“Aami chini go chini tomare o go bideshini” by Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore which translates to “I know you, can identify you, Oh my lady of a foreign land” describes what I felt stepping down from a boat at Ghoramara Island in West Bengal.Struggling for a steady surface, I felt nothing unusual. The usual sea breeze, smiling fishermen with their nets. The people of Ghoramara are struggling to preserve their identity, building and rebuilding their homes, living amidst the constant threat of cyclones and floods. It wasn’t by chance that I missed my boat back to Kakdwip port that evening. I wanted to experience what Ghoramara was experiencing for the last four decades - waking up to a different tide every day.
With the sea level constantly rising at approximately 8mm per year, Ghoramara is one of the ten areas soon to be studied by divers if we continue to ignore the climate-related challenges facing the island. Once a home for over 40,000 people, Ghoramara today has a little above 3000 inhabitants who are yet to tire of rebuilding their houses every time the tide decides to flood their habitat. In the last 50 years, the island has lost approximately 51% of its landmass leaving no choice for its inhabitants but to relocate from what is left of the 4.84 sq km landmass. Instead of coming to their rescue, Jyotirindra Basu, then CM of the West Bengal government, ignored existence and extended the Haldia port despite the constant warnings of the country’s Ministry of Water Resources that the expansion don’t know about it. What I witnessed there was heartbreaking. The stranded boats and trees submerged in water were a welcoming sight when I reached the island. A substantial amount of land had submerged in water in the past and the ever-increasing water level ensured the end of Ghoramara in the near future. Those who remained were forced to shift inwards as water covered the outer boundaries. Observing locals while they rebuilt their homes was painful. Just imagine, the island I came to visit would get washed off by the sea.
“Shono baba, amar lagche amader eyi Ghoramara aro ko-ek bochhor thakbe" (Listen son, I have a feeling that our Ghoramara has still got a few more years before it sinks). The experienced voice of a 65 years young Panchami Layek made me realize the importance of documenting real-time stories. And it is now that I know the reason behind the fishermen’s smile, they believe in living each day like it is their last.