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Kerala was up to its neck in waters, but swam with head held high.
No Indian state is disaster-ready. Natural calamities just have to be borne by its people as best as they can.
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Of course other states will look in, offer to help, and the centre will allot funds, but as far as the affected are concerned, it is swim or sink.
Only in such trying times do a place and its people show what they are made of.
Look at Kerala; up to its neck in waters one day, swimming with head held high the next. The worst seems to be over. The sun has been spotted at last.
When it poured like it has never poured before, the practical Malayalee hit back with all his native resilience, community love and survival instinct.
The hand-holding between neighbours, timely evacuations by the state machinery, ASAP relief operations organised by Malayalees inside and outside, live TV reportage, breaking of piggy banks by little children, shifting of airports, even a human being used as a footbridge... This instinctive coming together of hundreds and thousands against a common foe, even if it’s the weather, appeared to be almost choreographed. It is like everyone knew what to do.
A Close Contest
Fellowman reached out to fellowman. Cities and villages merged seamlessly to help each other. No fatalistic wailing ensued, instead an infectious urgency threaded through the land: we must make it through this.
With no blueprint in place, the masses turned resourceful. Weather reports were the only topic of discussion. Will water win or the Keralite? It was touch and go.
Such floods and rains were unprecedented. Never had the skies been greyer. Roads and rivers became one. Whole houses went underwater. Farmlands overflowed while taps dried up and electricity sputtered to a halt. Weddings were of course put on hold but even funerals held off.
Many of the elderly initially refused to leave their homes simply because in a hundred years they had never seen anything like this; they refused to believe something as life-giving as water can wipe out land and lives in a jiffy.
Their homes had always been safe and now you are telling them staying in could be fatal? But police warnings and personal interventions ensured timely exits by them. They were escorted to higher, drier perches.
Mothers told their children living outside Kerala that they can manage, no need to rush home.
Babies still got born, making a surprise appearance through air rescues. Ordinary folks turned heroes, heroism became routine as fishermen and the navy reacted reflexively to the escalating situation.
Kerala set aside all other petty concerns and did what they could to remain Kerala.
Picking Up The Pieces Bravely
The land Parasurama reclaimed from the sea seemed to be going back to sea.
Unlike other parts of the country where environmental crises kill men and snuff out spirits, and rehabilitation take years on end, Kerala seemed to rebuild itself even as it dismantled. There was no begging bowl, no cries for help; only a stoic facing up to the gales of fate.
As an NRK (non-resident Keralite) I could only fret from afar. Almost swallowed whole, my state managed to stand upstream. This Onam, Kerala can mark its rebirth.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.
First Published: Aug 22, 2018 1:24 PM IST