Dream house gone, they live in a godown now


On August 24, 2018, a rain-soaked rocky hill came down in a flash and buried the whole of Panniyarkutty, a small town along the Neriyamangalam-Rajakkad route in Kerala's Idukki district. All that made up the town – six houses, seven shops, one anganwadi, a veterinary hospital and a club – vanished.

What happened at Panniyarkutty was so momentous that no one initially knew what happened to the lonely house less than 200 metres ahead of the town, along the Ponmudi dam top road. Another landslide of equal intensity had taken away Bose's new house, which he had built incrementally over five years. He and his wife were not at the house then, they were at his brother's place. When Bose returned the next day, not a single brick of his two-storey house remained. It was all buried under slush and boulders.

Dream house gone, they live in a godown now
Bose and Reena at their landslide-ravaged plot in Panniyarkutty.

When we met Bose last year, he was teetering on the edge of sanity. People in Panniyarkutty feared the worst. Right after the disaster, he had even called up a PWD contractor to bring an excavator and dig up the plot. "My house is underneath," he had said. Last time he had told us he would cultivate crops in the area where his dream house once stood. "I have called the soil conservation people here to see what type of crops that I can cultivate," he had told us.

This time when we reached the place, it was overgrown with weeds. There was no sign of cultivation. A massive hollow like a sloping empty canal, which traces the path of the landslide, extends from the top of the hill slope right down to where the house once stood.

Bose and his wife Reena now live in a wood barn, once a grain godown, diagonally across the road from the plot. We were told that the couple were at their new plot, overseeing the construction of their new house.

Dream house gone, they live in a godown now
Mangled remains of some electronic goods and steel furniture were dredged up when Bose employed an earth-remover to dig up some gold ornaments the family had. Bose couldn't retrieve the gold.

The revenue officials had found that Bose had lost everything and this made him eligible for both land and house. He received Rs 6 lakh for purchasing land, and another Rs 4 lakh will reach his bank account in instalments as the work on the house proceeds. "We were categorically told by officials from the office of the revenue additional chief secretary that we would not be allowed to construct a house on our land," Bose said.

Geology officials said something even more devastating. "They said the origin of disturbance was under our land. They said it was lying dormant for years," Bose said. "But no such things had ever happened here," his wife said, suspicious of the Geology department's judgement.

Bose and Reena would like to at least cultivate their bombed up land. "We would like to cultivate pepper and teak," Reena said. But they need to take the Agriculture Department's concurrence. Since the land is deemed dangerous, neither the officials from the agriculture office nor from the Soil Conservation office has given Bose any advice on what could be done with the land.

Still, Reena is relieved that Bose had emerged out of the tragedy intact. "Some students from NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Heath and Neurosciences), Bangalore, friends of my eldest daughter, had given us a counselling session. Students from Loyala, Thiruvananthapuram, (where their elder daughter studies) had also sat and talked to us," Reena said. "The police also gave us a counselling class at Vellathooval station. They said they will be there for any of our needs. That felt good," Bose said.

One of the first things that Bose did after he got over the depression was to once again excavate his land. "We thought a small amount of our gold lay buried and so we dug up the area," Bose said. What they got instead was the skeleton of their pet dog, Veeran.

Dream house gone, they live in a godown now
Bose at the spot where his house once stood in Panniyarkutty in September 2018.

Now, at the entrance of the wood barn, wagging its tail, lies a happy little mongrel. "Our elder daughter brought this one here. She named him Veeran, after our pet dog," Reena said.

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