ON MONDAY morning, Pandanad village woke up to a funeral that summed up the countless stories of grief and horror that rose to the surface from under the Kerala floods this monsoon.
For Shoshamma Abraham, it was the end of a nightmare.
On August 16, her house chest-deep in water, she stumbled across the body of her husband who had waded out to help others. For the next two days, she tied the body to the staircase of their home, unwilling to let go, waiting to be rescued. Help came finally, but not relief.
On Saturday, when Shoshamma reached the medical college in Alappuzha from the relief camp, she found her husband’s body, wrapped in a plastic sheet, inside the parked ambulance of a private hospital. It had been lying there unattended.
Frantic calls were made, “political influence” was used, the children stepped up to clean their father’s decaying body, the mortuary formalities were done. Finally, C G Abraham, 64, was laid to rest. “He was wrapped in the same plastic sheet that I used, the body was decayed, emanating a foul smell. He didn’t deserve this,” Shoshamma said, breaking down.
Pandanad, near Chengannur town and on the banks of the Pamba river, was one of the worst affected villages in the floods that have claimed 328 lives since August 8. Shoshamma and Abraham, a former shipping firm employee, had shifted back from Goa five years ago.
“On August 15, around 6 pm, we saw water inside the compound of our two-storey house. Around 9 pm, it was inside the house, up to three feet,” Shoshamma said.
“My husband was busy shifting essential items to the first floor until midnight. On Thursday, around 9 am, the water was chest-deep, with strong currents. After spending a night on the first floor, my husband, a cousin and I were unable to step down to the ground floor. Still, he went out to close the gate and look for neighbours. He did not return,” Shoshamma said.
“An hour or two later, I went out in search of him, walking and swimming. As I went behind the house in neck-deep water, I stumbled on the body. I struggled to drag it inside. My cousin brought a shawl down and we tied the body to the staircase around noon,” she said.
With rescue efforts stretched, and Pandanad not yet on the radar, Shoshamma and her cousin sat on the first floor praying, often going down with a torch to ensure the body was still floating, sometimes waving a stick tagged with a red cloth from the window to attract attention.
Shoshamma was also in touch with her son Jojo Abraham, who works with an automobile finance firm in Muscat, until her phone battery died at around 3 pm on August 16.
“We tried to reach authorities, seeking an emergency rescue operation. No helplines worked, no officials responded. A call we made to the taluk office was attended by a woman who put us on hold for 30 minutes, then cut the call without a reply,” Jojo said.
Then, there was a flash of hope. A leading Malayalam newspaper reported on Friday about Shoshamma being found with her husband’s body. “It was a false report. My mother was yet to be rescued,” Jojo said, adding that ex-MLA P C Vishnunath was their sole support in those moments, answering calls, providing updates.
On August 17 evening, the currents still strong, two rescuers on a catamaran finally reach their house with biscuit packets and two bananas. The next morning, a group of fishermen on a rescue boat completed the rescue — Abraham’s body was sent to Parimala hospital.
“What was worse was finding my father’s body inside the ambulance. It was already three days since his death and 12 hours after the body was retrieved,” Jojo said.
The funeral day was traumatic, too. “We informed the authorities and reached the medical college mortuary at 7 am. There was no one there. When we finally got the body, it was in a bad shape. They didn’t have any spirit, gloves, mask or even a piece of cotton in stock. We had to get them from a store outside. Finally a relative, who had worked as a nurse in Dubai, others in the family, my sister and I cleaned my father’s body,” Jojo said.