Six years ago, I witnessed the last genuine smile on my uncle’s face. In the years that followed, all I saw was pain and sorrow. Our village, once thriving with a prosperous economy, began to crumble. As children, we used to play football in the empty paddy fields after the harvest. The scorching heat made us sweat profusely, turning our bodies reddish. Our mothers scolded us when we returned home, so we would sneak off to the village pond to bathe and escape punishment. Unfortunately, this often led to frequent bouts of fever.
However, beyond our narrow perspective, there was a more significant event unfolding—a devastating drought. The parched soil cried out for additional irrigation, while heavy dust blanketed the paddy fields. Desperate to salvage their crops, village farmers paid exorbitant amounts to the deep-tube-well manager for proper irrigation. Some even purchased shallow machines to manually water their fields. Those were the days when we dreaded spending a single night beneath our plastic roofs, next to the hum of the shallow machine. The caretaker of the machine, responsible for maintaining adequate irrigation levels, struggled to sleep at night. Over time, the stress and relentless heat took a toll on his complexion.
Yet, after enduring immense hardships, there came a time when the paddy fields brought joy to the farmers and their families. Happiness permeated through our neighbors and local businesses. The rice harvest was sold at fair prices, and love reigned within their homes. Laughter filled the air, and peaceful sleep returned. Once again, we, a group of liberated children, played football with unbridled freedom and joy in the empty paddy fields.
Today, nearly 10,000 people in my village rely on rice production for their livelihoods. They invest their entire savings into this venture, hoping for a bountiful yield. The first half of the last decade proved promising, but those days are now fading memories. Since 2015, heavy rainfall has led to excessive waterlogging in the paddy fields, shattering the farmers’ hopes of a successful harvest. Even if they manage to bring their crops home, the prices they receive fall short of their expectations.
As the month of Joyostho approaches—the third month of the Bengali calendar—fear grips the hearts of the villagers. Despite their hopes for a positive outcome, each year brings a devastating flood from the upstream region. Even minimal rainfall causes the old river to swell mercilessly. The river, once a conduit for excess water from the fields, is now obstructed by hardened soil and immovable sands. Unfortunately, the government has yet to take any steps to dredge the riverbed and remove the upper layer of soil. Consequently, even a small influx of water causes great distress for our farmers.
In recent years, our farmers have struggled to reap what they sowed. Acres of land are submerged, preventing many from harvesting their crops. Some fields have disappeared entirely under the weight of waterlogging. Last year, a farmer suffered a sudden heart attack and passed away. It was revealed that his 12 Bigha of paddy fields had been completely submerged, and he had invested all his money into them. The mental pressure became too much for him to bear, leading to his untimely demise. People say he succumbed to the greatest ailment of all—economic anxiety and financial depression.
Today, our village is filled with despair, and depression lingers in the minds of the people. As the farmer’s economic condition deteriorates, local businesses also suffer. With the devastating impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, the situation may worsen, casting a dark shadow over our economy. No one will be spared from its effects. The pain that we once experienced as children, the joy of playing football in the open fields, has become a distant memory, overshadowed by the demon of waterlogging.
What can we do now? Perhaps it is time to reevaluate our survival strategies and explore alternative solutions. One possibility is to introduce genetically engineered crop varieties that have already proven successful in the southern part of our country. These varieties may hold the key to alleviating the mental anguish and setbacks faced by our farmers. Can we reduce their pain and suffering in the near future? Only time will tell, as it always does with great panache and elegance.
In the meantime, we must hold onto hope and support one another. Our village’s future hangs in the balance, but resilience runs deep within our community. We must stand united, ready to adapt and overcome the challenges that lie ahead. And as we navigate this uncertain path, we can take solace in the knowledge that Allah knows best. Together, we will carve out a new chapter for our village, guided by determination, innovation, and unwavering spirit.