Praying for floods!

If farmers rue their fate for lack of water that may jeoperdise the prospects of their agricultural produce, a small section of people in an obscure village in Bengal has been cursing the heavens for not triggering floods that would leave surface communication crippled for weeks together!

Meet the boatmakers of Balagarh who are ready to go to any length to expitiate the rain god; the reason is  simple. Lesser the rain, lesser the chances of floods ; and correspondingly this affects  their prospects of earning a decent living.

Some 100 odd families in this remote village of Balagarh in Hoogly district of West Bengal are still hoping against hope that the sky would finally open up and pour down to trigger flash floods in the vast low-lying areas in Eastern India. For, only then, they could sell  their  country boats to earn their livelihood.

High demand
‘‘Every year,during the monsoon, our order book remains full as even dry rivers are also in spate, leave  aside the ones that are notorious for overtopping the banks,’’ says Alok Barik,45. ‘‘ But this year, our business is absolutely dull. There is hardly much  rainfall throughout July and August to cause a major flood. And no floods means no business.’’
Barik and his sons control the lion's share of the boat business in Sripur gram panchayat in Balagarh, about 120 kms from the city. Every year, hundreds of fishermen, jute growers and farmers from various districts of Bengal and neighbouring Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam come to this village with requests for various sizes of country boats.
‘‘However, we’ve not come across a single customer requesting us to make  a boat urgently. Because, it hasn't rained that much so far,’’ rues Barik.

When pointed out that large parts of Ghatal in West Midnapore, Khanakul and other areas in Hoogly and Birbhum districts have gone under water following a record release of water from the reservoirs of Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), he said with a wry smile,‘‘ True, but the water level didn't reach that dangerous level to warrant panic purchase of boats. Secondly, rains failed to last long and almost vanished within a couple of days.’’ In view of the scanty rainfall, barring a few, most rivers that used to overtop banks during the monsoon, can be crossed on foot, making boats redundant. In fact, by early July almost every year, visitors would crowd the village and boats of various sizes and in different stages of completion would be on display. But a no-floods scenario this year has put these families in distress and the economy slowed down.

800 - 1,000 boats
The skill and acumen of these boatmakers are famous; on an average, Sripur makes between 800 to 1,000 boats every year, with women and children assisting their elders in chiselling the wood or sharpening the tools. Fajul Mollah,38,has just made his third boat this year. ‘‘Usually, I make around 80 to 90 boats every year. But there's no business this year,’’ Mollah said. Only last week, luck smiled on him for a while as he sold one worth Rs 7,000 to a fisherman from Khanakul, about 35 kms from his village.

Khanakul was flooded following the  release of water from the DVC reservoir earlier this month and the fishermen were out fishing.  Besides, one can even use it for transporation as well." Barik, Mollah and the rest of their ilk have jointly vowed to offer a puja in the temple and darga if  the heavens do open up next year flooding large parts of Bengal and neighbouring states!

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