A Journey through the Flood

The Proglomenon

Bihar and Floods are synonymous. One can only imagine the pain of the inhabitants of the region, especially the northern part, which has a lot of wild, deep and strong streams of Himalayan rivers flowing. Even the strongest of barrages will feel tenuous against the might of these mighty water bodies, when turned wild, who otherwise are the lifeline of the region.

Bihar has been one of the states, which is affected by floods almost every year. Blame it on the nebulous political approach or the nature, Bihar is yet to get rid of this. I am writing this memoir after 16 years. You can imagine the conditions then.  

In 2004, the connectivity to the rest of the world also used to get impacted. It was way before the Golden Quadrilateral, a dream project of Late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee shaped up, which now at least ensure the connectivity is not lost during the flood.

The Long Summer

I have completed my second semester. In my College, BIT Mesra, the semesters ending in summers have longest breaks of the world. Of around two months. After this break, usually the fresher's hostels are cleared for new batches. So the students, who stays in fresher hostels have to clear the hostel room allotted, carry all their belongings. Only upon their return, they would be allotted new hostel rooms during admission process for third semester. This was applicable for all study streams.

So I too carried all my stuffs out of hostel, entire thing, including my desktop computer. I left heavy stuffs at my maternal uncle's place in Ranchi. But carried by computer. It was blessing in disguise, as I enjoyed the entire summer playing "The Age of Empires". Coding a little bit. 

As the month of july approached, holidays were about to end. All those good Mangoes were gone. Litchees season was long gone. However, the news of stress on the barrages in Nepal and the tension in the northern part of Bihar increased. I can see the lone RSS boy in my colony going daily to serve nearby villages.

More than the flood, the wait of the inevitable flood is horrific. Bihar is cursed in that regard. With Himalayan rivers, deep and powerful, when goes wild, nothing can stop them. 

The long summer was going to be a bit longer.

Indian Railways - The Lifeline
The place, where we lived those days was just a few hundred meters away from the railway lines. We used to see the trains clearly, because of little or no construction between the railway tracks and our colony. The sight of trains and the sound of them blowing horn were normal to our lives.

With the tension of flood growing, anxiousness increased. My ears and eyes were all open for the sight and sound of any trains passing by. Because it was a mark of assurance, that we are still connected to the world. My reasons for connectivity were different thou.

My third semester, the gateway they called was at stake. First time in my life, and probably the only time, I wanted to get out of my home as soon as possible, before the flood cutting us off from the rest of the world. No,..... survival was not the problem there, as people are used to it, but because  my future depended on it, connectivity was.

I had a train ticket of Saturday 10th July 2004. The question was, will the rail connectivity survive till then?

As the day of my journey closed in, the sound of trains blowing horn and every site of them passing by would mollify me. It was three days to go, when we didn't heard the train at all. The inevitable was going to happen.

The lifeline of India, the great Indian railways has stopped it's services to our town, in fact to the entire region.

Town or Billabong?

On Wednesday, 7th July 2004, was the first of many days to come, when we didn't heard the trains blowing horn. The Indian Railways  stopped their services, because of lower areas between Darbhanga and Samastipur were flooded and water was flowing way above the danger mark.

The flood has yet not entered the town.

It was then confirmed, that trains have been cancelled, due to dangerous levels of water at South of the town. The town, situated at the east of Bagmati with proximities of rivers like Gandak, Budhi Gandak and Kamala Balan, was in danger, because all these rivers were flowing way above the danger mark.

12th July 2004, we saw the flood water entering our colony from the west side. It confirmed that Bagmati has entered the city. Within an hour, the water started flowing east to west. What was that? Kamala Balaan, the river flowing around the Eastern side, has also entered the city, obviously from the east. 

This was an unprecedented situation. Two mighty rivers swallowed the town. Anomalous, even by the standard of Bihar. We were already cut off from the network, now even the rescue work, happening from the city headquarters, got affected. Even the RSS guy of my colony has stopped going out to serve, due to complete cutoff.

The electricity, already a luxury those days, have found a good reason to not come back. Telecommunication was still working. Unexpected.

The Message Delivered

Next morning, I rushed to a phone booth, to send the fax to the Dean, Student Welfare, Mr. P. C. Joshi, to consider my extention of registration for the next semester. The delay fees were extremely high then.  Luckily, my fax went through, before the communication channels too went off just within an hour and the phone lines went off too. Mr. P. C. Joshi was a strict disciplinarian, but also a logical person. He was considerate about real reasons. Sending a message to him ensures that he will handle the problem at his level. A perfect leader to hold the premier post of Student Welfare.

We were completely cut off, with no power, no communication, no transportation and very limited food options. The occasional news on radio kept us informed. The rescue work by army and airforce, the fallen helicopter of the airforce during rescue, another giant helicopter carrying the fallen helicopter were amusements those days. Otherwise the days were heavy with languor, mostly due to same routine or lack of one.

The Journey

I was stuck in my town for 23 more days, before some options to get out of the city surfaced. People, however were risking their lives to get out. The Labourers, the working class, who used to work outside, but have come for summer vacation, started taking risks to cross the area. By foot or via boats.

