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The hand of god?

Kerala’s devastating floods, and some takeaways from the experience

The recent floods in Kerala have shed light on a number of significant issues, issues we seldom give much thought to or usually just employ to embellish our speeches and writings. The flood waters, unprecedented, violent and pervasive, heedless of creed, caste, colour or status, just came in rising waves and then left, leaving mass destruction and wreckage in its wake. It left behind plain human beings stripped of pride, pomp and self-importance, but learning from experience the value of the values that really matter.

The overflowing relief camps thronged by children, women and men, all united in relief and disbelief, received this fact stated by nature in all its intensity and gravity: “You are all one as far as I am concerned. I don’t discriminate. You stole and ravished my paths, my greenery, my soothing waters and wind. And now at last I come to reclaim my spaces. Yet, I leave you with unforgettable lessons and vistas of the heights of human concern, love, service and brotherhood. Learn and still learn...”

Our eyes and ears have been tuned to the screens for days, our hearts burning with guilt and fear, tears and terrible sadness. The affected wish they were better-prepared, while the others wonder why they were we spared?” The unity and resourcefulness with which the government authorities, defence personnel, youth, professionals, social activists and simple, semi-educated fishermen and the multitudes of citizens rallied together, present a veritable treatise on human kindness. I believe all these vignettes of heroic service and boundless sacrifice would serve as models to the entire world, which has often witnessed crass indifference, neglect and immense suffering and pain in the thick of man-made and natural disasters in several parts of the world. These images are hard to delete. I state this not to gloat or boast but to indicate the huge potential of the ordinary person in our midst to hold aloft the beacon of humanity.

“I was airlifted yesterday along with my aged father from the terrace of our grand two-storeyed villa. We were without food, water and light for three whole days. Even our mobile phones went dead. A slice of bread then would have been most welcome.”

“Standing at our gate, we begged the rescue workers for two night dresses or at least a couple of light towels as we were in these soaking wet clothes for the last two days. They ruefully promised us a few on their next sortie but the loaf of bread and water they threw to us were a merciful boon. We did not then even think about all those branded garments piled high in our wardrobes or the foodstuff in the cupboards within.”

“My child is playing with his new friends with paper and coloured wood pieces, awkward in his new clothes that are two sizes too large but he is unmindful of his surroundings. I cannot believe this is the child who would bring the house down with his screams if his then-coveted toy was not at hand.”

“We can never be the same selfish and uncaring individuals we were before this experience. God has used so many good human beings to teach us to be really human.”

“We celebrated two birthdays and a wedding anniversary today. I must ask them their names. We shared a small cake the student volunteers so thoughtfully brought, and how sweet that morsel tasted all the way down!”

“I will never forget my fear on being air-lifted/ jumping into a country boat/ getting on to a makeshift raft. But the kindness and concern of the men in uniform and the fisherman and volunteers gave me a confidence I will ever keep in my heart. I am indebted to them for my very life,” said one woman.

The telling visuals of the young fisherman offering his back as a stepping stone to the rescued women to get into the dinghy or those of the fishermen who lent their shoulders and backs to the affected to climb down to safety, will remain etched in our minds as glorious tributes to the greatness of man. Some of the rescuers even obliged elderly residents by carrying their TV sets and other valuables to the upper floors before they would allow themselves to be rescued!

The greater task of rehabilitation, acceptance of lives lost, taking stock of the situation and coming to terms with valuables and utilities lost, looms large. But these too will be tackled. We also see the stoic resolve of the young mother, grateful for the fresh lease of life offered to her three children and herself, to brave the rigours of cleaning up and starting afresh, though how she'd go about that, she wonders. The losses are colossal, so many lives have been lost, some needlessly.

But life has to go on, the rivers must flow and the devastated utilities and resources should be rebuilt. Here too, bands of youth and technicians are going about offering services free of charge to expedite the process of rehabilitation. Concerted efforts and huge outlays are called for to restore, repair and hopefully, replace.

There is no prayer more ardent than that of a sufferer, no prayer more pure than that of the one who sees the other’s distress as her own. We bow our heads before those nameless unknown heroes and heroines who have stretched out their arms to comfort and to save. You have made us proud. Proud to be a Malayali, proud to be an Indian.

Can we hope this awesome spirit of oneness remains forever despite the forces that seek to divide society on baseless and unimportant criteria? Just as some inmates of the camps spoke of the incredible warmth and support they experienced eating from the same plate, sleeping on the rough floors of classrooms, sharing limited sanitary facilities and unabashedly stretching their hands out for a set of clothes, food or water, we too owe it to ourselves and to our young, to internalise and spread the message that, “yes, I am indeed my brothers' keeper.”

ljacobsd@gmail.com

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 7:55:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-hand-of-god/article24780809.ece

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