“Anandamon” was as happy as an orphanage could be, with nobody”s children fighting melancholy and dreaming of a better life holding the hand of a middle- aged man who cared for them.
Life was hard but simple–they had meals every day, clothes to wear and books to study.
Then came the ”Amphan”, the monstrous cyclonic storm that roared through the West Bengal coast, pulverising everything that blocked its path.
Their humble abode shook as Dilip Kumar Karan, with a handful of books, huddled with the 20 children into a corner of the three-room orphanage.
The asbestos roof crackled under the pounding rain and wind, its shards flying like dried leaves. Moments later, a large part of it got yanked off and was gone, exposing children aged between four and 15 years to raindrops than stung like bees.
Almost two weeks have gone by and the 50-year-old, who runs the orphanage at Nishchintapur in Kakdwip area of South 24 Parganas among the worst-hit by the cyclone – is still struggling to raise funds to repair the wrecked asbestos roof, buy new furniture and mattresses for children.
Funds had dwindled amid the COVID crisis, the calamitous cyclone has made things worse, he said.
The kids were scared when the storm came. I didnt know whether to comfort them or save their belongings. Together, we just rushed to one side of the house as part of the roof got blown away. Shortly after, the room was flooded with rainwater.
It took us time to put things back in order, but there is little money left to rebuild the roof, Karan, who quit his job with a cell phone company eight years ago to start the orphanage with the money he had saved, told PTI.
Piyali Das, a six-year-old resident of Anandamon (happy heart), said she and her friends were terrified when the cyclone tore into Kakdwip, roaring winds wrenching out mud-and-thatch roofs that flew in air.
Das, who was rescued by a panchayat member when her mother was about to sell her off four years ago, wants to become a doctor.
Asked why, she said, The village needs doctors. I am going to make sure coronavirus does not affect anyone anymore, the Class 1 student of a local primary school, said.
A few villagers had come to the aid of the children, and provided them with food and water after the storm had subsided, Karan said.
Thankfully, we did not run out of food. But we could not salvage their clothes, utensils and some mattresses. The children will need new ones, he said.
Fondly called kaku (uncle) by the children, Karan, who walks on crutches after an accident in 2018 impaired one of his legs, has reached out to as many people as he could for help in the past 10 days.
Two businessmen from Kolkata had agreed to help us build a concrete roof over the orphanage, but the lockdown curbs have left the plan hanging fire, he said.
Amit Ghosh, a realtor from Kolkata”s Behala, said he and his friend Suman Paul often visit Anandamon with food and books for children.
Ghosh said he came to know of ”Anandamon” from an acquaintance around three years ago, and has been visiting the place regularly ever since.
“Much has changed since the imposition of the lockdown… our businesses have been hit. But we still plan to build a two-storey concrete house for the children. It may incur a cost of a few lakh of rupees, but we plan to take forward the project soon, he said.
A local police officer, when told about the plight of the orphanage, said foodgrains and other relief material were distributed among villagers in the cyclone-hit area, and more arrangements could be made.
“We have tarpaulin sheets in store. If anyone is in need of help, he or she may approach us. We will do all that is possible, he said.
Karan said his two brothers had also been trying to help him raise funds for the children. “They look after the kids when I am away. Without them, this initiative wouldnt have been possible, he said.
”Kaku” becomes sad at times when some villagers treat his children with scorn, particularly those abandoned by sex workers.
I want a good future for them. Some villagers have always come forward to assist me in my endeavour, while some, including a handful of teachers at their school, look down on them. That hurts, he added.