Part 7 :The Joy of little things
In Aizawl, whenever the temperature rises and we contemplate turning on the fans, it rains, and we are back in our jackets and socks. Rains are a year-round phenomenon in this part of the country, but there is a full-blown rainy season, generally between May and September. This year, the season has been extreme. We were on our short visit to Kerala in the month of May, when the news started showing photos of torrential rains and deluge in the Northeast. There was one particularly scary photo of a railway line hanging precariously between two hills- rains had washed away the land and thus turning the railway track into an aerial garland of sorts! Parts of Assam were flooded, and many roads in Meghalaya and Mizoram were buried under deadly landslides.
The supplies of fuel and other essentials to Mizoram is through Assam’s Barak valley. So, what happens in Assam doesn’t stay in Assam – it has a huge impact on everyday life in Mizoram too. Nature’s fury effectively disrupted the supply chain, and we were face to face with shortage of essentials, mainly fuel. Mizoram state does not have a fuel depot and hence, the system has no capability to withstand any shocks to the supply chain- the uninterrupted availability depends on regular incoming supplies.
The state has some mechanisms for fuel rationing. On days when there is ample fuel availability, the fuel stations can hold “free sales”, i.e., whoever needs the fuel just drives in, gets the refill- without any limit in the quantity, and pays for it and leaves. Once there is a shortage or an impending one, the free sale system is closed and the coupon and/or permit system kicks in. Permits are temporary in nature with a 24-hour validity. These can be applied online (there’s no guarantee if you will get one, however) and there is a cap on how much fuel one can buy with the permit, depending on the type of vehicle. The coupon system is for government officials to purchase fuel. Besides these official systems, there’s a very evident fuel black market too. Fortunately, on the day we returned from Kerala, although petrol had gone into rationing mode, the free sale for diesel was still open and we managed to get a full refill for the office vehicle. In Aizawl city, the demand for petrol seems to be much higher as most of the smaller vehicles run on petrol.
This bout of fuel shortage lasted till mid-June, but the worst was yet to come. Things were just limping back to normalcy when heavy rains resumed, and flood waters submerged the surrounding plain areas. At this time, I happened to visit Tripura and through my aircraft window, I could see the vast expanses of farmlands waterlogged and villages stranded amidst the flood waters. Later, I was told that these scenes were from across the border, in Bangladesh, which also faced one of the worst floods in recent years. Things were no good on our side either- Assam’s Silchar was inundated for over six days and the residents faced a severe drinking water crisis. Closer home, in Mizoram, several landslides occurred on key roads of the state. As expected, fuel stations went into stock out and we had no other way other than to go into energy conservation mode. We would make an occasional grocery run on our Activa or a grocery walk- once our scooter’s fuel tank was nearly empty. Being marooned against will is thoroughly detrimental to one’s mental health too, we realized.
However, things are looking up once again – the waters receded in lower Assam and once again, goods and parcels have started arriving. My sister thought that sending me a massive 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle may be a good way to spend the hours at home and she was right- It’s my new favorite pastime. Some other consignments, which my headquarters sent me in early June have now sashayed to their destination in excellent condition, although several weeks late. The price of eggs is yet to go down from Rs. 250 for thirty, but we are hopeful that this too will revert to the usual 180/190 rupees. As for fuel, last weekend, our Activa got the first refill after many weeks. At the petrol pump, several people were filling their vehicle tanks and stocking up their home reserve in five- and ten-liter cans.
Living in the northeast has been exciting and humbling at the same time. One never knows what is in store for the future and patience is key to a peaceful existence. Once our Activa’s belly was full, we decided to get some lunch in a restaurant with a phenomenal view of the hillside and clouds. On the ride back home, we enjoyed our newly reclaimed freedom- and felt the joy of little things, once again.
PHOTO CREDIT : DR AISWARYALAKSHMI | MANOHAR KRISHNAN
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