Skipping through lush green paddy fields on the side of a canal, holding my grandfathers hand, listening to him as he pointed out to a ripe jackfruit tree and many others is the way I remember my childhood holidays in Kerala. Being a Malaya lee born and brought up outside Kerala was never a deterrent to understand the culture and DNA of the state. Erudite, straightforward, hardworking, and disciplined- is your Malayalee, in or out of Kerala. He /she is peace loving and serene (like the land itself) that he belongs to. This is in gist what Kerala is all about- erudite, straightforward, hardworking, disciplined, peace loving and serene. And Onam, is the festival that is dear to every Malayalee. Kerala in my memory is happy times ,of a blissful childhood and Onam is the fulcrum of this memory
Fast forward to circa 2018, 14th August……I watch in horror on TV how in a surreal fashion the flood waters swept over the Nedumbasherry Kochi airport ,Kochi ‘s MG road and other areas that were our regular haunts during summer vacations. Then came the phone calls. Voices seeking help, in a tone of fear, disbelief and despair. In a matter of hours the entire state was in the grip of water. Leveling the rich and poor. Huge houses and small shanties all submerged in the deluge.
Sitting in the safety of Delhi, I wished I could help and that’s when my organization –Smile Foundation, decided to move away from its core area of education of the underprivileged and send a small team to Kerala with relief material. The members were from our outreach program which looked into the health vertical and community engagements. The team of three landed in Kozhikode airport and what they saw was a shocker. It was water everywhere. They then contacted a pastor who was our local contact person. We were asked if we wanted to go to relief camps or in the interiors to search out people, groups or communities. We decided to go for the latter. This team of passionate dedicated Smilians went into the interiors of Waynad-which is a very deep forested and difficult terrain of Kerala.. There they came across tribal communities that needed immediate relief supplies of food and clothing. This was duly provided then and is being carried out as this story goes to press. The challenge ahead is of health as Kerala now faces epidemic at state wide level. Smile is looking to move its Smile on Wheels (Mobile clinics) to this area. Meanwhile the team in Delhi tried to raise funds for these activities. The response was phenomenal. I personally know that whoever I called and asked have sent in funds. Smile employees to have agreed to donate one day’s salary to Smile’s Kerala Relief Fund. That is a barometer on the way India has reacted to this tragedy. I am proud to be part of the Team Smiles Kerala Relief operations. I am proud to have helped the people of my state. Each one of us can do the same in our own little ways.
Kerala has suspended all Onam celebrations. I do not remember a single year this has happened. The state is in a state of shock. It cannot think beyond the devastation. There is nothing to celebrate. Even the Malayalee’s favorite past time of marriages and important social occasions that were done with great aplomb is been given the pass. Today as Onam arrives on 25th August and Kerala’s favorite king “Mavelli” is to set to mythically visit his state, the state that he will visit is in disarray and there will be no celebrations to “welcome” him. But Onam is not only about celebrations. Onam is about the joy of giving, the joy of sharing, of the rich and the poor coming together, about spreading happiness. We can do this in one way or the other.
Let us all come together as Malayalees and non Malayalees to spread the basic message of Onam. The message of sharing, of giving so that “Gods own Country” is back being one of the jewels in modern India’s crown. Let it bounce back to be the beautiful green modern state that we all love to stake ownership to or visit and enjoy.