It was dark and still drizzling when Thenira Kishore Ganesh pulled into his parents’ house in Mekeri in Kodagu. It was a modest but spacious building in the traditional style within a large compound, with an outhouse, a well and flowering plants of various kinds. When Kishore told his parents that I would be staying in the house for the night, they immediately showed me where to freshen up and asked me how hungry I was.
I had been on the road since the crack of dawn having set out from Bengaluru to cover the impact of the floods and landslides that had hit Kodagu a few days earlier. Heavy rains had lashed the district through July and the first half of August making planters worry about their coffee and pepper crops. But the consistent heavy rain took a far bigger toll when on August 16, it brought entire hillsides and villages down in a series of landslides.
Since the condition of the roads and public transport services was uncertain, I had hitched a ride from Bengaluru with Kishore and his brother-in-law Darshan Thimmaiah. They were travelling back home to check on their families and help with relief work. I met Darshan just the previous day at the relief collection centre in Bengaluru. He works at the Ministry of Human Resources Development while Kishore works with the computer manufacturing company Lenovo in Bengaluru. His parents look after the family’s agricultural lands in Mekeri.
The 250-kilometer drive from Bengaluru to Kodagu took longer than it usually did. The Kushalnagar-Madikeri road bore signs of damage from the landslides. There was heavy traffic as relief from across the state poured into the district. We stopped in Suntikoppa where Kishore and Darshan made their own enquiries of the people displaced and living in shelters, while I gathered information for the reports I had set out to write. We stopped again at a petrol bunk in Madikeri where we met two ambulance drivers who had run out of fuel and cash. Kishore and Darshan paid for the two vehicles to be fuelled up.
While Kishore and Darshan dropped off their bags at the family house in Mekeri, Kishore’s mother offered me – an unexpected and ravenous guest – lunch. I happily wolfed down the otti (rice chapati), mutton curry, dal, rice and pickle.
That afternoon, Kishore and Darshan drove me to a relief centre 20 km away. It was already beginning to get dark when we left and they advised me not to try to get to my hotel in Madikeri since it was still raining, the roads were bad and landslides were still being reported across the area.
With no other place to stay, I went back to Kishore’s parents house. And so, having already shared their lunch, the family shared their dinner with me and readjusted their sleeping arrangements to make room for me.
Journalists often rely on the kindness of strangers and, reporting from the location of a natural disaster, I found myself profoundly thankful for the hospitality of Kishore’s elderly parents that evening.
It was only the next morning that I saw the damage that the floods had inflicted on the family.
Across the narrow road in front of their house, Kishore’s family has five acres of land on which they grow paddy. Kishore’s father, who manages the fields for his relatives living outside Kodagu, had supervised sowing in early July. Now, in mid-August, the rice saplings were lying on their sides, flattened by the water that had come rushing down from the hills in the previous day. A 200-metre long field that belongs to Kishore’s uncle had a large chasm in the middle. A stream that used to run around the field and into an irrigation canal now ran through that chasm, the water muddy with silt washed down from fields upstream.
“We don’t know what kind of losses we will have from this,” said Kishore. He estimated that his family will need to spend at least Rs 1 lakh just to restore the field by filling it in with mud.
And yet, when I offered to split the fuel bill with the brothers-in-law who drove me around for a day and a half, they only asked that I donate that amount to flood relief.