Aug. 10: When Tanuja Bibi heard her son’s voice on the phone, her heart sank.
“I haven’t had any water to drink or anything to eat for the past three days. Please rescue me,” Mohammad Sabir, 22, cried to her.
Sabir is a jewellery worker in Surat who has been stranded along with 50 others in an apartment ever since a deluge struck the Gujarat town.
“For three days, I could not contact my son over the phone. At 2 pm today, I got the connection for the first time. But after hearing his voice, our hearts sank. We don’t know what to do,” said Tanuja, who lives in Hooghly district’s Pandua, about 70 km from Calcutta.
“There are 50 of them stuck on the second floor of Ashiana Building at Nagribar,” said Mohammad Baktiar, Sabir’s father, who is a shoe trader.
A group of youths from South Bengal districts, especially Nadia, Murshidabad and Hooghly, has gone to Surat in search of a better life. Most of them are jewellery and zari workers or are employed in the garment industry.
Nantu Das, a 25-year-old from Nadia’s Karimpur, 180 km from Calcutta, works in a clothes factory and is the only breadwinner in his family.
“I don’t know how Nantu is surviving in Surat. We heard that one-storey houses are under a foot of water. How will I live without him'” wept Jharna Das, Nantu’s widowed mother.
Panchayat officials in Nadia said they have assured villagers that that they would try their best to locate their family members.
Moyna Bibi, a panchayat pradhan in Karimpur, said: “About 500 people of Karimpur have gone to Surat to earn as traders, artisans or labourers. We have asked the family members to contact us whenever they need help.”
Apart from Karimpur, a few hundred daily labourers from Krishnagunj, Chapra, and Dhantola are also working in Surat in the garment industry.
A panchayat pradhan in Krishnagunj said a list of people working in Surat was being drawn up. “We are also trying to create a fund as… most of them would return from Surat without virtually any money,” he said.
As the panchayats look for ways of dealing with the crisis, Nur Haque’s wife waits by the phone at a public booth. His family members take turns to sit there, hoping to hear a hello from Surat.