The story of a couple — a differently-abled man and his frail wife — who were stuck for three days amid pouring rain on the roof of a small house and then on a mango tree in Kabalapura village 15 km from Belagavi, has been one of the most poignant to emerge from the floods that hit north Karnataka last week.
When an NDRF team finally managed to get across the swollen Bellary Nala, which barely existed before the floods, to rescue Ratnabai Givedi (35) and her husband Kadappa B G (38), there were loud cheers from people who had gathered across the stream.
With TV cameras capturing every move made in daylight by Ratnabai and Kadappa — farm labourers and tenants on a five-acre mango and sugarcane farm belonging to a local farmer Nasir Jamadar — all of Belagavi was glued to this survival saga.
The visuals captured the couple’s travails from the front of the farm house on Day 1 to the tiled roof on Day 2 — Kadappa pulling a plastic sheet over Ratnabai to shelter her from the rain. On Day 3, as the house collapsed, the couple perched precariously on a mango tree nearby.
Rescued and treated for three days for frost bite, physical injuries, shock and trauma at the government Belagavi Institute of Medical Sciences, the homeless couple now live in a temple in Kadappa’s native Urbinahatti village, 15 km from the farm.
“The only thing I was worried about was her. On the second day, she went down from the roof to retrieve a sheet, and a portion of the house collapsed on her leg. I climbed on the mango tree, which was beside the house, and hauled her up using a rope and we waited out the third night,” said Kadappa, who has a polio-afflicted leg from childhood.
“I cannot sleep at night because the nightmare of the flood rages in my mind. On the first night, when I woke up to go out and relieve myself, I saw that water had reached the front step. I did not expect it to rise further. By the next day, it had submerged our bed,’’ he said.
“There was no food after the first day. We cupped our hands and collected rain water and drank it. We had a plastic sheet, which I used to shelter us on the roof of the house and the tree,’’ Kadappa said.
The couple had been working and living on Jamadar’s farm for five months and were regularly employed there for seasonal work over the past five to six years. For them, the house provided shelter and work a regular income.
“We never harmed anyone, never cheated anyone. I think God helped us survive because we never hurt anyone,’’ said Ratnabai at the Balajana temple, which is their home since a rented house in the village is crumbling.
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Ratnabai said they considered trying to make it across the water since Kadappa could swim. “But the currents were too strong. We decided if we are to live we will live together and we are to die we would die together. We lost all our belongings. We don’t have even a vessel to cook food. At the temple, they are providing us with food, for now,’’ she said.
“The farm owner stayed across the stream through the nights we were marooned, shining a torch on us to keep up our courage. This helped us believe that help would come soon,’’ Ratnabai said.
Jamadar (38), who lost his mango and sugarcane crop, a tractor, as well as the farm house, said: “All the officials and TV crew would leave at night. I remained across the stream in the water all through the night. I got a torch and kept shining it on Kadappa and Ratnabai to let them know they had not been abandoned. I considered them as my own family.’’
Jamadar also got the couple discharged from hospital and back to Urbinahatti village after three days of care in the ICU. While they were in hospital, the couple had a steady stream of visitors: Former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy gave them Rs 10,000, Congress MLA Lakshmi Hebbalkar gave Ratnabai a saree and a shawl, which is among her only belongings at present.
“Before the flood, the farm provided us with income, food and shelter. Now, we have nothing,’’ Kadappa said.
In Karnataka, 61 people died in the floods between August 5 and August 10 with the maximum number (15) reported from Belagavi. A total of 6.97 lakh people have been evacuated in the state, including 4.14 lakh in Belagavi, which is the worst-hit among 17 districts affected.
In this case, however, government compensation for losses is likely to accrue to Jamadar, and the couple may not get anything. “But I want to do something for them. I need to sort out my own issues first since I have lost a lot,’’ said Jamadar.
“Kadappa and Ratnabai live like migrants, going wherever they find work. A permanent house, a regular job or something on a daily basis would help. We are proud of their story but they are going to be fighting for survival every day now if they don’t get help,’’ said Gulappa Hadiganar, a panchayat member of Urbinahatti village.