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The Delhi Walla in the flood-hit Bihar.
[Pictures and text by Mayank Austen Soofi]
I spent a week volunteering in relief efforts in flooded regions of Bihar.
Beside drowning, disappearances and death, one of Bihar’s worst-ever floods has, ironically, also brought good tidings in the life of at least four children whom I met during my volunteer work in two camps.
Better than home
The two-year-old Mr Bishal Kumar looks like a typical BBC-CNN disaster survivor you could have seen on a TV telecast beamed live from Rwanda, Mogadishu or Bihar – blank eyes, vacant face and a swollen belly, courtesy malnutrition.
Mr Kumar’s mother died just as he emerged out of her womb; his father, a landless farmer in a village called Pakilpur, was so poor that they were occasionally forced to skip a meal (the history of the child’s swollen belly could be traced from there).
And then Kosi came.
Mr Kumar’s father took him on the shoulders and they waded through the floodwaters to reach at Bageecha relief camp, around 50 kilometers from Purnia, a town in north Bihar. Good times, so to speak, soon began. Here was food (two meals a day -- rice, roti, dal, chokha), medicines and doctors, luxuries unavailable in Mr Kumar’s remote village.
Mr Kumar’s father says that the child was a silent-type back home but here he has grown cheerful, often plays with other children in the camp and gets better nourishment. But the father fears what would happen when the floodwater recedes, the camp is closed and they have to return home. Life would then return to square one.
All play, no work
In the same refugee camp as Mr Bishal Kumar’s, I met Ms Dulari, a shy seven-year-old girl who has never been to a school. Her life seems to be a bit better here. Although the family is forced to live in a tent made of saris and polythene, the little Ms Dulari has to do no household chores, as was her routine back home before the flood.
Here she is not expected to make rotis or clean the floor or collect wood from the jungle. She has also made friends with “Anita, Sanita, Gunjan, Sunjan.”
When I asked Ms Dulari what she wants to become in her life, the girl stared blankly at me. Her mother replied saying, "ghaas-bhoosa karegi, aur kya." That’s something Ms Dulari wouldn’t have to do as long as she remains in the camp.
All day long, Ms Sanju Kumari and Ms Baby Kumari walk from one classroom to another, from one playground to another with hands held together as if guarding against any possibility (like a flood?) that might separate them.
Both girls are “around 15 or 16-years old”, hail from different villages and both are now refugees in Bellori relief camp, originally a school, on the outskirts of Purnia.
The day I met them, Ms Sanju and Ms Baby were wearing washed and ironed salwar suits that had the same colour – pink. their lockets too looked exactly the same.
"Sanju is my saheli," says Ms Baby. "We eat together and we oil each other’s hair too."
"Baby is like my didi," Ms Sanju says.
While they came to the camp seperately with their families, both girls bond so well, they almost look like twins, that it is difficult to imagine them apart. “One day the camp will be shut down and you would have to return to your villages,” I said. Both Ms Sanju and Ms Baby looked at each other and giggled as if that possibility doesn’t exist.