shelter in search of his family. There Prashant met his maternal grandmother. She was elated to see him alive as they had not expected that he would have survived the storm. Prashant saw a crowd of 2500 people at the shelter. Many had lost their families in the disaster. They were grief stricken as the catastrophe had snatched everything. For the last 2 days they had survived on coconuts but they were running out of stock. Prashant took control of the situation. He formed a group with some elders and young people. They forced the merchant to give them the stock of rice and were successful. After 4 days the crowd ate a meal. Then the group of volunteers cleaned the shelter and tended to the injured people. Prashant engaged the widows to work in the NGO named “Food for work”. He engaged the children by arranging sports matches for them. The volunteers managed to set up foster families comprising of the widows, orphaned children and lone men who would form a family and support each other. Like this Prashant overcame his grief and learnt to smile even in the face of adversities.