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Contours of Calamity

C.N. Chitta Ranjan

By Stephen P. Cohen & C.V. Reghavulu 
Vikas, New Delhi, 1979, pp. 131, Rs. 50.00


Recently, after the publication of the volume under review, parts of coastal Andhra, and to a lesser extent coastal  Tamil Nadu, faced the fury of a cyclone, with considerable loss of life and pro­perty, leaving a grim trail of sorrow and suffering. But this year's cyclone can hardly be compared with the calamity that struck the Andhra coast twenty months ago. There is no yardstick by which the consequences of a natural disaster of major dimensions—physical, psychological, spiritual—can be measured. Even for areas and people that have lived through cyclones, storms, tidal waves and mon­soon floods over many centuries, Nov­ember 1977 was a soul-searing experience. The media poured out millions of words without being able to communicate in full measure the intensity and depth of the tragedy, or of the innumerable major and minor tragedies-individual, family, clan tragedies­—that form part of any major calamity. Obviously a research work by two scholars, despite the great pains they have obviously taken, cannot be expected to bring into focus all the aspects of the first few crucial minutes, the succeeding days of agony, and the subsequent phase of efforts to help and rehabilitate the survivors and to make the affected areas fit to live in again. Yet, the authors have succeeded in giving an idea of the immensity of what happened, apart from providing an objec­tive and fair account of what was done or not done to bring succour to the tens of thousands the cyclone and the storm ‘surge’ had left alive. Cyclones and other natural calamities being part of our lives, it is useful to know what can be done and what cannot be done in such dark circumstances. The authors have attemp­ted precisely this, with commendable success, apart from highlighting, with several instances, the agony through which vast numbers of men, women and children had to pass. The first thing that strikes one is the unfairness of apportioning blame right and left for failure to take precautions. Keep in mind that the eastern coastline is quite long, stretching from Kanyakumari and Rameshwaram in the deep South to West Bengal and beyond. Much of this coastline and areas inland is vulnerable to the cyclones, storms and tidal waves that emanate all too frequently from the Bay of Bengal. The cyclone warning system is undoubtedly useful and can do with imp­rovement. But what does ...

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