Kerala Floods: A Letter From Mother Earth

Kerala Floods 2018

Dear All,

I know this letter is a bit late, but I have always been a bit late in responding, as for eons I have tried to be the epitome of the patient, suffering feminine image that has been attributed to me. Now I have been pushed back to the wall and though late I need to make certain things clear.

Most of you still refer to me as Mother and Goddess…the Mother Earth and Bhoomi Devi. But I am forced to make a request rather sharp and honest…please do not refer to me by those names that demand a certain degree of respect, care, love and concern. I am now able to discern the stark indifference that humankind has towards me. If calling me Mother and Devi legitimizes the wanton way in which my innards have been torn, my life lines and arteries have been clogged and dammed, the high reaches and deep abysses have been desecrated, then I am unsure if this voice will also be heard in the right sense. But write I must and Voice I shall, so that if humankind exists after a century, the generation then will not corner me and ask…”why were you silent?” I hope to be alive then and not made into a robot that ticks according to the human whims and fancies!

I have taken refuge in the core of my being as all other spaces have been damaged and mutilated beyond recognition. I thought the hill tops forested with green trees would withstand the rains and wind…but much to my dismay, my dearest children came down like match sticks breaking and the mud and slush was like a river flowing. I had firm belief that the rivers though dammed many times would be able to carry their task of taking excess water to the ocean and would be able to do it efficiently – but they too could not get a hold on themselves. They changed course overburdened by the increased flow of water and excess silt and mud that hills unloaded on to them. They were shocked with the water that flowed in when dams were opened without warning and totally uncontrolled. I could hear the inner cry of the river as she lashed and moved with a force that was suicidal.

I recall the pain and torture of the rivers when the dams came in this small fragile land of yours decades ago…Most of the 44 rivers and their tributaries were dammed so that the wonder electric supply would light up homes and make industries flourish. But the failure started when the management of dams, the intensity of siltation that reduced the water holding capacity of the reservoirs set in, when the forested catchment areas were given up for monoculture plantations that eroded the hills…not to speak of land use pattern changes that were not in tune with the water and other bio-geo-chemical cycles that made life possible here.

The beautiful and balanced cycle of water that was maintained in this land by the backwater system that served as a fertile conduit to carry nutrients and water to the sea and back to land, creating an ecotone of brackish water that was home to unique biodiversity was also disrupted by ecologically wrong management plans. The floods in these backwaters were a boon to the land and the human interaction with this was able to sustainably make use of the water flushing in and out. Floods and excess water were never a disaster but they were welcomed as an essential way of cleansing and rejuvenating the land and waters.

The low lying flood plains of many rivers and the paddy fields were the real water reservoirs in this tropical land…The way in which they were reclaimed to make spaces for development indices like airports, shopping malls, modern houses and villas in the past two decades is unimaginable. I was choking underneath as more and more of my breathing alveoli in the form of soil interstices were closed with concrete tiles and marble. The concept of cleanliness that has turned topsy turvy in the modern human psyche has now rung the death knell in many cities as water is unable to flow or get absorbed.

The hills and mountains that are my limbs and heart all at once have been ravaged and blasted for rocks and stones to build the huge mansions that are called homes. Each home is a loud proclamation of  the status and ego of the owner. Little do they know that they have ripped my breast, cut my hair and skull and many a time killed my innards to enjoy this luxury. It is learnt in primary classes that the leaves which fall in the forested areas become humus that acts like a sponge absorbing water that falls from the skies and gradually letting it recharge the ground water aquifers and small streams. It is this slow, gentle flow and the balance between the recharge and usage that has been broken irreparably. Added to this is the influx and introduction of crops that may generate short term revenue but which is unable to renew and rejuvenate my vital bio-geo chemical cycles.

I would like to honestly state here that it is NOT IGNORANCE that has created this havoc. Blame me as much as you want if it makes you comfortable…But it would be good to recall that there was human life here in tune with the seasons, the flow of water and soil, the clouds and wind. This is the time to go back 50 years and see where and how the change started and where humans lost hold of the steering wheel. I am shocked that even now there is reference to me as the violent, uncontrollable one in many news…But it would be good to sit back and put all human activities that have intervened with my life giving cycles on board. There is no need to feel that this would be GOING BACK as this rethinking is actually the REAL GOING FORWARD that alone will help recreate a space for humans to co-exist with me. I really wish that this disaster would be seen as an opportunity to review and do an audit of all development projects that this land has seen in the past 6 decades and without mud slinging and blame game, understand where we can correct and delete so that the next generation will have a space to belong to!

It is time we looked at rivers and water cycles as our veins and purifiers and at mountains and forests as our life support systems and lungs, at backwaters and paddy fields as our nutrients and water reservoirs…It would not take much to deschool and relearn but it would help gain a more secure, healthy and sustainable life for many generations to come …if we tarry awhile!

With anxiety about the amount of waste that will soon enter my lungs, arteries and reservoirs as houses get cleaned and the electronic and plastic items will be condemned, the chemical cleaners that are essential now but with toxic effects, the impact of this on snakes and smaller organisms that have also lost their homes but no one would donate crores to rehabilitate…

Unable to lose hope as I see images of a hand carrying a chital fawn across the rising waters, of people standing in water unable to leave their livestock, of dogs and kittens rescued by many…, of the fisherfolk and many citizens who braved the rising waters to save their kith…

Your friend


Anitha.S ( [email protected]), an ecologist based in Thiruvananthapuram. In conversation with friends Santhi, Usha, Veena, Santosh, Soumya, Jagedeesh, Ravi, Gopinath, Zabna,Renu and many others)

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