India Diaries 7 : Kerala Floods – Lessons learnt as an onlooker
Lesson 1: Love Thy Neighbor
Even as I posted India Diaries 6- We Pray For Kerala-Dedicated to all those affected on 16/8/18, India came together to help Kerala. Though slow at first, the efforts soon gained momentum. Where official help had not arrived to evacuate people, neighbors came together. On the morning of the 15th of August, my in-laws had opened their home to the people in the neighborhood. However, as the rains continued undeterred and the water entered the drive and into the portico up to a level of 4 meters, the house had to be evacuated. Young lads in the village used huge cauldrons to transport the old, women, and children. They pulled the cauldron to the nearby temple, from where the local fishermen had arranged a boat to transport the people to safety. Nature’s Fury had brought all together irrespective of caste, creed, age, gender. And they sustained for 3 days on bread, a sheet to lie on and with others. It was having the ‘others’ that got them through it. When we called my father-in-law said, ” We are fine. Its good to know we are not alone and there are others around. Don’t worry.” That line said it all!
Lesson 2: Family is important
As the rains recede, now comes the mammoth task of clearing up the mess, assessing the damage and rebuilding.
Dad-in-law continued, “After the rains stop, we will have to clean up. And check the pipes and wires. There’s always a danger of short-circuits. There will also be slush around which makes it slippery and there will be snakes. You’ll don’t worry. My younger brother will be coming to help. He will bring a team with him to help us.” I could sense his relief amidst the chuckles as he said, ” The whole family has been worried. My younger brother in Mumbai has been in tears.” Amidst the dark grey clouds, love of family had been a silver lining providing an invisible source of strength. Then it was mummy’s (mom-in-law’s) turn. There were no complaints from that quarter too. I had been worried about how she would have managed in the shelter home. Mummy loves everything spic and span. With no domestic help, her tiles and her pots and pans never show a sign of ageing. Her voice held the joy that they had survived the worst. Making light of the situation, we joked about how she was a veteran in facing calamity, having experienced the 2001 Ahmedabad earthquake (7.7 on the Richter scale) and I said I’d write a book on her experiences. She laughed cheerfully despite the obvious exhaustion.
As I write this post, the cleaning is under-way. Thankfully daddy’s (my father-in-law) not alone. The family is there to help. They came without second thoughts, with one single goal to help put back the house together.
Food for thought
Daddy’s reaping the fruit of years’ of efforts put in by him and his mother (who is no more) to hold the family together. There have been umpteen times, when we’ve told him there was no need to attend a house-warming function, a birth ceremony or visit some ailing relative in the hospital when he himself was feeling weak. With a growing family, these occasions are commonplace than rare. Daddy is seventy-six and while he does battle age-related issues such as tiredness, acidity, spondylitis, he ignores it in order to fulfill his social obligations that come with being the oldest in the family. His sheer will-power, adaptability, willingness to accept change and the innate ability to transcend through generations would make someone half his age envious . Daddy’s faith in the importance of family and roots in-spite of having several friends and despite the fact that he had been away from his hometown for at-least four decades, had paid off.
Its so easy to feel distanced from extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins
As we travel away from our roots and family, distance takes a toll. Friends become closer than family. Extended family becomes an inconvenience and an interference. There’s too much of drama. Its complicated and in today’s stressful times, when peace is what everybody is looking for, extended family becomes the the easiest to sacrifice on the path to salvation. But the truth is no matter how complicated it gets, family is family. And if you’ve flown away and family hasn’t questioned then its because they love you and they hope you’ll come back some day…on your own.
Lesson 3: Social Media- Use it wisely
When I shared my post on Fb, I received messages from friends in Dehradun (which in in the North of India) and friends in Mumbai that they had already made their contributions to help the flood victims. Social Media poured in with addresses where the donations could be sent to help the people of Kerala. Thanks to social media, assisting had become so much easier than it ever was in the past. Prayers poured in from friends on WordPress from across the globe. Man came together to help.
In the midst of all this there was a voice message on whats app doing the rounds. My husband received it. And then it popped up on the building whats’ app group and then on the school whats’ app group. I’m not sure how many people on those groups re-forwarded it. Here was a man called Suresh who sounded educated and refined but lacked plain, simple decency. In the recording he was saying that Kerala did not need financial help as all people in Kerala are ‘rich’ and ‘super-rich’. He said it needed a work-force- laborers, plumbers, electricians to help in the rebuilding. While this is not entirely incorrect, to spread the message on social media that help in the nature of biscuits, mats, rice, match-boxes which were the basic requirements, is not required, is in bad taste. Fortunately, the miscreant has been nabbed by the cyber-security team. However, unfortunately, his message has probably reached thousands across the country who may have wanted to help and then stopped on hearing that help was not required. Social media is a necessary evil that must be used with care.
In countries like the Middle East, if a wrong message is forwarded, the person forwarding it is fined. Though this seems to sound rather harsh, in situations like these where efforts to save lives are stalled because of some lame person looking for the spotlight and then are shared because its so easy to do so, this kind of punishment makes sense.
As easy as it is to select a message and forward it, please think before you do. When you forward a message you are saying you agree to the content of the message. And if you do agree, you take responsibility for the correctness or incorrectness of the message.
Lesson 4: This country is One.
The Army and the Navy have been working relentlessly to save those displaced. Civilians, corporates from the across the country are mobilising resources and necessities to those in remote, hard to reach areas of Kerala who are the most in needy. States are sending medical professional and experts who have previous experience in dealing with similar situations. I read the papers, watch the news, see the efforts and feel proud to belong to this country. India is a rich country and with a population of 1 billion, we have enough hands to help in the recovery efforts. It is at times like these that one gets to see that India and all Indians are one and that there is so much more to this country than lynching, animosity amongst people of different religions, disgraceful God-men and rapes which make headlines every other day. It proves that we can stand together as one.
Lesson 5: I leave it blank. There are only wishes and hopes…
I pray that all those who have been affected get all the help they require and Kerala returns as one of the most beautiful states of India. For those who lost their lives due to the flood, I pray for strength for their families. And I wish there was an evacuation plan or a disaster management strategy in place for situations like these. I wish we Indians could come together as one more often and not only in calamities such as these where are oneness is strikingly visible.
While this is a natural disaster, we must remember that it did not just strike without notice, the torrential rains have been pouring since August 8th. Some areas like that of my in-laws, got hit only by 16th Aug. I don’t know. Maybe something could have been done to reduce the anguish. Maybe this is just wishful thinking. Or maybe its not.
This flood is not the first and neither will it be the last for nature cannot be harnessed. Hoping that there will be no repeat is lovely but it as pointless as hoping for poverty to be eradicated.
I end this post with a final question for all the intelligent folk reading this post- How can we mitigate the risk, the losses and the destruction? Is there a model that’s working in another country that can be copied here? Do share your opinions or your thoughts or your experiences if any in the comments section.
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