Less than a week after the storm made a landfall in Puri district, the so-called national newspapers have relegated Cyclone Fani and its aftermath to the inside pages. The digital media, too, is making only a passing reference to the calamity.
Even the ‘donate generously’ messages from NGOs are missing. Some philanthropist organisations that are known to provide relief material even in foreign lands, are conspicuous by their absence in Odisha. It’s almost as if it all happened in another country.
Perhaps Odisha’s management of the storm and the dignified response to it have not been sensational enough for the national media, which thrives on glorifying misery, bloodshed and gore.
Clearly, the absence of sob stories does not translate into spicy media bytes. What was galling is that respected publications like Hindustan Times and India Today even erred in their coverage of the cyclone, triggering strong criticism on social media. This forced the Hindustan Times to apologise for the blunder.
Odisha’s share of space in the national media, as such, has been surprisingly less than it deserves.
It took a New York Times and the UN to eulogise and applaud the Odisha government’s efforts for its preparedness. Re-locating 12 lakh people to safety was no mean task. The news made headlines but on the ground level, the state has been largely left to fend for itself.
Most of Bhubaneswar and Puri’s green cover is gone, millions of trees have been uprooted and thousands of electricity poles have fallen, leaving the residents without power and water. Major structures have been damaged. Hindustan Times reported that the iron scaffolding covering the Jagannath Temple, the biggest tourist attraction in Puri, has crumbled. Kalpa Bata, a huge banyan tree consider ed sacred in the sprawling temple complex, has broken.
A day after the storm hit the coast, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik tweeted, “Cyclone Fani is one of the rarest of rare summer cyclones to hit Odisha in 43 years. The devastation is unfathomable and unprecedented.”
There has been a clear lack of interest and empathy when it comes to the coverage of a devastation of such a scale. No ‘human interest stories’ of courage in the face of adversity, coping without a roof over one’s head, going waterless and powerless; surely there must be many. What about the plight of families who are living in different districts and till date don’t have a clue about their welfare. There have been stray reports of anxious Odia people living in the rest of the country and abroad who have no means of getting in touch with their loved ones due to the collapse of the communication system. No one bothered to highlight their angst.
The height of insensitivity has been the memes and parodies doing the rounds on social media. There is certainly nothing funny about this poem, titled ‘Finding Fani’. “Where are you Fani dear, waited home all day at home with fear” and ends with “You have not reached us, I am aghast, bye bye Fani dear, I will go out and have some beer”.
Only Amul cooperative stayed true to its track record of churning out absolutely apt ads. Their “Sabko Sahi Odisha Dikhaya” punchline with an image of restoration work in the backdrop, conveyed what many in the media failed to do.
Although there has been no formal national appeal for help from the powers that be, it has begun to dawn on individuals, state governments and several organisations that they could spare a few crores for Odisha in such trying times.
It will be quite some time before some semblance of order returns to Odisha. It may not have garnered as much support as was expected but what it has gained in the bargain is a worldwide indestructible and envious reputation for its magnificent efforts in containing the loss of human lives.
The conclusion of an editorial in Hindustan Times provided the much-needed balm. It reads, “All Indian states, coastal or otherwise, must take a leaf out of Odisha’s book and put in place a responsive disaster management system so that they are not caught unawares when a calamity strikes. For example, as the author of The Great Derangement, Amitav Ghosh, tweeted recently, India’s west coast has to learn from Odisha and start putting evacuation plans in place because increased cyclonic activity in the Arabian Sea is one of the predicted effects of climate change, which is not just affecting the intensity and frequency of disasters across the world but also making them erratic.”