The UAE has offered the equivalent of Rs 700 crore as financial assistance for Kerala after the devastating floods have ravaged the state but the Indian government has politely declined all foreign assistance. Around 300 million Indians live and work in the UAE, a large majority of whom hail from Kerala. The Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said that approximately Rs 2,600 crore is required to rebuild the state.
Climate change and extreme weather have wrought havoc everywhere on earth, testing the preparedness of the world’s richest countries that also have a hard time coping when disaster suddenly strikes. From floods in Texas to landslides in Columbia, there is no geographical hierarchy to climactic adversity. Weather-related catastrophes are increasing. Alas, it is no less of a tragedy that natural calamities don’t magically dissolve diplomatic boundaries. Maybe it is hyperbolic tripe to nostalgically imagine a few centuries ago, human beings helped each other out in times of crisis. Aid would be welcomed and given when it had to be. Those lakhs of stranded people in Kerala who have lost homes and livelihoods must also face the frustrating modern conundrum, that not everyone who wants to help, may be permitted to. Perhaps it is worth remembering that in India, money alone is never the solution, in the absence of effective institutions to deploy funds correctly. However, though in these situations a huge amount of cash is siphoned off, it still does a lot of good. Cash puts roofs over people’s heads and buys medicines. There needs to be a much better reason than national pride to say no to it.
The fact is we live in highly competitive times, where forget asking for help, accepting help is like admitting to a serious deficiency. This is the reality of modern life not just at an individual level but it goes right up to frame the national ethos as well. However, no matter how deeply ingrained it is in each of us that we have only ourselves to rely on, the history of the world tells a different tale. An ancient proverb from 400 AD warns not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Meaning, don’t look too closely at the value of a gift or ascribe reasons behind the gifting, especially when you need the help. It’s advice as pertinent now as it was then based on the instinctual understanding that sometimes you can’t wing it on your own. Since time immemorial, mankind has survived by following a universal truth that eventually found its way into every sacred text in the world: treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. If there are lessons to be gleaned from ancient scriptures, more than the threats of hell or the promise of paradise, it’s the stories of community and charity, helping thy neighbour, as the way to leading a meaningful life.
Despite the cynicism of our age, where we presume people pursue contact only to achieve their own individualistic needs, the newspapers are full of stories of heartbreaking heroism of ordinary people in Kerala. Fishermen refused money offered by the Chief Minister for going to remote areas to rescue the marooned. A temple’s doors were opened on Eid for homeless Muslims to pray. A rock climber rescued a two-month-old baby. Donations have poured in from citizens of other states. The rhythms of the earth sometimes, catastrophically, put mankind in a humble place. Faced with our own paltriness against the wrath of nature, it’s reassuring to see that people can, indeed, come together, to tackle the crises on our troubled planet.