More than half of the country is under water. More than thirty-five million people are trapped in the furious currents with nowhere to go as nowhere that could be safe is neither visible nor approachable.
The rain continues to pour down and soil refuses to absorb what falls from above. The land is an apocalyptic scene that defies description.
Words fail. “What can be said at all can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent,” said Ludwig Wittgenstein. Irony is that in our situation one can neither say anything clearly nor can afford to be silent. Language of image is what can help us understand the watery hell people are in. One finds it hard to choose a few images to illustrate the point as they are so many and are equally excruciatingly painful. A boy crossing a highway in D. G Khan district, battered by floodwater, tries to drag his two small goats to the other side. He is swept by the currents and is forced to let go his goats. He has lost all he had. Another boy, his brother or a friend, dashes to save him. A little girl in the town of Taunsa tries to retrieves her book from the mud of her destroyed home. Can you imagine what will it take for our girls to keep their dream of education alive? A man in Sindh hauls a raft made of ordinary cot with his children on it in his desperate bid to reach some safe corner. “Deep is the stream, rotten is the raft and on the banks lions roar,” says Shah Husain.
Five young brothers in Kohistan trapped in a roaring stream with water rushing at the bullet speed stand on a rock for five hours. People watching the hapless young men try their best to contact the provincial government to send its chopper for rescue. The crowd watches the four of them being swallowed by furious waves right before their very eyes. Balochistan is a desolate land with bridges destroyed, roads washed away and mud houses ruined. So far more than one thousand have died in different regions. Agriculture has suffered a mighty blow. Greed (in over-exploiting the nature), predator elite and top and bottom heavy administration, and atrocious governance have created this Armageddon. All this is a result of power struggle driven by no holds barred attitude. The only hope we have is embodied by our struggling people who, in the words of poet Brecht, are “like a man who took a brick to show / how beautiful his house used once to be.” Beauty lies in the people’s potential to build. The ugliness of devastation we see around is neither the first nor the last though such an official indifference has never been seen before.
Scenes of people and places devastated by incessant rains and floodwater in the length and breadth of the country remind us of the deluges we have read in the books. Their accounts may look exaggerated but when we glance our own landscape these days in our thunderously extended monsoon, they appear credible. Three flood narratives are quite well-known; Epic of Gilgamesh, Noah’s Ark and the myth of Matsya (Machhi / Fish). In the Epic of Gilgamesh, we find that gods are unhappy with the noise humans make that disturbs their sleep. So they decide to destroy the clamouring humans by unleashing flood. In Noah’s Ark we see the flood the reason for which is stated in the Bible: “So God said to Noah, I am going to put an end to all the people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.”
Noah being righteous is forewarned of impending disaster and he escapes in a boat with a handful of other creatures. In the first myth heavenly forces are extremely annoyed with humans for the noise they make. Noise needs to be interpreted as a metaphor; it may be strife on earth which humans are wont to indulge in. The noise becomes egregious when humans oppress one another, fight and wage war leading to massacre and carnage which offends gods. Hence the punishment!
In the second myth the violence done by humans invites God’s wrath. Violence has multiple forms; it can be against fellow human beings, against other creatures, and against nature and its working. In both the cases evilness of humans is held responsible for their destruction on a large scale. Evilness has to be understood as human acts,viz. crimes against nature and society which violate the fundamental laws of life on this planet.
In the third myth Matsya (fish) is one of the incarnations of god Vishnu. Matsya appears as a saviour. Manu, the first man, is collecting water when he sees a small fish being pursued by bigger one that wants to devour it. He saves it by catching it in his vessel. The little one grows into a fish of colossal size. One day the fish reveals its identity and says to Manu: “Know that soon storm clouds shall gather over the world. Rains will fall the likes of which no one has seen before. They will destroy all living beings and the world. So build a great boat and fill it with good people, and plants and animals of every kind. When the rain starts, I shall guide you to safety.” So Manu ties his boat to the horns of the fish and saves the world from destruction. In our sub-continental myth cause of the flood is violence per se, violence as it’s found in the process of nature. The flood is a natural act of of creating balance by shedding off fat and a sign of course correction.
But let it be remembered that in our times things are quite different because of unnecessary human intervention in the process of nature. The unusual monsoon rains and ensuing flooding is not something natural; it’s a mad-made calamity. The elites of developed nations are the main culprits as they have played a leading role in damaging our climate in their corporate greed. Nincompoops of developing countries have followed suit. So beware of the god-men who declare this catastrophe a natural calamity which would be tantamount to absolving the elites, local and international, of their crimes against nature and masses. — email@example.com
Published in Dawn, August 29th, 2022