Teesta Floods 1968 (Part 2) By Mr Swapan Sen
The second and concluding part of Mr Swapan Sen's account of the Teesta floods of 1968.
It was at about 2 AM that we realized that the gauge-stick was no longer visible. The top of the stick had apparently disappeared below the river-water and this meant that the river was flowing over the top of the embankment. The gauge-readers were nowhere in sight. I was worried that the camp of the gauge-readers would be washed away as soon as the embankment was breached. The men in the camp needed to be saved. Mr. Adhikary, got down from the Jeep and went in search of the gauge-readers. The tall figure vanished from the path of the Jeep-headlights as the brave man walked away towards the camp along the embankment. Minutes went by seeming like hours, but he did not come back. At last when I had given up hopes of seeing him alive again, a staggering figure emerged from the darkness. It was Mr. Adhikary. He came up to me, uttered, “I am sorry, Sir, I could not reach the camp. I fell into the river”, and then dropped on the ground apparently losing his senses. My driver, Kanu Mali and I jumped down from the Jeep and hoisted the heavy man on to the back sear of the Jeep. I told Kanu to turn the Jeep in the direction of the gauge-reader’s camp and flash its headlights. After several minutes, that seemed like ages, two figures appeared before the headlights of the Jeep - the gauge-readers. As I asked for the Gauge-register, they said they had not brought the record-book. Mr. Adhikari had, in the meantime regained his senses, and shouted at the gauge-readers urging them to go back and fetch the Register from their camp. The gauge-readers were obviously afraid of losing their lives, as the river-water was flowing over the embankment, but ultimately went back to their camp and fetched the Gauge-register. As they arrived with the Register, Mr. Adhikary snatched it away from them, embraced it as if this was his life, and kept on hysterically crying out, “Now everyone will believe us. This will prove that the Teesta has gone over the top of the embankment”.
I told Kanu to take me to Jalpaiguri, so that I could be with Kamakshyada and other colleagues. I asked the gauge-readers to board the Jeep and together we started for Jalpaiguri, across the road bridge on the other side of the river. As we entered the town of Jalpaiguri, we found that the streets were all water-logged, - possibly inundated by the waters of the overflowing rivulet Karala , which meanders through the town and meets the Teesta finally. Further inside the town, the water-level went on steadily increasing. As we reached the Police Station at the center of the town, Kanu, our driver, declared that the car-engine would stall if we proceeded further towards the Executive Engineer’s Bungalow. I told him to drop me at the Police Station so that they could, if possible, go back home at Moinaguri. They left assuring me that they would not take any undue risk to reach their homes. I found a policeman talking over a phone. I snatched the receiver from him after disclosing my identity and managed to connect Kamakshyada. He asked me to come to his place immediately. I was in no shape to make the half a mile journey to his residence alone. I was then running a high temperature and told him I could not come to his place. He told me to stick to the Police Station, where he would send some men to fetch me. I found an empty table, climbed up and lay down on the table. A few minutes later, the lights of the township went out. I was not also able to use the telephone thereafter as apparently, all the telephone lines too, went dead.
I had lost all sense of time lying on the table, when someone shook me up awake and urged me to come down. I found it was two of our office-clerks, who had been sent down to fetch me from the Police Station. We waded through the waist- deep rapids then flowing through the town and after about 20 minutes reached Kamakshyada’s house. I was terribly excited and told him what I had been through and that the Teesta waters had overtopped the Domohani embankments. He said the Jalpaiguri embankments had also been likewise overtopped and told me to take rest and not to think about what has happened. I lay down on a bed and woke up in the morning only to hear someone weeping. It was Kamakshyada. He was looking out of the windows of his first floor and was watching helplessly carcasses of animals, trees and debris floating by. By then fifty five people from the Colony of the Irrigation Department’s Division Office had taken shelter in the first floor of Kamakshyada’s house, the ground floor having already gone under water. The water available in the overhead tanks of the house was insufficient for the people who had taken shelter. This was therefore required to be saved for drinking purposes only. The water level outside kept on rising till about 11 AM and at 4PM, this receded only by a couple of inches. It was evident we were all going to face serious crisis if the water level did not recede faster.
It was 6th of October, 1968, 3 PM, when help arrived. Mr, Kutty, the Executive Engineer from Siliguri Division, arrived with his men, water, rice and other essentials wading through near waist-deep water and sludge. To us he seemed like God. He assured that all help will be available from his men and we were not to worry any more.
Yes, we got a fresh lease of life but the townsfolk had by then suffered irreparable and inconsolable loss. Their sufferings would continue for many more months and for some, for many more years. After a few days I was able to reach my residential quarters, pack up a few things and leave for Kolkata, where my parents were anxiously waiting for me to come back home.
The Domohani Gauge-register, that was saved, was unfortunately not available after the flood. My colleague Dipankar Chakraborty, who retired as the Chief Engineer of the Irrigation Department of the West Bengal Government, tells me he did not see this after he was called back from leave and took over charge of the Moinaguri Sub-division again. He says all documents in his office were destroyed by the flood water.
Kamakshyada, my Executive Engineer, is no more. What he told me from his experience that the Teesta embankment would be breached only if the river water flowed over the top, proved to be true.
I do not know if Mr. Adhikary, the braveheart, is still alive. The official records of the river-water levels at the Domohani gauge station will not be available any more to prove him right.
Dipankar Chakraborty, Chief Engineer (Retired), Irrigation Department of the West Bengal Government
*Flash floods in India- Pritam Singh, A. S. Ramanathan and V. G. Ghanekar)