El Diego’s last night. Cyclone & tsunami at the same time!

– Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

How often do you encounter a cyclone and tsunami on the same night? I did, along with some of my colleagues. On this day two years ago, on November 25, 2020, Chennai was supposed to be hit by Cyclone Nivar. I was working there for a newspaper, overseeing the production process that night.

Because there was this cyclone alert, which was supposed to make landfall at around midnight, we had planned in advance to wind up work at around 10.30 pm. Only those who lived close by had been asked to come to office that day. It was raining heavily from the afternoon and we were half drenched by the time we made it to the workplace.

We were quite on schedule. By at around 10 pm, we had wrapped things up, as in filling up the space of the newspaper sports pages with adequate and quality content. Satisfied we were and patting the backs of each other for a job decently done. Cyclone was approaching and we were preparing to leave. Then came the tsunami!

I received a message from a colleague that Diego Maradona was no more. A joke I thought! One of those pranks! But given the enormity of the news, I had to immediately start checking the agency news reports and asked a colleague to run an eye through internet. It was confirmed within no time. El Diego was gone. Having worked for newspapers for a long time by then and handled pressure situations, I was not completely bewildered to be honest. But truth to be told, for a few minutes, I did not know what to do, how to react.

The front page of the paper had to be redone. The sports pages had to be completely overhauled. My boss, the sports editor, was seated next to me. Initially, we exchanged a chuckle. Saying ‘phew, what a night’. The intensity of the cyclone had picked up by then. Even from a room where windows are sealed, we could hear the fury of nature. Then began the job of racing against time. How do you undo what you have done over a few hours in a few minutes!

There was no time to think. It was a matter of taking instant decisions without thinking where things could go wrong. Just do it, don’t think about anything else. It’s not simple mind you. An entire page or more had to be discarded and made afresh. We needed copies to be written at a hectic pace and arrange other stuff like anecdotes, timelines, achievements, controversies of which there was no end in Maradona’s life. That and redesigning the page, in about 45 minutes max, it was some task. Easily the most challenging night of my career, with a cyclone getting louder and louder by the minute.

I was handling the planning part of it. I had to decide what all has to be thrown out without compromising on news value. After a quick look at the main sports page, I hesitantly suggested to the sports editor that his weekly column had to be thrown out. He had written it with a lot of thought and care and it did not have a lot of shelf life. As in, there was a chance that it would lose relevance if it was to be used the next day. Very unselfishly, he agreed. We got things done.

We could not leave office at the time we had planned. It was raging and pouring outside. The cyclone had not fully arrived but it was quite furious nonetheless. In the part of Chennai I lived, electricity supply had been cut off. And these mosquitoes are not bothered about things like rain or hailstorm you know! It was a sleepless night. One that I will remember forever. Experiencing a cyclone and tsunami at the same time? Trust me, the elements and immortals were not kidding that night.


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