In the November of 1988, I was on a boat in the middle of river Bidya in front of the Gosaba island—one of the main islands of the deltaic mangrove forest region of the Sundarbans—with forest-department officials who were on their way to the Sundarbans National Park to conduct a tiger census. A cyclone came with windspeeds as high as 200 kilometres-per-hour and lashed the coasts for almost six hours amid high tide. Our boat miraculously escaped, taking shelter inside a creek, but another boat of the forest department that was also on the same route was not nearly as lucky. It got blown away along the river Bidya, across Gosaba island and out to the Bay of Bengal.
After bracing the storm all night, the following morning we made our way to the forests. The trail of devastation that the cyclone had left behind was visible across the mangroves. While returning to Kolkata two days later, by boat and then over land, I got to see human cost of the cyclone. Almost every house on the islands I travelled through had been razed to the ground or had their roofs blown off. I saw dead cattle on top of trees and remains of crushed boats strewn along river banks.
Despite the devastation I saw in the Sundarbans, hardly any media reports emerged about the cyclone in the three days following it. Three decades later, when Amphan hit the same region on the evening of 20 May, news from the region was equally slow and silent. Social media was brimming with images of Kolkata and the urban areas around it, but the Sundarbans, which the chief minister, Mamata Banerjee called the “worst affected region” in a press conference that day, seemed conspicuously absent in media coverage. Despite a revolution in mobile connectivity, for the first five days, I was unable to get much information from the same islands that I had seen flattened in 1988.