Heavy rains welcomed us as we stomped through muddy water to reach a relief camp in Pothukal, Malappuram district. The Catholic Higher Secondary School at Pothukal hosted more than 1,100 victims of the deluge and landslides that ravaged the district over the past few days.
A week back, the village of Kavalappara looked like any other village in Kerala, with its own narrow stream, an anganwadi, a mosque surrounded by 30 houses and a few shops. But the landslide destroyed most of the buildings, leaving nothing but a few tree trunks and some concrete shards.
The nearby hill collapsed on two sides, leaving a green patch in the middle. Only eight families escaped without any major damage by virtue of being in between the landslips. These families have extraordinary tales of survival to narrate.
Devastated at the sight of deluge and despair, people told The Federal their stories of miraculous escape, still unable to digest just how lucky they were.
“Did you eat, child?” asks Asharaf, a 40-year-old who was distributing bread at the relief camp. He came back from Saudi Arabia after hearing about his village being destroyed by the landslide. Asharaf’s 10-year-old son comes running towards him, asking us if we had eaten. With a smile on his face, Asharaf says, “I never tell them even if I don’t have my food. I lie.”
“I work for just 800 riyal. Sometimes, I skip eating so that I can save money and send it back home. I slogged the best part of my youth – 12 long years – working in an unknown land to make money for a good roof over my head. I was looking forward to finally coming back home in a few months. Having a house of my own was a dream come true,” he says with a pained voice.
Recalling the day of horror
“I had just got back home from work. My WhatsApp was filled with thousands of messages, pictures and videos. I opened a few to see what the discussion was all about. My heart skipped a beat. I saw the devastated pictures of houses, my village, my people,” says Asharaf as he slips into silence and looks away.
“I can’t cry in front of them. I am supposed to be strong, right?” he says with a sigh. “Four months back, I was the proudest man in my village. I had the perfect home, the biggest and stylish house in the entire village. But all I can see now is debris and rubble.” Asharaf shows us the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of his house, the only keepsakes of his shattered dream.
“I am happy and thankful that my family is safe. They ran out when the water started flooding in and because of that, they are safe now. Imagine my life if I had lost them too,” he says fearfully.
His voice trembles and he sounds helpless as he says, “I don’t know what’s next; I don’t know where to go. I am poorer now, but my smile is the same, right?”
However, as he looks at his family with moist eyes, he brightens up a bit. He says with more confidence, “Who said I lost it all, everything is here next to me… safe. I can build a house again but I could have never got this back.”
Asharaf is just another person stuck in the middle of a calamity, but he does not forget to smile and spread smiles across. He concludes, “Allah gave us everything when we did not ask for it. So, who are we to question him when he decides to take it all back?”