By the tracks

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Posted by Nayanika Das and Gunjan Chandak Khemka for Iswar Sankalpa
Sunita* stands in front of her newly built shanty, “Sab bheegh gaya, sab” [Everything got wet, everything]. She lives along with 100 other families along the Circular Railway tracks at Nimtala Ghat, Kolkata.
On 20th May, Cyclone Amphan that ravaged Kolkata and its surrounding districts, destroyed her shanty, while she ran with her children and grandchildren to the nearby pucca house to save themselves.

Sunita’s regret is that she couldn’t save her ration. She had received it the week before as a relief donation. The rice is strewn across the stones on the railway tracks. The little pulses she could salvage are now left to dry. “Kya karta hum? Jaan bachate, ya saman bachate?” [What could I have done? Save my life or save my things?]

Rice grains strewn near the track

Salvaged pulses left to dry

Sunita’s son has a psycho-social disability for which he receives mental healthcare from Iswar Sankalpa. His journey has traversed from being branded an outcast in his community, to a contributing member in his family. The lockdown has taken away his income, and aggravated his mental health condition. His case worker from Iswar Sankalpa had visited the week before and given him the required medication. Even the medicines are lost.

Sunita’s little goats survived as they went under the little bed they have in their shanty. Sunita seems to be in shock. She just about managed to save herself and her family. But Sunita is resilient. Within 36 hours, she has managed to rebuild her shanty like nothing ever happened. All the surviving things are sun drying, the goats are happy, and the grandchildren are playing. Only the matriarch feels unsettled about the uncertainty that lies ahead – in a COVID-19 and post Amphan world.

Broken pieces of the “pooja sthal”

While we leave, she shows us the “pooja sthal” [little structure to house idols that one prays to] which is broken into many pieces. A man next to her says, “Inhone bachaya” [The Almighty saved us]. Sunita gives an indifferent look. She knows God was unrelenting. Her legs saved her. But she doesn’t know when the next meal will come.