Op-Ed: A Weatherman And A Gentleman

For a whole generation of Odias, he was virtually  synonymous with the Bhubaneswar centre of India Meteorological Department (IMD). Come sun or rain, hail or high water, the people of the state eagerly looked forward to seeing his all too familiar face on TV and listening to his forecasts of the weather, which were rarely, if ever, off target. He talked in a simple, down to earth language, shorn of meteorological jargon to the extent possible, which made it easy even for the unlettered to understand the forecast. Come June 1, the well known visage of Dr. Sarat Sahu, would be missing from the TV screens in the state as he bows out after an illustrious, 14-year long stint as director of the IMD centre in Bhubaneswar.

I first met Dr. Sahu in the summer of 2008 while coordinating a five-day workshop on disaster preparedness for government officials, media persons and NGOs organised by BBC World Service Trust and was immediately struck by his humility. He was one of the ‘trainees’, who underwent a session of mock TV interview, which was later analysed by Sampad Mahapatra, the then Odisha bureau chief of NDTV and the pioneer of TV journalism in Odisha. As Sampadbhai went through the interviews one by one and pointed out, in his inimitable, humble style, what a particular ‘trainee’ had done well and what he could have done better, I could distinctly see a few of the ‘trainees’, among whom were a few IAS officers (including a certain VK Pandian!), twirling their noses and lips to indicate what they thought of this exercise. But when Dr. Sahu’s turn came, he listened to the points made by Sampadbhai intently and then asked a few questions of his own about how to improve his performance while giving ‘bytes’ to TV channels. Missing from his interaction was the air of a senior officer of the Government of India that was so conspicuous among the other officers taking the test. Instead, there was a childlike curiousity to find out what he did not do all that well. Whenever we have met or talked over phone since then, Dr. Sahu has seldom failed to place on record his gratitude for that BBC training, which he readily admitted had improved his interaction with TV cameras.

The Phailin on October 12, 2013, was a watershed moment in disaster preparedness with the Odisha government walking away – deservedly, one must say – with the credit for evacuating some nine lakh people from the south coast in the hours leading up to the landfall at Gopalpur. But not many know that this mammoth exercise was made possible by the pin-point accuracy of the place and time of the landfall by the IMD centre in Bhubaneswar. An hour or two before the actual landfall, I remember calling up Dr. Sahu in desperation after coming across some reports in the south media that the cyclonic system had already had a landfall somewhere near the Vizag coast. Despite his hectic schedule, Dr. Sahu was kind enough to pick up the phone and assured me, in his typically calm, understated and no nonsense way, that there had been no landfall and insisted that it would hit the land at Gopalpur around the time predicted earlier: at about 8 PM. As it happened, Gopalpur it was and not Vizag – and at the exact time predicted!

Earlier that day, I had talked to him drawing his attention to a few forecasts by foreign based weather monitoring stations, including the US Navy, that the wind speed could reach 300 kms per hour, which had expectedly created panic among the people living on the south coast and revived the dreadful memories of the Super Cyclone on October 29, 1999. Dr. Sahu was his usual calm, unfluttered self on this occasion too. “I don’t know what models they have used to make their prediction. But our model suggests that the wind speed would remain around the 215 km/hr,” said the weatherman. Lo and behold! 210 km/hr it was. For once, the humble IMD had beaten the foreign agencies in their own game!

About two years ago, I was pained to see a mischievous report in a local daily insinuating that Dr. Sahu would not start his briefing for reporters till a particular woman reporter of a local TV channel had arrived. Having known him for years, I could immediately make out that the reporter (or was it the daily itself?) settling a personal score for some favour not granted. But true gentleman that he is, Dr. Sahu never allowed that unsavory episode to spoil his relationship with the media and continued doing his job manfully and efficiently.

While welcoming the new Director HR Biswas and wishing him all the best, I will be failing in my duty if I dont place on record my deep gratitude and appreciation for a weatherman, who was also a gentleman. You will certainly be missed, Dr. Sahu!


(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)