Whenever I read the caption “God’s own country” to lure tourists to Kerala, I felt uneasy. Swami Vivekananda’s quote, “Kerala is a mental asylum”, sounded more appropriate, I always felt. Despite a high literacy rate, economic development, high standard of living, countless number of palatial houses, innumerable resorts, exorbitant house-boats, rich cultural heritage and a deep sense of political awareness, I found Keralites to be duplicitous, narrow minded, self-righteous, hypocritical people accusing each other and largely divided in the name of religion and caste. Though they amassed a lot of wealth, they showed very little philanthropic spirit. They squandered money in the construction of churches, temples and palatial houses which often remained unoccupied. I mostly found Keralites to be egocentric unable to rejoice in each other’s happiness.
But when Kerala faced nature’s fury of torrential rains and unexpected flood which brought misery to lakhs of people and disaster at their doorsteps, it was God’s spirit which manifested in the form of human solidarity in saving children, women, the old and sick regardless of their caste, colour and creed. The entire world was amazed to see the proactive and spontaneous response of the local people. The military and disaster management teams evacuating people round the clock risking their own lives was commendable. But the most touching moment was when in spite of the risk involved in saving people stranded in the highly affected regions the selfless and heroic fishermen inexperienced in rescue mission plunged into action with their fishing boats without a second thought. Human solidarity and sensitivity excelled in the midst of death and destruction in saving children, women, the old and the sick without discrimination of caste, colour and creed. God was appearing in flesh and blood in working miracles. The miracle of human solidarity, rather spirituality, won in the face of such calamity.
Kerala flood once again taught us valuable lessons. Flood water did not spare temples, churches and mosques which people thought were the dwelling places of God. Those who were saving lives did not enquire about the religion and caste of the people to be rescued. It was a time when all walls of religion, caste and status were pulled down. Humanity was the only religion. God was radiated in the actions of the human beings. People in the relief camps stayed together as one family irrespective of faith, class or caste. It was a time when Keralites proved that they were indeed, “Gods own people.”
A land can be called “God’s own country” only when it’s people become ‘God’s own people’. Swami Vivekananda would have a change of mind if only he was here to visit the relief camps and see how people supported each other selflessly. I was forced to change my own opinion about my home state. Keralites should be awarded the prefix “saints” for their attitudes and actions in times of chaos and crisis.
The human solidarity in the midst of crisis caught the full attention of the media across the country and the world. Kerala’s disaster management has become a model for the world to learn and ponder upon. It was also a moment when we could experience universal solidarity. People from all states of India and abroad, donated money, clothes, medicine, and food. Volunteers rushed from all parts of India. I was pleasantly surprised to see a hoarding placed in front of a village school in Jharkhand appealing people to help Kerala. A young student Nitish from Indore went alone to Kerala to do relief work for a month. During these days of crisis the declaration of the Preamble of the Constitution, “WE the people of India....” became a reality; genuine ‘we’ feeling was manifested.
The peace and unity which thousands of temples, churches and other worship places could not achieve were realized when these worship places were filled with mud and waters. When these sacred structures were filled with dirty water and filth, God was personified through the hearts of human beings the people were the ‘human temples’ who reached out to the people in distress. Sensitivity and universal solidarity which remained only as dream despite long sermons and discourses of the god-men and preachers suddenly became real when people of all faith and caste started feeding the homeless, giving shelter in their homes and institutions without asking for their caste and religious identity . God was present in flesh and blood in the midst of crisis and chaos, when the scenic beauty of God’s own country was damaged, the face of “God’s own people” shined day and night.
What we have experienced is a genuine God working through his people; let us not go after the artificial gods and build walls of religion, caste and politics to divide God. Instead of worshipping God in man-made temples, churches, mosques let us worship him in truth and spirit, spirit of love and universal solidarity.
The deluge has taught us that the luxurious mansions and wealth can disappear within seconds. In the past, we had seen how the earthquake in Gujarat had destroyed the palatial houses and buried thousands under the debris within a few seconds. Let us not be greedy and corrupt to amass wealth. The officials, politicians and volunteers who are engaged in relief activities should remind themselves to be honest and impartial in distributing money and materials which were sent by several people from all parts of India and from different countries in the world.
We have witnessed that man-made gods and worship places could not stop the fury of the nature. The retreat centres also were not spared from this disaster. Let not the god-men, priests and preachers open their religious shops to sell the drugs again and intoxicate people with mere talks. They should instead help people to realize God who is dwelling in them and teach them to worship the living God in human beings without labelling them to different sects. Will we stop constructing multi crore churches, temples and luxurious mansions? We need to constantly remember god’s warning about the destruction of the mighty Jerusalem temple, “Your temple will be destroyed and you will be taken into captivity”. The ruins of large monastery in Cluny in France and other monuments in other parts of world remind us of the fate of the man-made imperial structures.
Let politicians stop playing vote-bank politics and petty divisive agenda for their vested interests. Let the welfare of the people and lasting rebuilding of the state be their one point agenda. People should no longer become puppets of these corrupt politicians who plunder the public money.
Those who were saved from the disaster may be more generous in sharing their resources. They shouldn’t be satisfied by giving the minimum. Why should those who receive regular salary and other benefits from Government show reluctance to express solidarity? Why should the rich refuse to give their best and give the minimum out of compulsion? Reflect on the truth that everyone will leave this world empty handed. Why don’t we experience the joy of giving abundantly? Why don’t we learn from the beggars and children from the poor families who gave from the little that they possessed, a ‘widow’s mite’, to the flood affected people? Why don’t we learn from the selfless sacrifice and generosity of the fishermen?
If people in Kerala opt to give generously we won’t require assistance from external sources to rebuild the state. We need to accept the truth, “it is in giving that we shall receive.” Let the people of “God’s own land” remain “God’s own people” as they acted in the days of disaster.