Time 12.20 pm. Twitter handle @pendown warned “4.25 lakh liters of water is gushing out per second from Idukki dam. In four hours waters will reach Aluva.” And Aluva is not far from Kochi. From the Kerala Express, sight of the chimneys of brick mills signal the train will soon brake at Ernakulam South Junction. @pendown could have told the world Aluva was already underwater.
In fact, most of God’s Own Country was immersed in rainwater and whatever left, under dam-water. Release and be damned; don’t release and be damned! That was Idukki Dam’s fate. The water-holder was up to the brim with dilemma. Hamlet would have jumped into the pool. Suicide was the third option. Add to the downpours, gushing dam waters and it was ‘after me the deluge!’
Landslides were another feature reducing land features to what they were not before. Mudslides cut off Wayanad district from the rest of Kerala. People stood in over-the-hip water trying to salvage what could not be salvaged. The evangelical Salvation Army has good presence in the state but even they are not omnipresent.
One man, resignation writ large on his face, only the belt at his waist showing he had pants on, lamented the loss of “certificates”, clearly informing that he had a sane head over his shoulders. His qualifications will be questioned till he gets fresh copies of the original head-on-shoulders certifying certificates.
Not so a woman of the same locality. Like a water animal straight out of ‘Waterworld’, hair dishevelled and sari-end rising out of brown rainwater like a magical growth, she lamented the death of the television and the refrigerator not to speak of pots and pans. Children if any were on higher ground. That’s the beauty of Kerala. Land undulates and water always finds bottoms to settle high.
A young Malayali was more bothered about ‘wild snakes’ and poisonous bites. Anybody would be. Especially, if the serpents themselves are in panic and in a twisting hurry to get to dry ground, their holes made uninhabitable by snaking water!
God too was in dire straits with water making pools of religious shrines in Aluva and Guruvayoor. And it appeared like the devil was having a field day. By Friday noon, the death toll was 27, eleven of them in Idukki. Cloud bursts took the greater toll.
CM Pinarayi Vijayan described the situation “very grim”. The Nedumbassery International airport was underwater. Planes scheduled to land took a look and just flew off! Travel plans of lakhs were at sea in freshwater.
Sluice gates of 27 reservoirs were laid open, with all the five on Idukki Dam, for the first time in 26 years. Army columns have been deployed at Ayyankula, Idukki and Wayanad. Rescue operations were on but with people themselves possessing a high-degree of self-preservation, not many needed to be rescued. A clutch of 35 tourists were, however, grateful.
It’s the speed of the water that’s worrying. One road was washed away. The waters will have to recede to get a correct estimate of the human toll. Kochi faced a Friday evening high-tide threat. Some 10,000 people were in relief camps. The Arabian Sea waited with open mouth. But even an ocean can swallow only this much and no more. Imagine the death of freshwater fish in seawater salt.
Everybody celebrates nature and Kerala more than other states. The state has enjoyed the bounties of nature and made loads of money selling nature to people worldwide. But the ‘Jalapravaham’ this time was like a kick in the butt, the flow of the water impossible to rein in, discipline.
The highest Idukki Dam could take water was 2,403 feet. At 1.44 pm Friday, the fifth and final sluice gate was laid open and water found release in a tremendous shout of people watching the spectacle, shouting as if they had bought tickets to a grand show.
Onam, the All-Kerala Harvest Festival, falls later this month. But it seems the gods have complaints. Unresolved issues. A couple of months earlier there was Nipah and now Nature! Appears like the Malayali could do with some soul-cleansing. Has it got to do with Shashi Tharoor’s big mouth? The Thiruvananthapuram Member of Parliament has been opening the sluice gates of his mouth too often this year.
To the ordinary Malayali it’s “Naatil Ipoh Onakallam Aanu” but rain has spoiled the show. True, even this will pass. But for thousands and thousands of Malayalis this Onam will not be the best. Nature can be a rascal. Nature is a rascal! (IPA Service)