Every year on Bakrid, the town of Nilambur and adjoining smaller neighbourhoods would revel in ‘perunaal’ mood. Home to a large Muslim population, the faithful would flock to their local mosques as daylight breaks and offer prayers. They would return home with veggies and meat for the grand afternoon feast. Young men would slip out of homes on bikes to meet friends and catch up on movies. Families would use the holiday to slip out of the town to touristy spots. In the evenings, the town would sport a festive look as streets glimmer with Chinese lights and shopping malls entice customers with big discounts.
All of that is gone this year. On Monday, Nilambur broke away from decades of ‘perunaal’ tradition as it grappled with one of its biggest tragedies. Close to 20,000 people across 13 villages in Nilambur Taluk are put up at relief camps after their homes were inundated with floodwaters. Nearly 500 homes are partially or completely destroyed. At a landslide site in Kavalappara, within the Taluk limits, rescue personnel are hard at work, digging out dead bodies of nearly 46 people still missing. The list of those missing includes at least two dozen children.
‘When so many people are dead and many still missing, there’s no point in celebrating Eid, ‘ said Abdul Karim, who drives an autorickshaw in the town.
‘Look there, ‘ he said, pointing to a large clothing store. ‘I heard they brought in stocks worth crores just days before the floods. Everything’s ruined. ‘
The town resembled a scene of devastation Monday morning. The receding floodwaters from the Chaliyar river over the weekend left behind a trail of garbage and brown sludge in front of mosques, shops and homes. In some places, due to delayed cleaning, the sludge has solidified in the sun, making it almost impossible to wash it away. The stench of mud lingered on the streets. Men, armed with mops, spent their mornings, flushing out dirt so that they can reopen their shops by next week.
At the same time, the town showed sparks of great resilience as locals came together irrespective of faith to pool funds, buy essential supplies and ship them off to nearby camps. At the camp office of the local MLA PV Anwar, a steady stream of supplies onto trucks and vans continued into the afternoon. Trucks and smaller vans poured in from neighbouring towns of Wandoor and Manjeri, filled with mostly young men, to help with cleaning of homes in the most affected parts of the district.
Bukhari Mampad, a local journalist, said mosques have mostly directed their faithful to utilize the day of Bakrid by engaging in flood relief operations. ‘We offered prayers in the morning. Now, we are doing our small bit to help people in whichever way we can. Through mosque committee, we have sent out supplies also, ‘ he said.
Vinesh, a member of a youth club taking part in relief measures, said he’s been deputed to help locals with cleaning their homes. ‘This is perunaal for us, ‘ he said, with a smile.
Meanwhile, at the local Taluk office, holidays have been cancelled for now as officials worked around the clock to oversee flood relief measures. Even a few of the staff, whose homes were flooded, were dividing time with sorting their home. On a wall, a poster with details of casualties and number of people streaming into relief camps, was being constantly updated.
‘Is it one or two dead bodies? Please confirm fast, ‘ an official screamed into a phone.
‘Even last year, when floods were massive in Kerala, we had half the number of people here in relief camps. Except for a couple of old houses breaking down, there was not much damage. But this year, it’s a calamity of huge proportions, ‘ a government official said.
A clerk in charge of natural calamities added with a sigh, ‘We had just finished depositing the last installments of government aid into accounts of people who lost homes in floods last year. Now, we have to start all over again. ‘