A Survivor’s Story…

If you’re a news junkie, I bet you are so accustomed to seeing news reports about flash floods, tsunamis et al, that you discreetly say to yourself “There goes one again.” when you see one such report. You tend to accept these ravaging acts of nature with a good dose of complacency. So, when someone informs you that a nerve center of the city is paralyzed by rains, you take it in the stride, part mocking that guy by saying: “C’mon, dude… What’s so big about it? Happens all the time, right?”

Being a compulsive news junkie myself, I remember having repeated the statement (at least, syntactical and linguistic variants of it) many ‘a’ time. Never again will I do that mistake again, thanks to that traumatic experience I had with a rather crippling flood on my way to Sabarimala last Friday evening. They say: “You’ll never realize the worth of your eyes, until you lose your sight!”. I can totally relate to that statement, in the light of that grim experience. The incident, which might seem a bit trivial in a third person’s point of view (a common opinion singularly voiced by everyone who’d lent me an ear), was actually a real jolt to my psyche; perhaps my entire sense of perception. Even now, when I type this piece, I can feel my hands shudder and my mind panic…

It all began with a phone call from my uncle (mom’s brother in law), who announced that he’d be going to Sabarimala the coming Saturday (the Mahanavami day), citing reasons like a comparatively-less rush. I readily (and happily) agreed, even though, technically I wouldn’t be able to undergo mandatory the 41 day penance and the fact that I was enjoying the delicacy of an exotic variety of fish at the moment I was informed! I’m a devotee of Lord Ayyappa, so to speak, and I’ve been regularly visiting Sabarimala every year, (but for 2006) since 2000. My having missed the trip the previous year, and a rather sudden fit of spirituality I’ve been dealing with (due to reasons I would rather not mention), I decided to forfeit the lack of penance, and go for the kill.

My native place (place called Kunnikode, near Kottarakkara, Kollam district), incidentally, is quite close to Sabarimala (hardly 100 kms) and is en-route. So, we decided to drop down at Kunnikode on Friday evening and leave for Sabarimala early Saturday morning. That Friday morning, my well-informed friend Renjith warned me about news reports in the Indian Express suggesting flash floods at Sabarimala. My father, pushed aside the reports, authoritatively referring to the lack-of-rush at the ‘Sannidhanam’ (the exact location of the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala), as authenticated by his Sub Inspector friend who was on duty there. Consequently, we left to Kunnikode that Friday evening, with me on the wheels of our Maruti 800.

I’m not a pro driver, but I’m not a bad one either. Despite Dad’s motor mouthed efforts at depicting my lack of skill to his acquaintances, most of my co-passengers would suggest that I’m passably-good at it. The journey to Sabarimala began, with me getting minimalist brickbats for issues like ‘rashly’ overtaking a Santro or that reluctant speedometer edging the 80 mark, until, of course the rain began. Almost as if on cue, there was a geometric increase in the ‘amount’ of backseat driving by Dad, with me ostentatiously missing a discrete but jolty bump. With the rain gaining intensity, I decided to let the speedometer hover between perilous 30s and 50s, with the engine whining in the third gear.


It was a shock of sorts to see the array of vehicles crowded right in the middle of the State Highway 1 (at a place called Nilamel). Instinct said it could probably be an accident. Deciding not to overtake despite a gap, I obediently stopped the car behind a hulky Mahindra Scorpio. The traffic was inching forward at a snail-like pace of say 2 metres a minute. Harried, I inquired a rather drenched passer-by, the reason for the block. He cryptically replied: “Roadil vellam kayari!”(the road’s waterlogged) and left. My first reaction, surprisingly was pleasant surprise. So, there’s a true-blue flood. How’s it goanna be? The sensation faced an imminent disruption with my mom spotting an ill-painted “Danger” signboard in the roadside. The upcoming events might look good in a timeline. I entered the block at 6:10 PM. The figures in brackets indicate the distance my car moved after the ‘block’.
6.11: Man warns about the road being waterlogged.(+2m)
6.13: Mom sees the warning sign. (+3m)

