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Swept Away: In India, Rains Take a Devastating Toll

In the current edition of ONE, journalist Anubha George describes how India is coping with climate change, with help from the local church. Here, she remembers one man she met while on assignment.

The 9th of August changed everything. It had been an ordinary day, just like all other days until then. Dasan and his wife Alice woke up, went to work, got back home in the evening, then called their son and daughter in Bengaluru where they were studying.

It had been raining for three days. That day, the rain was heavier.

Dasan and Alice lived in Wayanad in Kerala. Their village has a few scattered houses. Most of it is forest, surrounded by very tall coconut, teak, banyan and areca nut trees. On a rainy day, when the clouds are dark and full and there’s lightning, it feels like the sky is about to fall on you.

Which is what happened on the 9th of August 2019 at 11p.m. There was an air of doom, like something bad was about to happen. They prayed to God, wishing that everything would be okay when they woke up the next morning. They exchanged stories about their day — the boss, colleagues, who had said what. Then they said good night. That was at 10:30 p.m.

At 11 o’ clock, Dasan woke with a jolt to find a landslide pouring into his home. With all his might he tried to stop the bed — and his wife on it — from being swept away. In the blink of an eye, even less perhaps, a landslide took Alice away. Just like that, she was gone. Dasan was neck-deep in mud. He tried desperately with both his hands to get out, to breathe. Eventually he made his way out — but with broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, and bruises on his body that still hadn’t healed three months later. 

But Alice was gone. Her body was found two days later, buried deep under the mud, three miles from their home.

Dasan is grateful today for his life being spared. He’s there for his children, especially his daughter. But he says he finds himself talking at night to Alice, feeling her absence more and more. They were married 25 years. He lives with his relatives now. The children don’t visit as much. They can’t bear not seeing their mother. The entire family can’t fathom it — not just what happened, but why it happened.

I met Dasan by sheer chance. We’d gone to see the devastation that landslides caused in Kerala. It had happened two years in a row in 2018 and again in 2019. This was unusual. We were a team of photographers, videographers and journalists. As we were being shown around, he stood there — forlorn, lost, devoid of that spark of life. He came up to us, offered us tea and biscuits. And he cried. Tears of deep, unhealed, unspoken pain. It was only when I looked at his nails, jet black from trying to make his way out the door and save himself, that I asked what had happened. I’ve never seen nails like that before. I hope I never will again.

The person showing us around talked about statistics: how many people had died in Kerala, how many had to leave their homes, never to return. We all nodded in sympathy.

But those numbers were meaningless to Dasan. They always will be.

Read more about India’s Climate of Uncertainty in the Spring 2020 edition of ONE.

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