Op-Ed: ‘Fani’ Aftermath: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Cyclone Fani brought with it a lesson for everyone. With power, water and telecom services still in a mess in large parts of the worst-hit Puri and Khurda districts nearly a week after Fani pounded the Puri coast, the government must have drawn its lesson that it is not enough to plan evacuation of the vulnerable people in the lead up to the cyclone; it is equally important to plan for restoration of essential services after the cyclone in the quickest possible time. As for the people, they too must have been wiser after the ordeal over the last week on how to plan to face a disaster of such proportions better in future.

Like the Super Cyclone in 1999, the most devastating disaster to have hit the state in recent memory, Fani too brought out the best and worst of human nature. There were as many heart-warming tales of human fortitude, endurance and compassion as there were mind-numbing stories of human greed, indifference and worse.

And there were some who sought to camouflage their greed under a cloak of humanity! Take, for example, this diesel generator (DG) operator who replied, when asked why he was charging Rs 700 for half an hour (the rate went up to Rs. 1, 000 for ½ hour the next day) to run water pumps, actually claimed that he was doing it as ‘social service.’ It was amusing to find many people who have never known how to run a DG scouring every nook and corner in the city in search of one to cash in on the crisis. Some actually rushed as far as Sambalpur, Rourkela and even Kolkata after failing to procure a DG even at hefty premiums of 100-150%!

How do you respond to the neighbourhood grocer, who shoves a pack of candles into your hands after making sure no one is watching and then whispers into your ears; “Please don’t tell others. I am giving the last packet left with me only because you are my regular customer”? Do you feel angry about the fact that he has charged 50 bucks for a pack that normally costs Rs. 20 and shout at him or thank him for making you feel privileged?

For those who rely entirely and exclusively on online transaction, this post-Fani experience of a friend may well turn out to be an eye-opener. Having failed to get a room in any Bhubaneswar hotel in a desperate bid to escape from the absence of power and water at home, this friend tried the online route and felt on the top of the world when he managed to book a room in a posh hotel. But when he arrived at the hotel – wife and children in tow – he found to his utter dismay that there were no rooms available! It goes without saying that the room had been sold out (in cash, mind you) to someone else at a handsome premium.

If it is getting too depressing, here is something that should cheer you up. Good friend Prambrahma Tripathy writes, in a Facebook post, about this father-son duo who is still selling ‘bara’ & ‘aluchap’ on the streets of Bhubaneswar at the old rate of Rs 2 a piece. Asked why he wasn’t making a killing in the cyclone aftermath like others, this man apparently quoted from the Odia scriptures; “Adharma Bitta Badhe Bahuta, Gala Bele Jae Mula Sahita” (Money earned through immoral means grows fast. But when it goes, it takes away the principal along with it.”) How one wishes everyone shared the same sentiment!

Almost every locality on the path of the storm had its own share of tales of exceptional courage and fortitude in the face of grave and extreme danger. The visuals of a fisherman dragging along his boat to safety right on the Penthakata beach even as ‘Fani’ was wreaking havoc showed that nature, for all the fury at its command, has not really been able to tame the human spirit.

It was heart-warming to see people, young and old, coming to the aid of authorities in clearing roads of debris, ferrying the injured to the hospital or helping electrical workers erect a pole. But the worrying part was that such instances were far too few in Bhubaneswar, a city of over a million people. We, the people of Bhubaneswar, have come to expect all the comforts of modern life so much as a matter of right that we tend to get flustered at their denial even for a brief while – even as those who have taken the real hit know they will have to do without these services for nearly a month. Many rushed out of the city to their villages or relatives’ places to escape the heat and humidity. Others checked into hotels spending a fortune. There was just far too much complaining. No one had the time, patience or inclination to stop and think for a moment about the thousands of workers of energy, water and telecom agencies, who are working tirelessly 24X7 in the sizzling May heat and humidity to make sure we have these essential services back at the earliest – even as their own families are doing without them!

As a resident of the city, I hate to say it. But there is little doubt that we have failed Bhubaneswar, our beloved ‘Smart City’.

(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.)