The Orissa file - Akshay

Page - August 17, 2005
We departed for Bhubaneswar, via Chennai, on the 15th of july. The train journey, which went on for almost 2 days, was comfortable...except for a brief period through Andhra Pradesh where the heat of the day proved to be a bit more than we could handle!!

Akshay contemplates the state of affairs...

We reached Bhubaneswar on Sunday, early morning…and promptly checked into our hotel, situated 1 km from the station...The Arya Palace. We stayed here overnight and through the next day...basically just getting ourselves sorted out, getting appointments with various people fixed, meeting with our guide cum translator for the entire trip (a man by the name of Mr. Soumya Tripathi). We did manage, however, to interview the Head of Department Of Botany, Orissa University of Technology and Agriculture, and a group of professors from Utkal University. We also managed a brief visit to the Shanti Shtupa, on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar.  

On Tuesday we left for Chilika Lake, a half a day journey from Bhubaneswar, via Puri. (Due to the famous Yatra going on at the time, Puri was jam-packed with devotees, and tourists i'm sure) We reached the lake in the afternoon, checked in at a Govt. tourist guest house spent an hour freshening up...and then we were off to begin our work. An hour  later we were at a village, on the shores of the lake, close to where the local government had done some recent restoration work, which principally involved the opening of a new mouth.. This was done since the previous mouth had become blocked (through natural events) and hence the lake's survival was in jeopardy. We spent the rest of the afternoon interviewing villagers and scouting out the village. Once that was done, we took a long boat ride around the lake...and we actually had the luck to see a few Irrawady Dolphins at play (a species of dolphin only found in this lake in the whole of Asia, and naturally the source of fame for the lake). We were still on the boat when darkness fell, and it was truly a memorable experience. The night wind had picked up...he put up the sails, and we sailed back to shore witnessing the beauty of the moonlit lake (mind you, it was almost full moon that night). Back on dry land, we headed back for our guesthouse. We had dinner at a roadside shack very near to the guesthouse, after which we all needed catch up on some sleep. Things didn't turn out as we planned. Sometime after reaching the guesthouse, the current went!!! The rooms became too stiffling hot to stay in…and since the night breeze was pretty strong and cooling, we just took our mattresses from our rooms and put them in the corridors (which were in the open air); apart from the mosquitoes, the candles and lamps lit up the night for us and off we went to sleep.

The next day, we went to the old mouth of the lake...another truly wonderful experience. It took us nearly 5 hours with over 2-hours on boat to reach the village we had in mind. And what a village it was!!! So remote, it seemed to have been cut-off from the rest of the world. The village itself was atop a sand bar that divided the sea from the lake...for miles around there was untouched pristine beach, not a soul in sight. Without a doubt, we truly had a splendid time on that stretch of beach. A round of interviews followed, after which we headed back to our guesthouse. The interview was insightful and their plight caught us as something we found unable to shake off easily. The sea had eventually become 'furious' and their catch declined considerably. Besides, the heat they spoke of suggested unprecedented misery.

The rest of our trip didn't carry anything really spectacular like what I've mentioned above, and it followed pretty much a regular routine...go to a place, check in at the hotel/guest house...head for the villages, interview people and get back. The places we visited after Chilika Lake were; Konark, Aastarang, islands off Aastarang and Talcher.

In Konark, Amrit and I, along with Salil visited Chandhrabhagha, a small coastal village. It was quite early in the morning, and the villagers were just beginning their day. Small children ran about playfully amongst the poultry (mostly ducks, from what we saw), while the women began cooking the day's first meal and the men were busy tending to their boats and fishing nets. With help from a C.P.D.A (Coastal Peoples Development Authority) official, we interviewed a couple of fisherwomen who gave us really interesting insights into their lives, as well as great information as to the impact of climate change on them.  

Back in Bhubaneswar, on the second last day in Orissa, we organized a press conference on all the stuff we had done...and the press included major television networks- Zee, NDTV, Aaj tak, etc, while the newspapers included Indian Express, Times of India, The Pioneer, The Statesman and a host of other local dailies.

That apart, I wanted to share some rather personal things that I experienced/discovered during my trip. For one thing...the people of the villages we had visited are a pretty resilient lot. Despite all they've suffered...cyclones, floods and drought, they still push on in life, not looking back on anything. Some people, having given an interview on how they suffer daily to get enough food to feed the family...still manage the hospitality to  offer us tea!!! In places like Aastarang...which was one of the worst hit by the super cyclone of 1999, we could still see the ruins of peoples' houses, now left to rot because there isn't enough money to rebuild the house (even though they were made of simple brick and thatch) instead, most families have just built smaller shacks of stick, thatch, and cow dung. However, what I found most touching was the interview we did in Chandhrabhagha. Speaking to a fisherwoman there, she was asked what she feared most about climate and the rise in sea levels, etc, to which she answered, 'I don't care if the sea takes my house, money or my livelihood...I just pray everyday that when my husband and sons go out to the sea they come back home safe, and are not taken away from me by a cyclone or storm.' A pretty powerful statement, in my opinion: I guess one has to be there to hear it and feel it.