“See this?” he squatted on the flat ground and pointed to a crack deep and dark running parallel to the river-bank. Darting ahead 6 ft he pointed to another crack and another 3 ft from it and another 2 ft down. Then he stopped and straightened up.
“It has come up to here. So I moved my house there,” he pointed to a bamboo shack a few meters away where an old man, probably in his eighties, sat bent over, fanning himself. A lady and a child hung around, watching the water.
The river was once a full kilometer away. Semaphoring its intent one crack at a time, it has eaten its way up to the doorstep of these homes. Now the vicious, nocturnal under-currents cut away at the bottom of the bare cliff while Singhajan Ghat sleeps. Come dawn, there are new cracks to read.
That morning was bad news. Overnight, the river had swallowed a 30 meter chunk – far deeper inland than where the deepest crack had yawned the previous evening. What the night and the next day would hold was anyone’s guess. It would be an uneasy night at Singhajan Ghat.
Kalu Das has seen erosion for eighty years and has moved several times. But the last few years or so have been much worse. Exacerbated by increased rains in the monsoons the river runs swollen and fast, biting off chunks from the bank like a hungry beast. “Whole villages have been swallowed, our paddy fields gulped bigha by bigha, and with it grazing cattle have gone. But the government does not recognise erosion as a disaster.“
At least not on the North bank of the Brahmaputra in Upper Assam. The South bank, with its oil fields and tea gardens, screams revenue and immediately gets attention, protection, fortification, and strong embankments. Nowhere to go, the Brahmaputra lashes back at the other bank.
The North bank only has paddy fields and little people living little lives. It reaps no big revenues, offers nothing to deepen coffers (or pockets).
The peasants of the North bank, and people like them, get no relief. No compensation. No one with bodyguards visits them. No one with blueprints and sunglasses makes plans for this shore. With no bank-line fortification, the river eats land freely.
For these people, land is sustenance. Land is livelihood. With every gulp and homestead lost, a family sinks 2-3 lakhs of rupees deeper into the abyss of debt.
“We’ve forgotten how to dream,” they say.
Peering down, reading cracks, readying to run, is now their life.