Calamity in Kerala brings out the best...

All hands on deck

By K.M. Rakesh in Bangalore
  • Published 19.08.18
A flooded stretch in Kochi, the commercial capital of Kerala, on Saturday. As many as 33 deaths were reported in the state on Saturday, taking beyond 350 the total toll since May-end. (AFP picture) 

Bangalore: The full enormity of the tragedy in Kerala is yet to surface but the flood waters appear to have calmed for the time being the raging fires that had polarised the politically conscious Malayali, bringing out the best in the populace.

The unsparing lampooning that used to break out every morning and continue without a break - waged by an army of keyboard-happy trolls for whom no subject is taboo and no authority beyond ridicule - has largely given way to forward after forward advising people how to cope with the tragedy, offering help and cajoling others to be generous with money and material.

There have been exceptions with some trolls wondering whether the state is facing divine wrath for its liberal position on many contentious issues but those supporting the relief effort have so far outnumbered the mischief-makers.

Extraordinary efforts at lending a helping hand have replaced raucous prime television debates on news channels that usually follow a "take-no-prisoner" policy when it comes to dealing with those in power.

Hanan, who sells fish to support her family, has donated Rs 1.5 lakh to the Kerala chief minister’s relief fund

This is also a moment when the Malayali is finding a meeting point between a Marxian slogan and the Ramayan.

Generations of Malayalis have been brought up on the proverb " Annarakkannanum thannalayathu", which roughly means "from each according to his ability". The theme was popularised by Marx but the Malayalam proverb is derived from the Ramayan story in which a little squirrel helps Ram build the bridge to Lanka.

Heart-warming tales of little squirrels are pouring in.

A college girl who sells fish on the streets to support her family and fund her education and was recently the victim of cyber bullying is among those who have dug into their savings to help fellow flood victims.

Hanan, 19, who was trolled last month after being offered a role in a film, has donated Rs 1.5 lakh to the chief minister's relief fund from money sent to her by sympathetic donors.

Some social media users posted hand-drawn diagrams offering tips to recharge phones using batteries from TV remote control and clocks

"Many well-wishers had sent me small sums of money after hearing my story. But now the people's problems are bigger than mine. So I forwarded the amount to the chief minister's fund this morning," Hanan told The Telegraph on Saturday.

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had last month ordered police to act against the trolls who were alleging that the account of Hanan selling fish was a publicity stunt to sell the movie.

Many others, from ordinary citizens to film actors and sports stars, have been doing their bit to ease the all-pervasive suffering.

A journalist who had to cancel the engagement of his daughter because of the floods has donated the entire amount he had earmarked for the event to the chief minister's relief fund.

P.M. Manoj, resident editor with CPM organ Deshabhimani, who said he had also got the groom's father to donate the sum he would have spent, didn't disclose the donated amount.

K. Vasuki, the collector of the capital Thiruvananthapuram, appeals from a 
moving vehicle to residents to deposit  ready-to-eat food packets in a school as 
soon as possible. Footage uploaded on social media showed several people 
lining up before the same SMV School to hand over food and other relief materials

Many Malayalis working in Calcutta, Bangalore and Chennai have arranged for food, water, clothes and medicines to be sent to Kerala.

Some are sending battery-powered mobile chargers to the inmates of relief centres in the flood-hit areas, which have been without power for days.

K.K. Santosh, a volunteer with Anbodu Kochi (With Love from Kochi), told this newspaper that individual and corporate contributions have been driving the organisation's relief effort. "We deliver relief materials anywhere in Kochi and neighbouring areas," he said.

The voluntary organisation, whose prime drivers are the actor couple Indrajith and Poornima, coordinates with the district collector and operates from the Regional Sports Centre in Kochi.

"We send relief kits made up of all essentials and bulk items. They are either airdropped or ferried by road or in boats," Santosh said.

Students of an engineering college assemble power banks to help address the big problem of phones running out of charge

Religious institutions have chipped in, with some converting their free space into relief camps. Reverend John Mathew, general secretary of the Mar Thoma Youth Centre in Adoor, Pathanamthitta, has been arranging food for other camps too.

"We are already accommodating about 100 people and can take another 300. Our kitchen is working full-time as we are supplying several nearby relief camps," Mathew told this newspaper.

Several relief camps have been set up in Adoor, the only town in Pathanamthitta that is not under water thanks to its elevation.

Most media outlets have shown remarkable restraint, taking care not to add to the panic and keeping studios and helpdesks open round the clock. Several channels have desisted so far from targeting the government, acknowledging that the administration is doing everything it can to help the people.

Several ministers have rolled up their sleeves and joined the rescue and relief efforts.

A church group says its youth centre, which can accommodate 2,000 people, is open to those affected by the flood

John Brittas, the media adviser to the chief minister, acknowledged the change in the way the media had responded till now.

"Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said the culture of unity demonstrated by Malayalis is helping tide us over the crisis," Brittas added, pointing out that despite political differences, the chief minister had appreciated the Centre's cooperation.

An expression of solidarity came from a source that many Malayalis revere. "FC Barcelona expresses its condolences to the families of the victims of the floods in India and offers its support to all those affected," said the football club, which has legions of fans in the state who adore Lionel Messi.

Kerala will surely return to its irrepressible ways. But, for now, unity in adversity is the dominant theme.