Thiruvananthapuram: Kanhaiya Kumar is back in Kerala even as the State is reeling under floods and landslides.
The constable with the National National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Kanhaiya caught the State's attention in August 2018 when he ran over the Cheruthoni bridge in Idukki district with a child held close to his body as a swollen Cheruthoni river rose like a mighty wave. It was hailed as one of the most iconic moments of the Century's worst floods. Seconds after they had crossed, the marauding river crashed over the bridge.
After the relief operation, he went back to his base camp - the fourth NDRF battalion at Arakkonam, near Chennai, in Tamil Nadu.
Kanhaiya has come back to Kerala. He is currently stationed at the landslide-hit Wayanad. Search operation is on to retrieve bodies buried under the debris in Puthumala, which lies 20km from district headquarters of Kalpetta, which was hit by a landslide last week.
"I am here in Kerala. Our battalion is ready to serve you," Kanhaiya was quoted, as saying, by The Week.
A year after the floods, schoolchildren in Cheruthoni haven't forgotten Kanhaiya and his heroics. They call him 'Superman'. Reason: the iconic image shows a blue cloak like a superman cape billowing behind him as Kumar rushes across the bridge with the child.
The child Kumar carried over to safety lives right above the Cheruthoni bridge. His name is Sooraj. He is now four years old, and is in LKG. Sooraj's mother, Manju, can never forget the day. It was August 10. "The boy was having fever for some days and suddenly on that day he started to have problems breathing. I didn't know what to do. His father was not here," Manju said.
His father Vijayaraj, who works as a helper in construction sites, was near the Cheruthoni bridge hoping to catch the sight of a lifetime. "We were told that all the five shutters of Cheruthoni dam would be opened that day. I was there to watch it," Vijayaraj said. He had all the time in the world. It had been raining continuously and he was out of work for the past 10 days.
When the shutters did not open till about 11 am, he went back home to have lunch. "There I found my child with heavy fever. He couldn't breathe properly. I covered him in a cloth and rushed out of the house," Vijayaraj said. It is nearly two kilometres to the Cheruthoni bridge. He ran all the way in the blinding rain.
By the time he reached the bridge, all the five shutters were about to be opened. "A policeman blocked my way, said the bridge had been closed. I told him my child had to be taken to the hospital immediately. He contacted his senior on the other side," Vijayaraj said.
In about two minutes, he saw two NDRF personnel rushing towards them from the other side of the bridge. It was Kanhaiya Kumar and Kripal Singh. Kanhaiya Kumar, too, did not waste much time. "I saw a man with a child on the other side. I knew there was some problem. The policeman standing near us said the child had fever and had to be taken to the hospital. I asked my senior for permission and rushed to the other side. I took the child from the man and started running back. I told them not to fear and asked them to follow. I held the child close to my chest and kept an umbrella open over the child," Kanhaiya said.
That was Kanhaiya Kumar's first day in Kerala. Like Sooraj's mother Manju, he too remembers the date like it was the most important day of his life. "It was August 10," he said. "I was at the bridge from the morning. A big tree the river had brought had got stuck at the bridge. I bend down the bridge and tied a rope around the tree for the Fire Force vehicle to tug it away. The rope snapped. It was then that I saw a man with a child on the other side," Kumar said.
Kanhaiya said he had not seen the child and father after he took them to safety. "I don't even remember the faces," Kumar said. "We were shifted from Cheruthoni that day itself and were taken to various other parts. I don't know the names of the places that we had worked during the floods," Kumar said.