There has been a sharp drop in water levels in rivers and wells, while rice bowls have been overrun by flood waters
Kainakary, Kuttanad: A month after flood waters entered their home, 48-year-old George Thomas and his wife Bindu are still cleaning up the house in Kainakary, in the Kuttanad region of Kerala’s Alappuzha district.
Their home doubles up as the ‘Thevarcad Homestay’, hosting tourists during the tourism season.
The couple’s misery is not confined to the damage caused to their home and all the valuables in it, but extends to the paddy fields that they cultivate, like most of their neighbours in Kuttanad, the traditional rice bowl of Kerala.
The hardworking couple, who manage vast tracts of paddy fields in addition to hosting families from Europe and elsewhere in the world as homestay guests, are at a loss to figure out just where to start rebuilding their lives.
Their troubles are reflective of what the entire region is going through: The paddy fields have been ravaged, and backwater tourism which brings guests to hotels, houseboats and homestays has been hard hit.
“For nearly 20 days many of the homes here were under water. As for the paddy polders, we are still pumping water out. The pumping work has been affected because most of the pumps were damaged when flood waters submerged them,” Thomas says.
While Kuttanad and Palakkad, the two rice bowls of Kerala have had their lush green paddy fields overrun by flood waters, other parts in Kerala are facing vastly different problems.
In Wayanad and Idukki districts, the wreckage is mostly visible in the form of broken roads and bridges that may take months to repair.
The landslips in both districts have added to the despair of the local residents.
In throbbing business centres like Aluva in Ernakulam district and NRI-rich Ranni in Pathanamthitta district, trade and commerce remain crippled.
There are sights of shopkeepers redoing their interiors, but many are waiting for insurance and government formalities to be completed before restarting their ventures.
A common thread that runs through all pockets of devastation is the mountain of waste — from the rubbish thrown out by households, to the trash regurgitated by nature as a reminder of the damage being wrecked on the environment in modern times.
There is also an unexpected shock as Keralites try to get their lives back on track: Almost every river has witnessed a sharp drop in water levels, including the biggest of them all, the Bharathapuzha.
Equally shocking is the fact that water levels have dropped sharply in wells in several districts, leaving people wondering what to read into such strange signs of nature.
At the height of the floods, the government estimated that 1.3 million people were in rehabilitation camps. That number has now trickled to a few thousand, reflecting the state’s determination to get back to normality.
The return promises to be a slow and painful one. One bright note is that some of the 750-odd houseboats in Kuttanad have begun plying the old routes, carrying tourists from India and abroad. Another is the sight of acres of Neelakurinji flowers (Strobilanthes kunthiana) blooming in Munnar, beckoning visitors for the upcoming tourist season.
As Keralites struggle to pick up the pieces and move on with their lives, these flowers seem to be nature’s own balm for the heavy hearts that are still mourning their losses.