Rains have relented, and waters receded. Kerala, ravaged by floods in August, is now struggling to cope with the aftermath – the fears of diseases, trauma of losses, dealing with damaged properties, and the anxiety about having to arrange the resources required to bring life back to normal. The Kerala floods are not an bygone issue, yet.
The residents of Kerala have shown immense grit and resilience to fight the unprecedented calamity that touched all sections of the society. Onam, the most important festival of Kerala that is celebrated across communities, was a quiet affair. The 10 days of the festival saw little merriment with lakhs of people still living in relief camps.
Giving words to the thoughts that dominated the minds of people, many posted on social media what it took Kerala to be where it was after losing lives, land and belongings to the menacing waters. In such a post on Facebook, Divya Rajesh Ramachandran has perfectly presented the mood surrounding her.
Divya, a chartered accountant working in Kochi, wrote an emotional yet practical post on the last day of Onam. Besides stating the facts staring at Kerala, her long post along with a video also lists the expectations the state and its residents have from the government and the administration.
Here is the full post.
“We celebrate Onam in Kerala today. Unlike every other year, this year the celebrations aren’t all about new clothes, flowers and pookkalam (flower carpet). It isn’t about festivities and high spirits. But then Onam is special to this tiny coastal state of India and the special people that live here – the Mallus – will celebrate nevertheless … albeit with a difference.
This year we should celebrate along with a sense of loss – a sense of belonging and togetherness , in spite of the sense of gloom and despair that envelops the state we must celebrate the fact that we have millions to watch our back, we should celebrate the fact our damp houses did not dampen our spirits beyond repair.
The festivities for Onam traditionally start 10 days before Thiruvonam. It starts with Atham (day in the Malayalam month of Chingam) and one of the most famous tradition marking the advent of Onam is the Athachamayam (colourful procession) at Kochi. This year Atham (August 15) brought along with it a Thandav by the rain gods. A procession of people rendered homeless and deprived of their life savings. The state had been receiving unusually heavy rains this monsoon season and which kept increasing the water levels in all the 39 (at last count) dams in this tiny state. What followed was release of water from 33 out of the 39 dams and the flooding of almost 80 percent of the entire state.
There have been talks of wrong decisions, untimely actions, lack of sense of caution and an absolute unpreparedness. I wouldn’t want to discuss the right and wrong of it here — not my place to do so. I see it more like a game of chess – where you think for a while and make a decided move and just as you take your finger off the piece – you panic – for at that point you see the mistake you have made and there is a sense of chaos as you do not know then the scale of disaster you have opened yourself up to. To open the dam or not was always a decision that needed to be made. Unprecedented was the impact of the heavy rains from May onwards. Red Alerts across the state didn’t prepare us for what to expect.
But what followed the disaster was nothing short of amazing. Probably the best happens when you least expect it — vice versa too. The last 10 days leading up to Onam saw the Mallus rise up even as most of the state got submerged in the deluge. The last 10 days saw people come together as a whole without waiting for anyone or anything. Right from the rescue operations – on the ground and at background – to the setting up of relief camps, to volunteering at camps and ensuring continuous supply of relief at those camps , to rehabilitation of those who had lost everything – the Malayali people did just about everything they could. It didn’t matter if you were the police , the collector , the district officers , the navy and armed forces , a film actor , the corporates , the neighbour , the fishermen , the students , the parents , the NRI Keralite , the Mallu brothers and sisters from other states in the country – everyone pitched in – the common man , woman and child just took it upon themselves to hold the state up. Almost every single Malayali soul was up and contributing. We didn’t stand back and have doubts about our efforts or its impact – we just marched forward and put those efforts into the sea of efforts that cradled the state.
The spirit of sons of the seas (kadalammayude makkal) and the focussed operations of the navy and armed forces earned a special place in our hearts. Those who came silently called by only the wails and despair of humanity, did what they had to do and left just as silently taking a lot of prayers with them. We were rescued by people who looked to be angels with their calm and composed nature … who assured us they would come back to rescue us. Even 3 days after rescue we continued to receive calls to ensure our safety – location pins of stranded people were being sent (by friends and relatives within the state and without) to rescue teams without any restrictions. They took pains to ensure every pin they received individually and collectively had been covered.
We started by doing what was necessary at a given point of time. Then we moved on to do what was possible. And suddenly we were doing amazingly, seemingly impossible things. And that is not an easy thing to do – to hold ground when the ground is being washed away in a deadly manner. When savings and dreams of a lifetime were being washed away – the Keralites didn’t beat their chest and cry for help – instead they rallied together and fought to keep the state and its people afloat.