6.16: Traffic moves forward, my engine whining. I notice the water level rising (+10m)

6.20: Moved a significant distance forward, engine still whining. Notice a volley of cars parked (or rather rescued by the side of the road). (+15m)
6.25: Hardly moved a meter. Notice a Zen Estillo in front getting stopped. It can’t start itself. The first pangs of fear in me??(+17m)
6.28: Water level outside reaches knee-level. Mom complains about water seeping into the car. Suggest pouring it out, only to remain silent thanks to Dad’s choiciest expletives.(+18m) 6.30: The scorpio in front of me moves some 10 metres ahead in no time. I’m in panic. My car doesn’t respond to the accelerator. After 10 seconds of pedaling the clutch and accelerator, the car moves forward at a slow & steady pace. (+19m)
6:32: Dad warns about making sure the engine does not stop. Water enters through the driver door. Almost reaches the seat level. My hands are shivering. I can feel sweat pouring through my face despite the chilling cold and ravaging rain. Beside me, three bikes stop. I counted.14 cars hauled from the floods, unable to move were resting beside the waterlogged road. I get reminded about all the English disaster movies I’ve seen (especially Day after tomorrow). What if water seeps inside the car?? I forget the laws of physics, and see a flash-dream about the car being flooded with water. My mind is blank. (+24m)

6:34: Dad notices my panic & smilingly assures me that nothing will happen. I put the gear in neutral and move over from the steering wheel, giving control to dad. During the process of shifting seats, my mobile falls from my pocket down to the slushy water in the floor, unnoticed by me. (+28m)
6:42: Thanks to Dad’s superior driving skills, we escaped unhurt and save ourselves from being marooned in the floods, like some 50-odd ill-fated vehicles (+46m)

That marked an end to one of the most disastrous experiences of my life. I kept mumbling nonsensical things for the past two hours. Despite the best efforts of my mother, I kept muttering again and again that I won’t go to Sabarimala. Open mouthed, I stared out of the window, as my Dad gingerly drove through the ravaging rain despite the lack-of-breaks (thanks to the floods), and safely helped us reach my mom’s native place at kunnikkode.

I’ve had about 2 fatal accidents till date. Even when I was twice hit by bikes, I didn’t feel half the amount of panic. I know the incident is too insignificant and minute by today’s standards, and not even worth a second thought. However, I was definitely moved. The realization, the fear that the lives of three peoples could be in mortal peril due to a slightest mistake from my part; that was far beyond my feeble sense of perception. The jolt moreover, awoke the muse in me – awakening myself to the harsh realities of life; how a small flood, the root cause of which lay in an inefficient drainage system & the reclamation of paddy fields, could put several human lives in peril… How a slight blow by mother nature could change one’s life forever…

By the time I woke up the next morning at about 4, I was more or less, back to myself. After a quick ‘getting-ready’ session, with Lord Ayyappa in mind, mouthing “Swamiyeeee Sharanamayyappa!!”, along with 2 of my cousins and uncles, we drove to Sabarimala in my uncle’s car. The journey was quite uneventful. Being a regular visitor to the abode of God, I found the journey rather fascinating and refreshing, despite the rains. There was a little rush at the sannidhanam, so we could pray well, and catch many ‘a’ glimpse of the deity of Lord Ayyappa. By the time I reached home, the hangover of the flood experience almost subsided, the blessings of Ayyappa perhaps!

The only material damage I had to suffer in the whole fiasco, was to my mobile- a Nokia 2600 which incidentally fell from my pocket and got drenched in the water that had seeped into the car. After drying it non-stop for a couple of days, I switched it on, only to see it back in top form, as good as before, but for a few problems with the keypad: (the ‘2’, ‘5’, and ‘7’ keys which sometimes do not respond to key presses.) The insides of my car emanate a rather unpleasant smell, thanks to the drenched floormat. There are few problems with the brakes. Dad says a routine service will make that okay.

Read this report in The Hindu to realize how ravaging the flood was!

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