The smell come first, then the tops of coconut palms : flouting on tiny stalks above the placid hay- at last the low mud bank with its horrcandans harden of decaying bodies. I had to run the dinghy down the coast for over a mile before I could find a spot to land without stepping an one of the luckless victims of the cyclone. I scrambled up the slippery bank, nearly retackling, and stood on a dirt mound that only last week had been a home. There before me was a beautiful, golden, flattened and utterly desolate land…
― Jon Rohde’s account of landing on Manpura, November 23, 1970
Catalyst is story of the most devastating cyclone in history, which struck one of the most overpopulated and defenseless places on earth. On November 12, 1970, a massive storm build up a twenty-foot high wall of water that surged with deadly force across the low-lying islands in the Bay of Bengal. The islanders, along with their lives tic, boats, possessions and any buildings not made of concrete, were flung into the raging wind and sea. Only the strongest survived. With an estimated half million deaths, the Great Bhola Cyclone stands as the worst in recorded history.
Drawing on original field notes, archival research, recollections of participants, interviews and memoirs, ‘Catalyst’ tells the true story of the response of a group of young friends to this unprecedented natural disaster, and to the subsequent conflict that led to the new nation of Bangladesh. A compelling tale about the choices that define us and shape our lives, ‘Catalyst’ illustrates how times of great calamity and confusion can become a cartography of human purpose.