I have never felt as proud being a Malayali as I do today. As a Keralite I can with so much confidence look anyone in the eye and say – this is what we do. We fall and we pick ourselves up. We do not stand by and wait to be picked up. Our youngsters gathered with their gadgets and social skills to coordinate with the rescue teams. Our unaffected districts ensured that the camps were open and functioning with sufficient supplies – we did not wait for the central or state government (majority of the supplies at camps came from voluntary contributions from common people in small and regular supplies and from corporates who let out their stock in bulk supplies). The collection centers were an organisation by itself – the CEO, the student , the doctor , the lawyer , the banker , the electrician , the businessman, the collector , the women and children , all pitched in with zest and energy in all activities ranging from unloading – sorting – collecting – arranging – packing – loading. It was amazing how the supplies at the camps kept replenishing itself – contributions within the state and some so well organised deliveries from neighboring states … we were truly blessed. Truly God’s own. Day in and day out – this process continued and continues.
And when the rains stopped – we still didn’t wait. We walked out of camps to clean and salvage whatever we could of our homes, dreams and lifetimes. And no we didn’t do it alone. We still continue to hold each other’s hands as each home gets cleaned and life restored to some level of normalcy. We didn’t wait for government programs and packages and gum boots and cleaning materials. The humans of Kerala had come face to face with possible death, utter chaos and complete disaster and we donned our shield of self reliance and resilience and no matter what interruptions came we just got into the process of returning to our lives and getting on with it as we knew it.
And as we do this I hope and pray the government steps up its act. We did not majorly crucify you for the disaster – a possible man assisted natural disaster – maybe – maybe not. We did not burden you with sole responsibility during those crucial rescue operation days. We did not cause chaos and confusion while we waited out in camps as our lives crumbled. We did not wait for you to clean our homes and raise our spirits. We do not want to wait for declaration of the flood that ravaged our state as a “National Disaster” for the simple fact that it was not beyond the coping capacity of our state resources. We understand that calamity has been classified as that of “unprecedented severity”. We just move on.
There is a saying in malayalam – ” Karayunnu kuttikke paal kittu ” which roughly translates as only a crying child gets milk … We want it to be proved otherwise.
And so we will wait for a few things henceforth –
- We will wait passively for a clear cut plan and procedure to help us claim the initial amount of Rs 10,000 promised to fund the cleaning of our homes.
- We will tirelessly wait for guidance on waste disposal as we remove from our homes our prized investments now nothing short of waste – plastic, electronic , bedding materials , cushion and upholstery etc etc. We will salvage as much as we can but what we cannot – we wait for a concrete plan of disposal, lest we turn God’s own country into a junkyard. For now it is from home to road.
- We wait calmly for an easy and hasslefree process of retrieving our lost documents – Aadhaar, land and property documents etc
- We wait anxiously for a speedy assessment of losses and speedy disbursements of help – monetary and otherwise to the less fortunate among us and the speedy setting up of insurance camps as directed by the Centre.
- We wait with expectations for speedy identification of those kutcha houses that have been completely destroyed – intimation of the same to the central government so that the promise of building houses as per the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana – gramin houses is fulfilled by the central government at the earliest.
- We wait in anticipation for proper and early coordination with the central government for the speedy rebuilding of our highways by the NHAI and restoration of power lines by NTPC and PGCIL as promised.
- We wait and pray for all those who looked to Kerala as their own and did their bit in any which way possible. Every effort that was pitched in …helps us gather ground to stand tall and strong.
- We will wait eagerly for a proper plan – road to recovery and one that is transparent in the best way possible.
- We will wait with trust for proper use of all funds received by centre aid ( Rs 680 Crores in addition to the direct help extended by the centre ) and CM fund aid. We understand no contribution is too big or too small if it all goes into the right channels.
- We will wait with patience to ensure that you organise the resources and rightly let the state be truly God’s Own. The people are – the state needs be rebuilt to that effect.
One of the most famous Onam Songs talks of the Golden Era when Mahabali ruled. He is lovingly called as Maveli. The song goes like this – “Maveli Naadu vaanidum kaalam – maanushyar ellaarum onnu pole”, which translates to when Maveli ruled this land all people were one and the same. That is indeed the spirit of the festival – the true essence of the malayali people – no religion , no rich , no poor , no no caste , no politics , no division … the floods have left all of us in an equal landing without any barriers !!!”
See Divya’s post here.