The past few days have witnessed unprecedented scenes in Kerala, which has been reeling under the heaviest monsoon rainfall recorded in decades. Following the heavy downpour, the gates of dams and reservoirs that had filled up almost to the brim had to be opened, and almost overnight, large parts of Kerala were submerged under water.
Many people fled their homes, not able to take anything with them, fleeing with only the clothes they wore, leaving behind everything they had, to take shelter in hastily prepared relief camps. Those who did not flee, mostly because they did not foresee the speed with which the waters rose, had no choice but to climb on to their rooftops and spend long hours waiting to be rescued. A few of these people, sadly lost their lives, unable to reach to safety on time.
Though the rains have now relented, the scars of the past few days will not heal so easily. It is a long and difficult journey ahead for Keralites as they come to terms with all that they have lost, and as they try valiantly to somehow move on with their lives.
During the floods, the people of Kerala came together as not seen anytime in the recent past. People from all walks of life regardless of religion or caste, young and old alike, rich and poor, government officials, public servants, defence forces, all came together to lend a helping hand - to rescue those stranded and to provide food and other necessary items for those who had been relocated to the relief camps. It was a herculean rescue effort, the likes of which India, let alone Kerala, has probably not seen.
One of the biggest challenges was to rescue the people stranded on the rooftops of their houses. Since many Kerala houses have tiled roofs and lack an open terrace, it was almost impossible for the rescue helicopters to come close to such houses. The dense coconut trees also did not help. The only way to access such homes was by boat.
So the administration decided to request the help of the local fishermen who lived in the coastal areas, hundreds of kilometres away. Almost immediately, an entire army of fishermen set off with their boats loaded on to trucks; within hours, more than 500 boats had reached the affected areas.
And then they dived straight into the rescue efforts. It was not easy to steer the boats to the houses, since there were telephone poles, electric poles, gates and walls on the way, all submerged under water. But the fishermen, throwing caution to the wind, set about their rescue efforts in full earnest.
One by one, they rescued people from areas that were completely inaccessible otherwise. They did not sleep; they continued through the night, sometimes in pitch darkness, even when the rescue efforts were called off for the day. It was sheer determination and dedication at work - only a single objective in mind - to rescue the last person that they possibly could. The perils were many, but to folks who have been tossed about at sea under violent winds, surely this was nothing new?
What is most remarkable is that these fishermen did not think even for a moment about the impact it would have on their own lives. They were fully aware that their boats would be damaged and that their only means of livelihood would be left in tatters. But that did not deter them. Their indomitable spirit and their unwavering dedication to the task at hand, left all in awe. Social media brought to light more of their selfless acts; very soon the whole of Kerala and even those outside, began to herald these fishermen as "the unsung heroes of the rescue efforts". International media was not to be left behind - in a rare gesture, the Reuters display board in London honoured these brave fishermen for their selfless contribution to the rescue operations in Kerala.
Reuters display board in London honouring Kerala's fishermen..
Many such stories of selfless dedication and service are now coming out from Kerala - all testimony to the fact that love and compassion can still be found; even in a world that is being torn apart by various vested interests whose only objective is to sow unrest and hatred in society. But amid all the gloom of the tragic disaster, the story of the heroic fishermen shines out like a beacon - the unassuming heroes who plunged headlong into the rescue efforts, risking all they had, risking their very lives and their livelihoods in the service of a grief-stricken people.
Almost 2000 years ago, when a young man initiated arguably the most important mission that the world has ever seen, he also approached a group of unassuming fishermen and asked them to be a part of his core group. Leaving their nets and boats, they immediately followed him on a journey that, in many ways, would turn the world upside down. What this motley band of fishermen went on to accomplish, is now history.
I had always wondered why these simple fishermen were chosen for such an important mission, overlooking the many more illustrious and qualified people who were sure to have been around those days.
Now I think I know.
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people."
At once they left their nets and followed him.
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets.
Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.