My breakfast show on Radio Mirchi has been back on air for over a week. It could not have been better-timed—as Calcutta and its suburbs, especially the two Parganas, North and South, limp back to normality, what better tonic than some happy songs from the nineties for a melodious start to the day.
Music’s therapeutic value is immense and if the lyrics match the mood and context, the impact is manifold. Kabir Sumon’s famous number Hal chherona bondhu (Do not lose hope, friend) is the template of our show. It is the appropriate number to lift the morale of Bengalis reeling under two deadly Cs—COVID-19 and cyclone.
Amphan caught Bengal by surprise. We did experience Aila in May 2009. I was shooting in Rashbehari Avenue then when the cyclone struck the city, but Amphan was far more debilitating. Such devastation due to a storm happened last in 1737. Bengal is used to storms this part of the year. The dark clouds, the strong breeze and the rain bring a certain degree of joy. Nor’westers have an element of romanticism. Although we were expecting Amphan, we reckoned it would lose its intensity before striking Calcutta and neighbouring regions. We were completely wrong.
As if the lockdown wasn’t enough, Amphan added to our miseries. Large parts of Calcutta went powerless—that meant no drinking water and rotting food in refrigerators. It was heartbreaking to see how thousands of trees were uprooted. It will take at least 15-20 years to get that greenery back. Lessons must be learnt, lest nature unleashes its fury again.
During this time, we also discovered how much life has changed over the years. Our parents never saw the need for mobile phones and the internet. Today, it’s not only about roti, kapda and makaan, but about internet as well. It’s no more a luxury, but a must-have. Communication, especially social media, has become so much a part of our lives that a minute without the internet leaves us stifled.
At a time when we were shut in our houses due to the lockdown, internet services fell victim to Amphan. With phone lines falling silent and the internet being unstable, the lockdown became even more unbearable. I was off-air for a couple of days as the set-up from my home didn’t work. It was sheer torture to stay away from your normal duties.
No complaining though—it’s time to fight back. Radio has been the best way to reach out to people. The power of this medium is just too overwhelming. We have used our programmes to spread awareness and the dos and don’ts to stay safe from the virus. It has helped for sure. We are seeing a new Calcutta—masked, gloved and meticulously observing hygiene. This is going to be the new normal until we discover a vaccine. We were initially raising money for migrants, but now we have included those suffering from Amphan as well. No aid is enough right now.
We didn’t celebrate Eid this time. We offered namaz inside our house for the first time. Eid means biryani and a lot of goodies to savour. But you need to be in the mood for food and despite my mother wanting to do her best, we could only think about those without even a simple meal of rice and dal.
Since we have to maintain social distancing, we are unable to hold anybody’s hand. It’s a strange situation to be in. A warm hug can make such a huge difference. But alas!
I am worried about the thousands of street food vendors who were earning their livelihood by selling delicious snacks till the lockdown packed them off. Calcutta’s street food, especially in office areas like Dalhousie, Esplanade and Middleton Row, is among the best in the world. It is a massive and successful industry, largely because the average Bengali is a foodie and loves to eat out.
Our chicken chowmein, egg rolls and even the simple shingara (samosa) are famous. The number of likes my food show on YouTube got is a clear indication of this. The good news is that eateries are opening on June 9 and vendors who have suffered for almost three months will be back and raring to go. Winning back their loyal customers will be the biggest challenge. Vendors must guarantee hygiene. It will be interesting to see their new strategy.
Calcutta is definitely smiling and breathing again. June 5 is World Environment Day and Calcutta has so much to prove. No challenge is insurmountable and Calcutta seems to say: “Bring it on”.
(As told to Soumitra Bose)
Mir is television anchor, comedian, singer and radio jockey