Refugee4 mins 396 4 mins 396
Her hands were full. She meandered her way through the children playing box cricket in the passage. ‘They are so innocent and carefree,’ she thought to herself. Amrita was carrying a large vessel of vegetables, washed and cut, ready to be given to the women in the makeshift kitchen. There were three other girls who had also been entrusted with the job of cutting vegetables. The unprecedented floods in Kerala had left disaster in their wake. Amrita’s village was one of the worst affected.
People had been evacuated from their homes and were asked to stay temporarily in a school which was on a slightly higher level. They had left their homes in a hurry, just taking a few essentials with them. The elders and the couples with children were really in the throes of agony seeing the hunger of the younger ones. There were pregnant women, women with infants and some sick people too in the crowd. It was a pathetic sight.
These people had been hit by the fury of nature and were rendered homeless in a day. They were being termed refugees in their own hometown. They were hungry, thirsty and shivering with cold. The common hall of the school had been converted into a dormitory. People were squatting everywhere. It was almost a month now since they were residing here.
Amrita remembered the day when the deluge had overturned their lives. She, along with her friends, was returning from college, when they found the entire village underwater. Amrita had run to her home, where she found her mother and sisters being placed on a raft to be evacuated. Most of their belongings were floating in the water. But the sight of her precious books damaged beyond repair drove her to tears. Her father noticed her and whispered, “Don’t cry Amrita. All of us are alive and safe. God has been merciful to us.” He then made her also sit with them and rowed them to the safety of the school. Her father returned to save his neighbours and others who had been caught unawares in the flood. When everyone had been rescued and accounted for, their father and other men who were in the rescue operation collapsed in fatigue. The people were full of gratitude and the men were given all the food and water that was with them at that particular time in order to revive them.
But within an hour or so, the smaller children who were unaware of the enormity of the situation started asking for food. A full day passed. But there was no way that they could go out or anybody could come to their rescue. It was pitiable hearing the wails of the young children.
The next morning, the sight of a canoe in a distance brought a glimmer of hope. That was when Mani and Shiva arrived with a huge vessel of cooked Sambar rice and some blankets and mats. It was not enough, but after feeding the infants, the others shared the food equally. It was a temporary respite. But Mani and Shiva knew the number of people camping in the school shelter now, and after that they regularly brought rice, vegetables and other essentials.
The rains stopped. The flood receded. But when the villagers went to their homes they were aghast to find that all their belongings were destroyed and most of the homes were not even in a habitable condition. It would take weeks or even months to repair, clean and get their homes back into livable shape. It was then that this solution came up. They decided that they would continue to live in the school for a couple of weeks till the men got at least part of their homes rehabilitated. The help organized by helpful groups had stopped. Mani and Shiva continued to bring raw rice and vegetables at the request of the villagers. But cooking for so many people needed many hands. So each person was given a job to do. Amrita was one of the four girls allotted the task of cutting vegetables. Their mothers had joined in the cooking group.
Amrita sighed. A touch of whimsical regret swept over her as she reflected, ‘What a bond the villagers shared now! Tomorrow we will be back in our homes. Probably in a month or two, everything will be back to normal and the ordeal would be forgotten. Will this bond of sharing sorrow and joy remain?’