Impossible is nothing

Updated: 01 December, 2018 09:51 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

A new music video tells the story of Charu Maa, a courageous woman who overcame one of the biggest natural disasters of all time

The story of Charu Maa is one of a courageous woman picking up the pieces after a devastating natural calamity turned her world upside down. No one had predicted the severity of the super cyclone that struck Odisha in 1999. The Indian Met department had been sending out periodic warnings, sure, but who could have foreseen wind speeds that reached 260 km/hr, for instance?

The sort of destruction that the storm left in its wake led to 1.6 million homes across 14,000 villages being razed to the ground and around 9,000 people — some unofficial estimates have pegged this figure at 30,000 — being declared dead. Life in the eastern state was paralysed for over six months. And lakhs of farmers lost their livelihood overnight, saline water rendering their plantations infertile.

But despite the tragedy, Charu Maa displayed the sort of courage that helped her community rise from the ashes. She hails from a village called Gundalba in Odisha's Puri district, which was left in ruins after the cyclone unleashed its fury in the region. The primary occupation there is agriculture. And a line of casuarina trees was one of the most critical covers that the farmers depended on to protect their fields from the harmful seawater.

But this forested area was wiped out after the calamity. So, the people who survived it were left holding their heads. Not only were their crops destroyed, but also planting new ones now seemed futile. Many NGO workers came to the area advising them on what to do. But the level of despondency was so intense that their encouraging words fell on deaf ears. And that's where Charu Maa stepped in. She shook her community out of its stupor and — after gathering a group of women — replanted that lost forested area bit by bit, thereby securing the area's long-term future.

It's a remarkable story of a single woman's obstinacy in the face of adversity. But till mid-November, an Internet search on her would yield no results. That changed after Konark Sarangi — a 39-year-old California-based musician — decided to build a narrative around Charu Maa in his latest music video, Hausla Na Ruthe. It's part of a larger series called Stories Untold, where Sarangi picks up one social issue at a time to highlight how the human condition is at the mercy of external factors.

The first such video, Ghar Jaana Hai, released last year, tells the heart-wrenching tale of a couple who are torn apart because the husband has to leave his drought-ridden village in search of work. It had the sort of ending that will leave a lump in your throat, rather than make your face break into a smile. But with Hausla Na Ruthe, Sarangi leaves the viewer with a fuzzy feeling when Charu Maa's perseverance pays off in the end, leading to celebrations all around.

Stills from the video for Hausla Na Ruthe
Stills from the video for Hausla Na Ruthe

Talking about how he came up with the idea for the video, the musician says over the phone from the US, "It's a social cause that is really close to my heart because I have spent most of my early years in that belt of Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Bihar. And there are a lot of things that happen there every year in terms of natural calamities — be it cyclones or droughts. So when my friend Snehashish Das, who's directed the video, told me about Charu Maa, we felt that this is the kind of story we should raise awareness about through the medium of music."

And what did he learn about the central character — played by Ila Arun — while making the video? "The first thing we learnt is about how the process of forestation is extremely vital for the people there to earn their livelihood. And another key learning experience was how, despite being uneducated, the people in the village had the practical skills to rebuild their lives. That really is the beauty of this entire story," Sarangi answers, revealing how the maxim "where there is a will, there is a way" holds true even when your life falls to pieces and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Konark Sarangi
Konark Sarangi

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First Published: 01 December, 2018 09:24 IST

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