Account details 1970 Bhota Cyclone
By Dan Woll Special to The Journal
Let’s play, “Two Truths and a Lie.” Can you spot the lie?
River Falls is the hometown of the author of the definitive study of Wisconsin ghosts.
River Falls is the hometown of the author of A Best Book of 2022—a geopolitical non-fiction thriller published by HarperCollins.
River Falls is the hometown of the past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle.
It’s a trick. They are all true. Dave Wood is the book critic as well as our own weekly purveyor of wit and wisdom in his columns. Mike Norman, R.I.P, wrote Haunted Wisconsin.
Numbers 1 and 3 are easy but how many know that River Falls School District grad Jason Miklian, (along with co-author Scott Carney) is receiving acclaim for “Vortex,” his spell-binding account of the wide-ranging effects of the catastrophic 1970 Bhota Cyclone, and the subsequent revolution and creation of Bangladesh? How is it that this riveting and sprawling narrative of a climate catastrophe, political corruption, and human misery written by a hometown author flies under the radar?
Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that Jason Miklian led an unassuming early life in school. His parents believe that he often felt unchallenged. Linda Miklian, his mother, recalls having to find puzzles and projects to occupy him after school. He was always searching. The young Mr. Miklian loved books, especially sports books, which led to an interest in baseball cards. Some local residents may recall that he and a friend, Eli McCausland, started a baseball card store on Main Street in River Falls. He had bit off a challenge that engaged him. Running the store exposed him to real life problem- solving which increased his interpersonal skills and self-concept. He wasn’t just another student. He was a store owner!
Miklian’s growth plateaued in college. The classroom wasn’t what he wanted. Summoning the initiative he had developed running the store, he hatched a plan to see the world and headed off to Asia with just a back pack. It was game changing.
Miklian says that toward the end of his trip, “I found myself in India but wasn’t ready to go back to the States just yet. I rode a belching diesel bus from Delhi up to Kashmir. It was there I saw for the first time how ordinary people lived in a conflict zone. Witnessing the oppression and despair in thousands of pairs of eyes, the sheer exhaustion of simply trying to survive where something horrible could happen at any moment, had a profound impact upon me. It drove home the feeling that I must do something, anything to try to help stop such situations.”
He came back toughened up, matured, with an interest in geopolitics and world events, and determined to make a difference. Miklian studied, earned degrees, (he’s a Ph.D.,) married and became a professor. At the top of that pyramid of accomplishment is the book, “Vortex.”
So what is “Vortex” about? It’s likely that more people remember Beatle George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh than the cyclone survivors it was supposed to help. Miklian’s fast-paced book shows us the series of amazing events spawned by the cyclone that led to the creation of Bangladesh.
Pakistan was split in two when Britain abandoned its control of India in 1947 and Hindus and Muslims determined not to be part of the same country. Eastern Pakistan chafed under a corrupt rule. Then in November 1970 the most destructive cyclone in history barreled into the low-lying land of East Pakistan. The storm itself killed over 300,000 people. That figure was dwarfed by the estimated 3 million killed by the Pakistani Army which took advantage of the storm to put down rumblings of self-governance in East Pakistan. Pakistani President Yahya Khan was quoted as saying, “Kill 3 million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands.”
President Khan underestimated the will of the East Pakistanis. A successful revolution arose out of the storm. Bangladesh was born. Authors Miklian and Carney embed this story within a tapestry of other little appreciated facts.
The storm accelerated the need for early weather warnings and communication.
The event took place at the same time the Nixon administration was trying to open trade with China, placing Pakistan’s corrupt leader as a prized middleman.
Tensions around the late arriving US aid led to a little known nuclear standoff between a Russian sub commander and the USS Enterprise.
While global aid was stalled, an American doctor and his wife took it upon themselves to organize independent rescue efforts, saving thousands of lives while the rest of the world watched.
Narrative accounts of individuals who contributed their time and toil to helping others survive, of politicians who did the opposite, and of world events that impacted the struggle for the survival of Bangladesh bring the story to life. Amongst all these dramatic stories, the authors present a prescient argument that climate change is going to cause more catastrophic events which can ripple through into political turmoil and even war. It’s a heavy load to digest, but the book reads like a thriller, comparable to Sebastian Junger’s Perfect Storm.
Miklian see his book as, “…a real labor of love of the past six years, where our backgrounds (co-author Scott also lived and worked in South Asia for over a decade) were just the start of the massive amount of research and interviews we felt we needed to do to honor this important story. It’s a bit of a miracle it exists, not only in finding exceptional stories of people like Muhammad Hai and Candy Rohde, but in the fact that a big publisher took a chance on a book about Bangladesh in the first place… We’re proud of it, and hope we’ve done justice to the truly remarkable characters we had a chance to share.”
“Vortex” is an impressive and fascinating piece of work, one that area residents should be eager to take up in every reading circle. When asked how he felt about “Vortex,” Jason’s father, Wayne Miklian, said, “I’m very proud of his book and work but I’m more proud of the man he has become.” As we all should be.
Dan Woll is a local writer and the author of “Death on Cache Lake,” “Paperclip” and other works.