Joy in the Sundarbans*

This “vision” is one of the 30+ that we’ll publish here in the next months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). We hope that you will comment on the message, suggest ways to sharpen the narrative, and tell us how the story affects your understanding of adapting to climate change.

Most importantly, we hope that you enjoy reading these stories and share them with your friends and family. —David Zetland (editor) and the authors


The sea was playing with Joy, gently lifting him, picking him up, and dropping him. Drops of water fell into his mouth. How sweet was the taste… the water trickled into his parched throat and Joy seemed to leap up as do the fast disappearing Gangetic porpoises, nose in the air, arms spread.

A sudden loud crashing sound awoke him with a start. His little eight year old body shook in fear and he cried out ‘Ma!’

His mother awoke and said, it must be part of the embankment that had breached. ‘It’s been raining so hard for the last one week, it’s a wonder the embankment did not break earlier.’ Below, the waters noisily gurgled, greedily throwing fierce small waves against the low bamboo ladder that led up to their home. Joy heard the rustle of the plastic sheets that made his mother’s bed on the floor.

Joy shouted in the dark ‘Ma, I’m scared.’

His mother made some comforting sounds and asked him to come to her. The rains raged overhead and their fragile shelter shook. Looking at the empty bed beside him, he asked his mother when will his father return. And he knew from her silence that she did not know, or could not surmise.

Joy jumped to his feet as a sharp white lightening struck. At once, he felt his way in the dark to his mother. The second plank on the floor was loose and through the crack he could see the rising waters below, reaching for him. Terrified, he launched himself on his mother over the next two planks. He remembered his father had pulled out the two rotten planks from the wreck of their old home, disgustedly commenting that the wood was fit only for firewood and would not last them even a week. And yet, his father never changed the planks in the next three years.

His mother pulled him close, above them the rain sounded louder than the waters below.

Joy tried to swallow his own spit, but his dry throat hurt. He remembered seeing about an inch or so of of drinking water in the bucket. Joy reluctantly asked his mother for water. His mother tightened her hold on him. Then rocked him and whispered, ‘as soon as the rain stops I will fetch water.’ Neither of them admitted that the rain did not look like letting up. Ever. He knew his mother could not go through the knee-high muddy water in the dark to fetch drinking water. As the rains came and came he hated seeing her trudge through sea water just to fetch drinking water.

As it is, theirs was the only shelter by the embankment, the rest of the village had fled to the new Flood House built on pillars. Joy had once sneaked in there and was surprised to even see a water pump on the first floor.

Joy could never understand why his father had built a rickety precarious shelter beside the embankment, at the very edge of the village. He remembered no one had come to help his father as he built the ramshackle shelter on bamboo stilts for fear of the rising water. He remembered seeing his mother weeping. And then one morning, Joy learnt that his father was gone.

Now Joy’s eyes grew heavy, but every time he tried to sleep, his dry throat hurt. Joy must have drifted off when he heard the clatter of the pans where his mother stored the water downstairs, below their sleeping space. His mother softly called up ‘I will go and fetch some water for you’. Joy tried to protest but his tongue seemed to have thickened and stuck to the roof of his mouth. He lay flat and from the corner of the broken plank watched his mother go down into the darkness below their shelter. He heard her splash into the water. The waters had risen to her waist. He saw her struggle against the wind by the light of the zigzagging lightening. Then the darkness and the earsplitting sounds of the roaring sea, enveloped her. And for a long time the darkness remained. He was frightened for his mother.

If only he was big enough to fetch the water himself.

Joy did not know how much time had lapsed, but just when he felt there was no hope and his mother was lost forever, he saw a forking lightening that brought his mother in focus with a bucket. Soon, he felt his mother cup water into his mouth. Bliss!

Joy swallowed some more water and hoarsely asked ‘Ma why don’t we go and stay on the Roy house porch? Their house is so high the water won’t reach them ever.’

His mother pulled her wet sari around her to stay warm but the raging winds sent in fingers of cool through the gaps between the wooden planks and plastic sheets. She softly muttered, ‘we can’t go to the Roys. Your father… he stole from them…’

Joy felt a hollow fear in the pit of his stomach. But in a fit of bravado said, ‘They will let you and I stay in a corner… Ma we can’t stay here.’

As if the elements heard him, a sudden wind howled in through the planks of wood and carried away the overhead plastic sheet. The shelter creaked and shook. Joy pulled his mother up and shouted above the wind to run. As they clambered down the ladder a high wave of water roared above them and crashed on them.

When they reached the Roys, they turned to see their home floating away. The sea that had till then been some distance away, now seemed to pursue them. The first fingers of sea water lapped around the newest climate refugees ankles.


* One of the first areas to go under water in India is predicted to be the Sunderbans region of the Bay of Bengal.

Keya Dutt has written crime stories (with one novel and many short stories), translated Bengali to English, and has several publications of literary criticism. She is drawn to the issues of climate change and environmental devastations through the work of her husband, Ronodeb Paul, who has made a documentary on climate change in the Sunderbans.

