“Aisa lag raha tha pralai aya tha, pralai,” said Brijmohan Kumar, describing the super cyclone Amphan that hit West Bengal on Wednesday. It looked like the end of the world, he said.
Kumar runs a small snack shop in Kolkata’s Ballygunje area. Friday was the first day he has reopened, two months after the city locked down to slow the spread of Covid-19 – and two days after the worst storm faced by the city in living memory.
“We have been ruined by the lockdown. All my savings are gone,” Kumar said. He said that he regretted not having gone back to his village in Bihar before the ban on inter-state movement was imposed.
His shop had a small but steady flow of customers on Friday. “I know it is risky to come out to buy kachoris, but how long can we live like this?” asked Kallol De, who bought breakfast to go for his family. “First there was the lockdown and then this crazy storm. I have never seen anything like this in my life.”
Amphan was one of the most destructive cyclones every formed in the Bay of Bengal, making landfall in West Bengal on Wednesday and then moving on to Bangladesh. As of Friday, reports of 80 deaths have occurred in West Bengal, with 19 of them in Kolkata city.
Large parts of the state remain cut off with power lines and communications towers damaged, having been pummeled by wind speeds that went up to 160 kilometers per hour. The misery caused by both lockdown and the storm has left the people of Kolkata at their wits end and with little means to follow containment measures for Covid-19.
Down and out
Ashok Kumar Sahu had come to his paan-and-cigarette shop wearing a face guard. However, his views on whether it was possible to continue containment measures were tentative. “We don’t have electricity and water now for two days in Topsia,” said Sahu. “I heard one person died since he touched a metal shutter. In this sort of dangerous time, how can we do any lockdown? Amra to aar parchi na.” We are at the end of our tether.
Abdul Khaliq runs a workshop that makes sofas. He is also desperate for the lockdown to get over. “I have come to break my fixed deposit,” said Khaliq sitting outside his bank waiting for it to open. “I have opened my workshop but there are no orders. It’s natural: No one has any money. Who will order a sofa? Usually this time before Eid we would be busy day and night.”
The 75-year old Friends Watch Co,. on Hazra Road specialises in repairing old clocks and watches. While the shop opened four days back, it shut down for two days again due to the cyclone. Business is limited to a trickle, however.
“People can barely manage, what with both disease and storm,” explained proprietor Deepak Bishal. “Who can spare time to fix a clock? Hopefully things will get back to normal soon and we can resume better business.”
Ajay Kumar runs a small puffed rice and chanachur shop which has been cut off because of a tree that fell in the storm. “Business is very slow today,” complained Kumar. “But at least we are open. Du paisa aa raha hai.” Some money is coming in.
Abhay Dey, a doctor with the Kolkata Municipal Corporation explains maintaining social distancing is difficult at the best of times – but becomes even more so during a cyclone. “Is it possible to do social distancing in a shelter? What happens if someone’s house is flooded or they don’t have water to drink,” said Dey. “We should prepare ourselves for a spike in coronavirus cases.”