The story behind the viral photo that showed the world how badly Kolkata was hit by Amphan

Innumerable photos, videos flooded the internet after the super cyclone Amphan pummeled it's way through Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal. The amount of damage is still being assessed
The before/after collage that also went viral | Pic: Satyaki Sanyal
The before/after collage that also went viral | Pic: Satyaki Sanyal

But here, in the tide country, transformation is the rule of life: rivers stray from week to week, and islands are made and unmade in days. In other places forests take centuries, even millennia, to regenerate; but mangroves can recolonize a denuded island in ten to fifteen years. Could it be the very rhythms of the earth were quickened here so that they unfolded at an accelerated pace?

Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Tide

The dire state in which West Bengal is on Thursday reminded me of these lines.

Scenes of large uprooted trees, convoluted live wires, damaged houses and flown off roofs were just the beginning in the initial stages of the destruction when Super Cyclone Amphan (pronounced um-pun) made its appearance on Wednesday. As it pummelled through the night over the city of joy Kolkata and large parts of West Bengal it left behind a trail of devastation, deaths - about 12 people were killed, and shattered hope.

Scary and heart-wrenching photos from the Kolkata international airport showed the damage left behind as large airliners stood in a river of water with facilities damaged. Amphan is the most devastating cyclone that has struck the city in centuries, some even said since 1737 when the Calcutta cyclone killed numerous. While others said they have witnessed nothing like this in the past few decades. As many fear damage to iconic structures in the city and embrace themselves for more grim news, reports are still pouring in.

There were numerous mind-boggling photos of the cyclone's wrath, but a single picture which stood out on Wednesday and was shared massively was that of a narrow lane in North Kolkata with taxis and cars completely submerged underwater. The area where the photo was taken is Sukea Street, an otherwise bustling neighbourhood in the heart of the city, also famous for severe waterlogging and thus called the 'Venice of the East'.

We spoke to the photographer, a 25-year-old software engineer who resides in that area to try to comprehend the intensity of the storm and the subsequent rain.

"On May 20, around 7.30-8 pm I took the photo. There were power cuts all around, no street lights were on, but one light in front of my house had flickered back for a moment when I clicked the photo," says Satyaki Sanyal.

The viral photo

He had first posted it on his own WhatsApp story, following which he posted on Facebook as well. His friends and contacts then took screenshots of the picture and shared it among their friends, workgroups and elsewhere. "Around 10.30-11 in the night my friends, colleagues and acquaintances called and texted saying that the photo has gone viral. They even tagged me in several places on Facebook where people had shared or posted the photo," he adds. The photo went viral on Wednesday night and it was shared by hundreds both on Facebook and Twitter.

Some, however, spread misinformation stating that the photo was from Howrah or from South Kolkata and several other area names came up. "I then decided to clarify and thus posted a before/after collage showing the same scene in a photo taken on Wednesday morning when it had only begun pouring but the street wasn't completely waterlogged yet," explains Satyaki. He clarified saying that it is Sukea Street in North Kolkata and he is the owner of the photo. The collage also got shared by hundreds. 

On Thursday, he was contacted by a photographer on Facebook, who then revealed that his photo will be published on BBC and later he was also contacted by AFP asking for the photo. Several other local pages in Bengal have also used and shared Satyaki's photo on social media platforms.

The photo was taken on his phone. "I don't professionally click photos but I click random photos on my phone and put it up on social media but this time it went viral. I have no idea how. It has never happened before," says the elated 25-year-old, who works as a software engineer in Gurgaon, but is currently at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Satyaki Sanyal

He also tells us that the storm began around 2 pm on Wednesday, then around 4.30 pm it was massive. "Glass windows broke in our house as well due to the strong gusts of wind that the cyclone brought with it. Ours is an old North Kolkata house, we have three storeys and it was getting flooded with water due to the incessant rains. However, the storm became calm around 7.30 and that's when I went out to my balcony to click the photo. Thankfully, we had power the entire night, not for once was it out. I am 5 ft 10 inches, the waterlogging was definitely neck-deep. There was even more water towards the main road. The rain has stopped but the water is receding quite slowly," he explains.

This photo was taken on Thursday, May 21, after the cyclone battered Kolkata

There were also reports of landlines being severed, communication lost in several areas and power cuts through the night. Some said it seemed like the world was coming to an end as the wind at 185 kmph blew through the railings of the iconic Howrah Bridge in Kolkata.

On Thursday, Amphan weakened and lay centered over Bangladesh about 270 north-northeastwards of Kolkata with a wind speed of 27 kmph.

The author of this story is a resident of Sukea street, who has lived there all her life before moving out five years ago. She is aware of the waterlogging but has never seen anything like this in her 26 years of existence. She hopes and prays for her city and its people. For them to stay strong and come out this triumphant.

Related Stories

No stories found.