Natural beauty, superlative health standards comparable to Scandinavia, cent percent education, low crime rates and communally tolerant citizens had crowned Kerala with the title ‘God’s own country’. But soon, increasing crime especially against women, substance abuse and alcoholism, had shadowed Kerala’s merit for that crown. The seemingly ‘God’s own Country’ turned ‘God’s disowned country’ wrapped her hands around the title most worthily on August7th 2020 when two heartrending tragedies compounded by torrential rains struck a beleaguered state.
Both these disasters struck Kerala when she was up against two odds-(1) a monsoon and (2) a highly contagious pandemic that has already infected 36,932 and felled 120. Kerala had been at the receiving end of two back-to-back floods in 2018 and 2019. Cyclone Ockhi of 2017 either wasn’t too merciful to Kerala. The state had stood up to ‘elements in foul mood’ with considerable resilience. The state and her citizens were rising up from the floods like the proverbial Phoenix. Almost. That’s when COVID-19 struck.
Kerala had only one prayer on her lips this year- to be spared of yet another destructive monsoon- The seasonal phenomenon that had habitually been corroding her fragile economy, spreading disease, and causing death, denying people of happiness and merrymaking. It looks like Malayalees won’t be celebrating Onam for third consecutive year. Much to the disappointment of farmers, vegetable and flower vendors.
A massive landslide took about 78 unsuspecting tea plantation laborers by surprise in the wee hours of August Friday 7th. Living within a settlement consisting of four estate lanes at Pettimudi located 15 km from the tourist town of Munnar, they were buried under slush and boulders that rained down on their humble abodes that crumpled like cardboard boxes. Rainwater that had boulders and soil slide away from deeper layers of earth claimed and injured many. At the time of writing the death toll has risen to 49, as more bodies have been retrieved.
Another heartrending tragedy hit Kerala in the evening on the same day. An Air India Express flight IX-1344 from Dubai involved in ‘Vande Bharat’ mission of evacuating Indian citizens stranded in COVID-affected nations overshot the tabletop runway of Calicut International Airport at Karipur in Malappuram district. The ill-fated flight carrying 190 people including passengers and crew overshot the runway to plunge down a cliff before breaking into two.18 including the pilot and co-pilot perished. Though many were injured, casualty remained low as the plane fortunately didn’t go up in flames.
Kerala and her citizens exhibited on that ‘black Friday’ rare resilience and all-enduring human spirit that glaringly defied selfishness and indifference at the altar of relentless and recurrent odds.
After boulders, rainwater and soil buried human lives near Munnar, men and women lucky to run out of crumbled homes and local populace woken up from slumber by deafening sound waded through gushing rainwater and slush. They walked circumspectly through twisted metal and concrete rubble to alert for help. Power and internet connectivity had failed by then. Those who survived looked for possible survivors in darkness. Most of them in vain, as darkness and inclement weather played spoilsport. Later when help arrived at the break of dawn, they lent hands to the police, fire force personnel and the National Disaster Response Force to retrieve the dead from the heap that buried them. They later helped bury the dead in graves dug within the disaster site.
In distant Karipur, local citizens alerted by the cacophony of the crashing plane and distant wails for help defied heavy rain and fear of Covid 19 to gather at the crash site to organize one of the most effective accident-site evacuation Kerala has ever witnessed. They plunged head-on into the wreckage of the fractured airplane, with darkness and rain for company. Irrespective of faith, color and nationality they transported the victims to various hospitals in their own vehicles. They did not bother about blood and dirt on the injured smudging the upholstery of their vehicles. They carried wailing children separated from parents trying to pacify them somehow. They threw fear of Covid into the winds that accompanied the downpour. They organized transportation of the injured to hospitals in waiting ambulances. They united terrified Children with panicky parents putting social media to good use. Once the last fellow being was pulled out of the wreckage, they lined up before blood banks to donate blood for the needy.
These two gory incidents that happened in Kerala on that black Friday placed the title of ‘God’s own Country’ firmly on the state’s brow most deservedly as common, ordinary people of Malapuram and Munnar chose to prioritize lives of those involved in the two accidents over their own. No politician was seen lending a helping hand when it mattered. They flocked together to play the blame-game they’re most adept at much later. Even Maneka Gandhi who courted communalism by alluding to people of Malappuram ‘terrorists’ when a wild elephant died after chewing on an explosive-laden fruit in faraway Palakkad wasn’t seen either. Neither did she choose to rectify the adjective used. Nobody expected her to. Isn’t she a politician after all!?