A Link Between Life and Literature – Pandemics, Tsumanis and Flash Floods

“One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between Man and Nature shall not be broken.” – Leo Tolstoy

More than 100 years ago, the renowned Russian writer Leo Tolstoy had apprised the mankind that the core of living is to live in harmony with nature. The existence of human life on earth is possible only with the blessings of nature. It has a power to heal an aching soul and relax an exhausted brain. There has to be a balance between man and nature as they both are correlated. We humans can never deny this truth that it is nature that has kept us alive and hence we should revert back to her kindness by respecting her and making an attempt to replenish the resources used.

It is painful to see that in present times, the humans are battling with nature to prove their superiority over her. Instead of maintaining sync with her we are trying to take a hold of her. But, we forget that when nature takes hold, it can bring the human life to a standstill. It happened with the Tsunami in 2004, COVID-19 pandemic last year, and just yesterday with the glacial burst in Uttarakhand.

The current pandemic COVID-19 is a clear example of nature’s hold over human life. The pandemic that had started from the Wuhan city of China has put a halt on the world. All the achievements that man has achieved till date have become worthless against one twist that nature has taken. Since December 2019, when the first case of SARS-CoV-2 was reported in Wuhan, the lives around the world have been under a lock. The pandemic has hit hard the lives of people with respect to their existence and survival. Many people have lost their livings all over the world. Physical meetings have turned into virtual ones. The pandemic has left an everlasting impression on the young minds that are trapped inside the walls of the house and their school has confined in a laptop. The tablets have become their playgrounds and mobiles have become their friends.

The pandemic has put everyone in a difficult situation, but it also had a positive side as well. ‘Lockdown’, a word that would be remembered for many decades to come, had given a chance to the people to reunite. Reunions with family or friends happened during the pandemic as there was ‘paucity’ of time during normal times. The most important reunion was with ourselves; the pandemic has made us realise that nothing is permanent. Just one blow and everything can shatter and we cannot do anything. It has made us realise the importance of loving ourselves and keeping our interests and hobbies alive.

For some, the lockdown had come as a boon but for some it proved to be a curse. If we talk about India, the migrant workers were hit hard during the lockdown. They had to face countless hardships for their survival. The sight of helpless people walking on the roads carrying little children on their shoulders was very disturbing. Not only in India,  the same chaos was seen in other parts of the world. Till date COVID-19 has resulted in more than 1.2 million deaths worldwide and the situation is still not in control despite the vaccines released in the market.

A pandemic of similar scale was witnessed in the year 1918 – the “Spanish Flu” that had claimed approximately 50 to 100 million lives. With no vaccines the only way to combat the virus was to establish quarantines, to promote the use of disinfectants, maintain personal hygiene and to maintain distancing among the humans. It is rightly said “History repeats itself”. After a century, again we are in a parallel situation with COVID-19 pandemic.

When the nature shows fury (some of it might be created by humans albeit indirectly), there is no prior warning of a disaster. Yesterday, February 7, 2021, a massive glacier burst in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand resulting in flash floods and wiping everything along the rivers in the district. As of this writing, rescue teams of both the central and state governments were in full swing trying to mitigate the damage as much as possible. This isn’t the first time Uttarakhand faced a natural disaster. If we recollect, the nature gave a ‘signal’ in 2013 to stop our brutality against her. The flash floods of 2013 (due to a cloudburst) were the biggest natural disaster that had hit Uttarakhand – comparable to country’s worst natural disaster since 2004 Tsunami. According to a report released in 2013 by the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), 169 people died and 4,021 had gone missing, who were later presumed to be dead.
Around 3,00,000 pilgrims and tourists were trapped in the valley due to destruction of bridges and roads. Those who had witnessed the disaste can never forget the horror and trauma they went through. The tragedy left many houses without children and many children without parents. The entire families were washed away in the severity of nature. Those who have survived had witnessed the worst nightmare of their lifetime. Even today, the thought of this disaster gives goose bumps.

An interesting thing that surprised everyone was that in spite of such massive destruction and howling flood during the 2013 flash floods, the Kedarnath temple remained impervious. Although, the scientific reason behind this is considered to be the sturdy construction of the temple but at the same time it further deep-rooted the belief of people in Lord Shiva and his power of judgement. As per religious belief the flood was considered as a decree for wrong deeds of humans on the earth. Conversely, the evident reason behind this is deforestation and global warming. The melting glaciers and bare soil are the consequence of our deeds. In our greed to take the most out of nature we have imbalanced it insanely.

