Friday morning dawned overcast and grey. There was an unmistakable stillness in the air. Households were unusually quiet except for the blaring news channels. Apprehension had gripped the city of Kolkata by now. Fani, the most disastrous cyclone in two decades had already hit Orissa. Kolkata was slated to be its next target.
By early morning, local news channels were high on theatrics and drama. Footages of windows shattering and tin roofs being blown away were replayed over and over again in different channels. Bengali anchors used big words and talked about ice age being the final manifestation of climate change. From the other side of the screen it all looked scary, fascinating even.
Bittu Deo, a fish trader in Gariahat looked sullen and tense. He wanted to shut his business early and take the next train to his hometown in Paradwip, Orissa which had already started to feel the wrath of Fani.
“But look at the media footage. The trains are being held by chains. How am I supposed to travel?” he lamented.
Equally scared were the market people who had to return to their houses in the city at the end of the day.
“Ours is not a pucca house. They say that it will be blown away by the wind,” said Moti Sikder a flower-seller.
The ever-panicked Bengali middle class was seen with an open umbrella throughout the day even when it did not rain. By 3.30 pm, social media was ripe with the news of an early arrival of Fani. Frantic messages from family to return home early beeped in every mobile phone. The entire city went into a cocoon and life came to a standstill.
Offices in the IT hub of Salt Lake Sector 5 were shut down in the afternoon and employees were asked to vacate the office premises. An ominous lull seemed to have come down upon Dalhousie, Kolkata’s bustling office para (neighbourhood) as streets became empty. There were occasional passers-by, running towards home.
The news channels announced the arrival of Fani as one would talk of the arrival of a beloved neta out on his political campaign before the polls.
“Now it is crossing Puri which is approximately 400 kms away from Kolkata. After travelling through Digha and Kharagpur, it will arrive at the Gangetic plains of Kolkata before making a departure to Bangladesh,” announced a local TV anchor
The state administration, cautious of its position in the election season rightfully took several steps to tackle the storm. At home, people kept their power banks charged. Buckets were filled with drinking water.
The younger generation was more concerned about the availability of wifi. What would they otherwise do on a long, pouring weekend without Netflix?
At 10, there was pin drop silence across the city. Knowing fathers told their sons that this is what is called the “calm before a storm”. News anchors in local Bengali channels broke into a frenzy by now, giving updates every minute.
“Now it is 60 kilometers away from Digha. It will soon slam into Kharagpur and wash away Kolkata,” they repeated
My middle class lodging was held together by a lot of make-do arrangements. The rickety windows with broken knobs were somehow shut with ropes. The doors with spaces underneath would definitely let rainwater run into the house. Bed sheets were stacked tightly below the doors. A last look at social media before going to bed made our panic-stricken hearts freeze. There were rumours of earthquakes across Bengal. We went to sleep in distress.
Saturday morning dawned bright, sunny and breezy. The temperature had dropped by a few degrees and there was the sweet fragrance of summer jasmine in the air. Whimsical Fani had not hit Kolkata after all. It had weakened, taken an off-route and trailed off to Jharkhand. The inaccurate analysis of satellite images, fuelled by media theatrics and social media rumour mongering had earned the city nothing but every Bengali’s favourite long weekend.