The news of deaths during the attempt to cross were weakening the prospects of me getting out. My parents would certainly not want their son to be dead in attempt to save one semester.

However, as days progressed, water settled in certain areas and Army were deployed, the confidence to get out of the zone also increased.

Starting Point
There was a young boy, our neighbour, who used to work in Muzaffarpur and was stuck like me in the city, shared his plan to move out of the town. It was a ray of hope.

He did all the research work, by asking the people who actually have been involved in sending people out. 

So now all we have to do was to plan the journey properly. To have less luggage and enough food and water for at least 24 hours. We planned and planned properly, as much as we can. But was it enough? Afterall, how much can you plan when you are going to unknown waters. Here we were literally going to unknown waters.

We started the journey in the morning of 3rd August. Morning 7 AM. The auto rickshaws were operating through a route.

My father, a seasoned biker, followed us on his bike, to give us a send off. Remember, those were the era with mobile phones just getting popular. I had my mobile an year later. Even if I had, no phone services ensured that they will never get any information of me. So the last report they will have the visuals recorded through the eyes of my father.

The auto driver dropped us to an unknown location, from where small boats were supposed to leave. 

First Flow
The current of the water was nothing less than a river just climbing down from the mountain. And it was so powerful, that even the experts working day and night were in danger. The army were on their boats to handle ant mishaps.

It was my first ride on an open boat. A smaller one. Not made for more than 3/4 people. They said 10. We were 25 on the boat, with all our bags in hand and nothing substantial to hold.

When I boarded the boat, suddenly realised, this was the final point, upto where my father can follow us. He gave some instructions, encouraged us and wished both the boys good luck.

I could not waive a bye bye signal to my father, waiting on the banks till I was out of his sight. My father, like many of the fathers of the world, don't express emotions. But him waiting till last second of sight was as emotional as it could be. I am sure he must have waited for long enough for same boat to come back.

The dangerous waives though overpowered my emotions. I felt more scared than emotional. A twenty five minutes of dangerous sail landed us to another place. Where we were supposed to move for a kilometre or two for another boat ride.

The first flow of flood waters overwhelmed the flow of human emotions. There was a long journey ahead.

Second Flow
Dragging my bags and panting, sweating in the humidity close to 100%, we reached the next bank. The water flow was little settled there. Little safe. 

Boats were bigger. A size which can fit 25. But again, nothing to hold. They carried 100 people in that. 

We boarded the boat. We were sailing over the colonies below. The local boatmen knew the buildings. Some three storey buildings were below the waters and that's why, they have to follow specific route to avoid any accidents. 

45 minutes of comparatively smooth but still a dangerous ride, we landed on the shore of a remote inhabited locality. Definitely it was not a town. Neither a village.

Hunger struck us. I was carrying homemade food, which my mother has packed for both of us. In fact she has packed so much, that I can sail for months without dying of hunger.

After satisfying our tummies, we focused back on our main goal, Journey.  We were supposed to get a bus ride from that nameless remote place to Muzaffarpur, the fourth largest city of Bihar in terms of area and population. And second best city, in terms of development, after Patna.

Junkyard Wars
There was a television series named junkyard Wars, where the participating teams, used to make some machine out of junkyards. Our bus for the next journey was a product which belonged to junkyard.

I suspect, rats were traveling with us on that bus. No seats were spared. We can see cushioning coming out of every seat, if there was any. If you pay me millions today, to ride that bus again, I will think more than twice.

With lots of exertion and noise and discomfort, the bus made it to Muzaffarpur. It was a victory, not only for the bus, but also for us. We reached Muzaffarpur alive, despite traveling in that bus.

The Revenant

Muzaffarpur - Patna - Ranchi

As soon as I reached Muzaffarpur, it seems, I am back to the current world. The boy, accompanying me till then, has reached to his final destination and we parted. I chose the option to go to Patna, to catch a bus for Ranchi from there, since they would have more and better options. 

The journey ahead was safe and sound. I reached patna by dusk,  Ranchi by next dawn.

The most memorable, dangerous, tiring and emotionally draining journey of my life ended with it. I collected by stuffs from my heavy stuffs, kept at my uncle's place and rushed to BIT.

After getting admission and hostel room, I came to my new hostel and saying customary hi to all my mates, I just dozed off.

Weeks passed, a lot of water too has flown by Bagmati by now.

Still there was no way to communicate back home. There was no way to know about the well-being of my family, still living inside the zone cutoff from rest of the world.

After more than a month, the communication lines started working. I received a call from my mother on my friend's mobile. A month later, my brother dropped my computer. The chapter of flood was closed for at least until next year. The life became normal.

Those days are still fresh in my memories, keeps reminding me about the Journey. A stronger message of that Journey was, you have to sail through, leaving behind emotions, fear, family. You have to travel your own path. Have courage, have faith.


  1. In fact, It was a horrible time you have been through but now seems interesting because the outcome is a tough lesson.

    If you closely get an overview of current situation even after sixteen years, hardly find any changes.

    Even though, being thankful to the government should go on as you have been chosen to go throu a commando training to rescue your own academic life.

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