Swimming over the future

This “vision” is the first in 33 (or more!) that we’ll be publishing on this site over the next few months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). Please do comment with your thoughts on the message, how to sharpen the narrative, and/or how you feel/think about adapting to climate change (we’re not very subtle 😉

So, please put yourself into some of these visions, and — seriously — we hope you enjoy them 🙂  — David Zetland (editor) and the authors


Nathan Scott slid into his lightweight dive gear and prepared to explore a new site in the sunken city. His father was a photojournalist and his mother an archeologist, so this work came naturally to him. He had been diving and exploring ancient ruins since he was a boy. Now, he was the archeologist and was leading his own team.

For this dive, Nathan wanted to see how things had changed since the sea had taken over and an earthquake had further dropped the ground below. They used cutting-edge laser mapping gear to map the location. Simply swimming over the dive site would give them a 3-D model of the entire area.

With a nod from the members of his team, each diver

backrolled into the warm saltwater and descended to the bottom. The site was relatively shallow – only 30 feet deep. Just a few miles away, the bottom dropped off quickly, with depths measured in miles, but that was a dead zone.

Swimming nearly unencumbered by his dive gear, Nathan thought back to his dad’s gear and laughed to himself. That stuff was ancient. It all belonged to museums now. Nathan’s dad had died a few years before, but his mom was still alive. At 100-years-old, she loved to tell stories of their adventures together and relive them like it was yesterday.

Nathan caught sight of the building he planned to survey. The architecture was considered “space-age” at the time. That brought another laugh. Now that space travel was common, he realized the science fiction writers and architectural dreamers had it pretty close. The buildings on Mars looked like what he saw in front of him. Minus the corals, of course.

The main structure had looked like an ancient satellite with four long legs coming down at angles and crossing at the top in two massive bows. The central structure rose from the ground as a single pedestal and then flared out, connecting to the legs. Storms had knocked the structure sideways and dropped the main building to the sea floor now, though.

Approaching the remnants of the building, Nathan could tell a few glass windows had survived the fall, but other than that it was completely open to the sea. In the shadow of the building, Nathan turned on his underwater light to get a look inside.

The water had risen slowly, but inexorably, so the people who worked in the building had time to remove everything. All that was left was furniture that couldn’t be moved easily and the walls of the building itself. He knew there was nothing of value there, which is probably why it had been left alone all these years.

Sweeping his light to the side, Nathan saw a shadow move. There was something there. But what? There were no sharks left in this part of the ocean. Whatever it was, it was big, though. Bigger than him, big.

Nathan moved inside the building. He needed to see what was there. Whatever it was, the thing kept moving just out of his vision. He kicked further inside. The odd angles of the floor and the walls, with the structure lying on its side, were disorienting.

What was in there? Was it just his imagination?

Moving into the cavernous room, Nathan stayed away from the walls. He didn’t want to get backed into a corner. Swinging his light to his right to look around a partition, his heart almost stopped. He had heard stories, but he almost didn’t believe what he saw. The flowing fins and spines radiating from the fish’s body identified it immediately. A lionfish. But this one was as big as a lion. It had to weigh 400 pounds.

The fish advanced toward him, stalking him like prey, and Nathan backpedaled quickly. The fish’s flowing spines were as long as he was tall and could deliver enough ichthyotoxic venom to paralyze him on the spot. Lionfish were known to be fearless and aggressive hunters. There wasn’t much left in the ocean that could challenge them these days.

Lionfish hunted by moving close to their prey and then darting forward, lowering their flat lower jaws, and sucking prey into their mouths. If this lionfish got too close, Nathan wasn’t sure there was much he could do.

Swimming backward, Nathan crashed into something hard. He managed to run into one of the few remaining glass windows. His reflection in the glass showed him that the huge fish had closed on him.

Nathan raised his light and smashed the window, diving through the falling shards of glass. As he did, he felt a pull against his legs. He grabbed the window frame and pulled himself the rest of the way through the opening just in time. The lionfish’s mouth clamped down on his foot and pulled one of his fins loose. Fortunately, it was too big to fit through the window opening.

He was safe.

Making his way back to the boat was slow going with only one fin, but that was fine. He needed time to reflect on what he saw. On the way, he swam over the most famous landmark from the area they were surveying. The A and the X in the famous sign nearly reached the surface, but the L had fallen. All three statues were completely covered in coral growth.

LAX.

He remembered catching a flight there with his dad as they were headed off on some adventure when he was just a kid.


Eric Douglas is a diver who writes both fiction and nonfiction. His Mike Scott series of adventure novels are all set in dive locations around the world. They all involve action, adventure, history and the environment. This story features Mike Scott’s son Nathan, many years in the future. You can find out more about the Mike Scott series or Douglas’ other books at www.booksbyeric.com.