Disaster Management and Science
The Concept of Refraction of Light
“Woohoo!” Nitin exclaimed. Mrs D’Souza, the class teacher, had just announced a class picnic to Arthinkal the next day.
“This is going to be great,” said an equally enthusiastic Vijay, the school cricket captain. “There’s a huge open ground there. We’ll take a bat and ball.” The whole class was very excited about a break from lessons, especially as they had worked very hard for the half-yearly exams that had just gotten over.
The next day, everyone came in their most colourful clothes. Nitin noticed that Eeshan was a bit quiet and looked worried.
“What happened?” he asked his best friend. “Is something wrong?”
“Maybe not,” Eeshan replied. “But I just read the newspaper this morning and it said there was a possible tornado forming not far away from the coast. The paper said that there was no cause for alarm yet but it pays to be prepared.”
“Do you have to be such a spoilsport all the time?” said Vijay, who’d overheard the exchange between Eeshan and Nitin. “Can’t you stop being nerdy for once and just learn to enjoy things?” He walked away without waiting for a response.
Eeshan said nothing. He was quite aware that despite his best efforts to be helpful and friendly towards all his classmates, some of them still resented his intelligence and his popularity with the teachers.
“Don’t mind him, Eeshan,” Nitin consoled him. “Let’s go, the bus is about to leave.”
The school bus took exactly an hour to reach the beautiful St. Andrews Church in Arthinkal. The class spent an hour inside, admiring the lovely Portugese monument and listening to the guide, who spoke about its history and traditions.
Next on the agenda was lunch at the vast open ground behind the church. Most of the children finished their lunch in a hurry, keen to start playing cricket and other sports. They played for a long time, until the shadows started lengthening and it was almost time to go.
Off the last ball of the match, with his team needing one run to win, Nitin hit the ball high in the air, in Eeshan’s direction. As Eeshan looked up towards the sky at the ball, he froze. Instead of landing in his hands, the ball dropped harmlessly a few feet from him.
“What are you doing?” Vijay, who was on the same team, screamed. “Why didn’t you catch the ball? You’ve cost us the match!”
“Everyone, stop playing and let’s go inside the church,” replied Eeshan.
“What?” said Vijay, confused.
Eeshan raised his voice. “We need to hurry inside the church. Now! There’s a tornado about to strike.” He started walking briskly towards the church.
All the kids followed him but Vijay stood motionless, not sure how to react.
“Come on, Vijay!” Eeshan shouted. “Let’s go.” All of a sudden, the sky darkened and little drops of rain started falling. Vijay was frozen to his spot, seemingly unable to move. Eeshan ran back towards him, grabbed him by the hand and pulled him towards the church. Mrs. D’Souza had come rushing to take the children back into the church building.
Eeshan and Vijay were the last ones to enter the church. By now, droplets of hail had started pelting the ground and surrounding areas. The class gathered in the church cellar, which Mrs. D’Souza said was the strongest part of the building.
“Stay away from the windows, everyone,” the teacher said. They all huddled together in the cellar, listening to the howling wind and sounds of thunder outside.
It was over an hour later, when all the sound outside had long stopped, that Mrs. D’Souza, who had been listening to the weather report on her battery-powered radio set, announced that it was safe to go outside again. It had stopped raining and everything was very still and quiet. The tornado had vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
As the children carefully walked out across the ground towards the school bus, Vijay, who was still too stunned to speak and walking alongside Eeshan noticed a large tree that had fallen in the exact spot where he had been standing when the thunderstorm had started.
He turned to Eeshan. “You saved my life. I’m sorry I was rude to you earlier. If it hadn’t been for you…” His voice trailed off.
Eeshan smiled and patted him on the shoulder. “If I hadn’t done that, who would have led us to victory over our arch-rivals Dean Academy in next week’s match?”
“But how did you know the tornado was about to strike?” Nitin asked him. Many other students gathered around, wanting an answer to the same question.
“Remember when we studied the chapter on light and refraction in science class a few weeks ago?” Eeshan said to them. “The sky is normally reddish late in the day, because the sun is about to set soon.
But light under a thundercloud is usually blue, because water droplets in the cloud have been scattered. When blue objects are lit by red light, they seem to be green. When I looked up to catch the ball, I saw that part of the sky had turned green. A cloud will only appear green if it is very deep. Having read about a possible tornado nearby in today’s newspaper, I knew trouble was not far away.”
His classmates could only express admiration for Eeshan’s knowledge and presence of mind. Once again, Einstein Iyengar had saved the day!
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