‘The Inheritance of Loss’, which won this year’s Booker prize is set in northern India, and there’s a scene around p.170 where one of the characters, an aging snob is reading a paper during monsoon season, and idly remarks that ‘the Bangladeshis are up their trees again’. I didn’t like the book, but that line of mild racism did stand out amidst the otherwise meandering pomposity. I didn’t think it was serious though.
However, the rain really has been coming down across South Asia and especially in Bangladesh this week, causing hundreds of deaths and millions of people to be stranded, and losing everything. Bangladesh in the rainy season has more surface water than the whole of Europe, but now half the country is submerged and it’s apparently going to get worse before it gets better.
As for me, by virtue of my status I’m one of the lucky ones. My house got flooded again on Tuesday, and I lost my patience and have moved in to a local hotel. I already didn’t have any power, piped water, or food because my fridge was broken, but I ventured out in to the rain at about 8 in the morning for some breakfast, and when I got back at 8.45 there was six inches of water in my kitchen.
I actually don’t mind a bit of a practical crisis, because I like finding practical solutions. So I made myself a cup of tea (Step One in any British ‘Coping with Disaster’ manual) and sat with my feet in the water working out what the best thing to do was. However, once I realised that the water had come up from my squat toilet I decided that enough was enough and packed a few things and cycled off through the floods, water coming up about a foot.
Most of Sylhet is actually ok, but my area closest to the river is gone, and with only nine more days for me left in Sylhet, I’ve decided to use my August house rent to get a cheap room and enjoy constant electricity and walls that aren’t wet to the touch, a last bit of luxury as I bid this place goodbye.
I’ve hardly ever stayed in hotels before, and I’ve never ‘lived’ in one, so I’m beginning to feel a bit like Alan Partridge as I try to make friends with all the staff that seem to loiter at every corner, one to summon the lift, one to go in the lift with you, one to welcome you out of the lift – typical Bangladeshi efficiency. But they do provide a washing service, which is relatively expensive but they actually clean the clothes, which hasn’t happened before. When I got my t-shirts back, they were a different colour – the one I bought them in, and were actually dry. So all of a sudden it no longer feels like I’m wearing woven cheese.