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Narcopolis Author’s Sister Sheba Thayil Shares Memories of Ancestral Home in Kerala That’s Now Submerged

With 324 official deaths as of Friday evening, the ongoing deluge in Kerala could be the worst the state has seen in almost a century. According to latest official estimates, nearly 3 lakh people have been displaced.

As a testament to the extreme condition in Kerala, award-winning author Jeet Tayil shared a photo originally posted by his sister Sheba Thayil on Twitter.

The photo was of Tayil’s ancestral home in Kerala’s Mamalaserrie, submerged almost entirely in muddy flood water. Sharing the somber photo, Tayil wrote, “I was born in this house. Kerala floodwaters haven’t been this high in living memory.”

Thayil was born in this home and the last one of the family to be born in the house. He soon left Kerala and spent his life growing up in Hong Kong and New York.

Speaking to News18, Thayil’s sister Sheba said that they would often visit their Kerala ‘tharavad’ as their parents insisted upon them spending their summer holidays back home.

“Home is a concept so many yearn for today,” Sheba wrote in an email.

She recalled an instance during one of those visits when the river nearby the house flooded and entered the compound and first floor.

“I remember my grandmother marshaling her army of minions and transporting the foreign visitors and the family pet (in that order) to the attic,” Sheba recollected.

“The stove, food and drink were pulled up after us,” she said. The only thing that would trouble her and her brother was the thought of boredom. “But watching the careless lushness of Kerala through the windows, eating home-made halva, playing cards and listening to the family dish the dirt on the neighbours made us forget we were supposed to be bored,” she said.

At the time, Sheba and Jeet would take short ‘sightseeing’ trips on their canoe. According to the Sheba, who is a writer herself and currently stays in Bangalore, all they had to do was float out to the water from their veranda.

But things have changed. With two crore people affected by the rising water level, boat games are a thing of the past.

According to Thiyal’s cousins from Peravom, those who live by the river remain prepared and stoic, even though none of them have seen the water rise to such levels. Others from Edapally said there’s 2 ft of water in their flat and no electricity.

“Yet another cousin is staying in a hotel and hoping the food doesn’t run out. Nobody is sightseeing now,” she stated somberly.

Nearly 2 crore people have been affected by the floods and almost 2.2 lakh people are currently lodged in temporary relief camps that have propped up across the state. According to a report from the National Disaster Management Authority, 130 people have died in Kerala this monsoon from May 29 to July 19.

In his tweet, Jeet Thayil wrote that deforestation and climate change could be the possible reasons that brought on such a deluge and unprecedented damage to property.

The Narcopolis writer is not the only one. Several environmentalists have pointed out that the floods could be a direct result of environmentally poor choices and policy decisions.

In 2011, the Gadgil Committee had submitted a report to the Kerala government in which it had outlined several parts of Western Ghats in Kerala as ecologically-sensitive-zones. Headed by Madhav Gadgil, the report also recommended the classification of 140,000 kilometres of the Western Ghats into different categories, depending on the environmental concerns of the area.

However, the Kerala government at the time rejected the recommendations, despite outcry from environmentalists. Speaking to the media recently, Gadkil called the Kerala floods a ‘manmade’ calamity.

Experts have also criticized the extensive quarrying and deforestation in favour of construction of high rise buildings has also led to a kink in the ecological balance of the state.

Meanwhile, the Thayils’ ancestral home has been evacuated of its current inhabitants, including an uncle of theirs, said Sheba. Jeet Thayil, who currently lives in Bangalore, declined to comment further on the issue.

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Updated: August 17, 2018 — 4:43 pm
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