Moving on to another type of disaster, on April 25, 2015, Nepal had faced the nastiest earthquake which killed nearly 9,000 people and many more were injured. The earthquake occurred with a moment magnitude of Mw 7.8. It was the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal after Nepal-Bihar earthquake in the year 1934. Thousands of Nepalese became homeless across many districts of the country. Centuries old buildings which were termed as UNESCO heritage sites got destroyed. The earthquake also triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest killing 22 mountaineers. The disaster devastated the country badly. Other countries of the world immediately came to the rescue of the affected nation. Over hundred international search and rescue and medical teams arrived Nepal within 24 hours. Major supplies were being provided to the nation relentlessly in order to help the country in need.

It has been observed that whenever the world or any part of the globe encounters any disaster or pandemic the whole society stands together to face it and conquer it. If we consider the current pandemic COVID-19, all the countries of the world are struggling to vanquish the deadly virus in their own ways but at the same time they are united and helping each other by providing medical supplies and any other kind of resources. Where did this power to stand united and face the pandemic has come from? I believe, here literature plays a pivotal role.

Literature is like an age old tree which keeps the readers enriched with the happenings and experiences the world has seen in the past and at the same time also keeps them enlightened about what is happening around them. Just as the rings on the trunk of the tree signifies its age the words written ages back by the renowned authors and scholars depict a clear picture about the life, culture and beliefs that were followed in the past and help the current generation to understand and appreciate the way world had moved in the ancient times. The same inheritance is then followed by the present and the future generations to come. However, with time the literature has mentioned multiple and different shades of life on earth, but, the core lies in the concord between the nature and humans. The literature available on the earth be it in any language, endorses the fact that life on earth is possible only with the synchronisation of humanity and nature.

This harmonisation of people is seen at various occasions of natural disasters and also at the time of pandemics which are more often an aftermath of natural disasters. The sensitivity shown by the people around the globe towards each other in the hour of need is a creation of the literature which guides them throughout their lives how life had been managed and should be managed on the earth.

The literature on any historical incident is the only way to gather knowledge about that particular event. The ruins of shattered temple, church, railway station and habitats at the south-eastern tip of Tamil Nadu forced me to dig into the pages of history and learn what had happened to the town. Here, the journals and writings available in the present times supported my quest for knowledge. Dhanushkodi is an abandoned town located at the south-eastern tip of Pamban Island of the state of Tamil Nadu in India. It is a picturesque location with Bay of Bengal on one side and Indian Ocean on the other. A town that was once lively with the locals and tourists was vanished abruptly overnight as a result of Rameswaram cyclone in the year 1964 and remains uninhabited in the aftermath. The Estimated wind velocity of the cyclone was 280 kilometres per hour (170 mph) and tidal waves were 7 metres (23 ft) high. It had claimed around 1800 lives including 115 passengers on board the Pamban-Dhanushkodi passenger train and the town was soon declared by the Madras Government as a “Ghost Town” and “not to be fit for human habitation”. Around 3,000 people were said to be marooned at the small patch of land. They remained without food and water for four days till the relief and helping aids reached them. Communist China, Cuba and Britain offered assistance and relief aid to India. The place is still a tourist attraction. At present, a few fishermen families stay there in their thatched huts and majorly depend on tourists and fishing for their livelihood.

Similarly, the history about the Black Deaths can be read in the pages of literature available. The Black Death also known as Plague was the deadliest pandemic recorded in the human history which resulted in the deaths of 75 to 200 million people of Eurasia and North Africa. The disease was at the peak in Europe from 1347 to 1351and is believed to be spread via rodents especially black rats.

The life and literature largely depend upon each other and have always worked in parity. The upgradation of human life since its inception on the earth has been recorded in human writing in one form or other. The genre of different civilizations, their lifestyle, culture, social and religious beliefs, their risings and fall could be studied in the books and articles. How the life on earth has survived the challenges of natural disasters and pandemics occurred at different time period could be read and learnt in literature available all over the world. The blend of past and present in the literature has and would always been a lighting torch for the lives to come and will keep enriching the future generations about the life on earth.

-Neha Singhal (Freelancer)

Picture: Uttarakhand Flash Floods, 2013

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