Travel

An island of nine

One of the nine residents of Murikkal. Photo: Suresh Kumar   | Photo Credit: Suresh Kumar

Fear, anguish, and uncertainty can be seen writ large on their faces. A high tide or deluge can endanger their lives. This is the situation faced by two families living on a tiny island surrounded by backwaters. The families are in dire straits. They have no access to the mainland. They have to row country boats themselves to reach there for daily chores.

The island, named Murikkal, and surrounded by Vembanad backwaters lies in Kadamakkudy panchayat on the west coast of Cheranellore. As the name suggests, Murikkal (cut away) was believed to be formed after it was separated from mainland Kadamakkudy.

“My father used to tell me that even during the floods of 1924 the island existed here. The gap between the island and mainland Kadamakkudy was narrow at that time. One could cross it using a coconut tree log placed across them,” says Joseph Kalluveettil, 62, one of the oldest inhabitants of the island.

Includiing Joseph there are only nine inhabitants on the island. Joseph has been living in Murikkal for the last 62 years since his birth. Murikkal is a 38 acre patch of land, with Kadamakkudy 200-250 metres away on the eastern side. On the southeast corner lies Pizhala, another mainland, which is 300 metres away. Naturally the people of Murikkal have to ferry to these places for their daily chores. Apart from the five residents in two families, four other people live in a rented house. The nine odd dwellers living on this island are self sufficient and can row themselves to nearby destinations.

“I was born and brought up here. We had to go by boat to Njarakkal in Vypeen for studies. The island has witnessed marriage, birth and death. Country boats anchored at three different destinations (Murikkal, Kadamakkudy and Pizhala) helped us during contingencies,” Joseph says. His two children were married off to other places and he lives in his house at Murikkal all alone. “My parents died on this island and the marriage receptions of my children were held here. Large boats were hired on those occasions to ferry people,” he reminisces. His two siblings own property on Murikkal but now live elsewhere.

Francis, his wife Philomina, and two children have been living on the island for the last two years. Philomina runs a makeshift cafeteria in their courtyard. During the evening people from the mainland reach there for leisure. Tourists coming in houseboats anchor and have refreshments.

Many resort groups have approached residents for the land but no concrete deal has evolved. Out of the five houses on the island, only three are inhabited. The owners of the remaining houses have settled nearby.

“I cultivate pokkali paddy on a nine-acre area on the island. Labourers are unavailable these days to harvest the crop as they have to carry the crop in boats to my house in Kadamakkudy,” says K.A. Thomas, secretary of Bio Pokkali Samithy. During off paddy season the field is leased out for fish farming.

As years passed the island began dwindling due to erosion of land caused by high tide and floods. Now the distance between Murikkal and mainland Kadamakkudy has widened to 250 metres. Thomas was born on the island and has been living there since. He does painting work and fishing for a living. Apart from Joseph Kalluveettil, the remaining eight have been residing on rent. It is interesting to note that the island lies in the periphery of ‘Goshree Island’ in the outskirts of Kochi, sans development. The other two families have been living here since last year.

Although there is a boat with a rower, engaged by the Panchayat, available for transportation between Pizhala and Kadamakkudy islands, it only comes to Murikkal if someone beckons it by calling loudly. That too the service is available only from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. “Naturally we learned to row when the need arose,” Joseph adds.

The serene, picturesque island is surrounded by mango, coconut and mahogany trees and mangroves. There is a sacred grove ( sarppakavu) and a portion of land called ‘chekuthan thuruthu’ (Devil's Island) on the island, where pirates used to rob boat travellers in the past.

'‘We used to sleep outside our homes and leave doors open but no untoward incidents have happened,” Joseph adds.

Although electricity came to Murikkal nearly 20 years ago, water supply reached only two years ago. Drinking water was ferried in boats and barges until then. Side walls were constructed in some places by the residents and by the irrigation department. But the western part opening to the estuary is not fully protected.

“Due to the unavailability of proper transport, people have been deserting the island and moving on to other destinations, leaving their houses for rent,” says Geetha Murali, the regional representative in Kadamakkudy panchyat.

Problems like water scarcity, lack of sufficient transport, etc. still persist. “Kadamakkudy Grama Panchayat may be that rare panchayat that does not own an office vehicle. Although we had set apart funds for purchasing office vehicles the plan did not materialise,” says Valsa Francis, President, Kadamakkudy Grama Panchayat.

The new plan for constructing bridges in Pizhala, Kadamakkudy and Moolampilly does not pass through Murikkal. The owners of the land, including Joseph, are ready to sell their property if they get decent prices.

“There have been proposals for acquiring land here for the state government’s ‘zero landless’ project. Although negotiations have been initiated nothing concrete has evolved,” adds Thomas.




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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 8:26:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/travel/an-island-of-nine/article6555473.ece

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