By T S Sudhir
The milestone indicator on the road where I was standing said `Kurnool O (zero)’. Even that was sprayed with slushy mud that had since dried up. To me it seemed to symbolically suggest what Kurnool had been reduced to in the worst floods ever here. A zero.
The street leads into Main Bazaar Road, that has been one of the busiest commercial areas in this town. After the waters from the Tungabhadra and the Handri rivers inundated all the shops here on 2nd October, the market is today an NPA, a non-performing asset.
Virtually everyone I meet wants to invite us home. Not in the mood of happy celebration at the arrival of a guest but to show their Paradise Lost and share their story with the world.
“Please come to Ward 33, there is still water there. No one has cleared the garbage,” says one. “Nahi ji, you just have to come to the next street, you would not be able to even stand there for two minutes. And we are expected to live there,” beseeches an elderly lady.
“Didn’t the CM pass through your area this morning?” I ask. “No, no, no, no …” a chorus so loud, but still not loud enough to reach the ears of the powerful in Hyderabad. Chief minister K Rosaiah had that morning toured some parts of Kurnool town but even to an outsider to the town like me, it was obvious it had been a case of `Driving Mr Rosaiah’. The CM was shown what others in the administration decided he should be shown. Streets that had been hurriedly cleaned up the night before by municipal workers brought in from Hyderabad and Rajahmundry. Bleaching powder had been sprinkled liberally that morning. Enough for the veteran Congressman to pat himself and his colleagues on the back.
Habasha says he borrowed three lakh rupees to buy a variety of bangles ahead of Diwali. Today the bangles in his shop are covered with slush. In disgust, in pain, in grief, he throws the bangles out of the shop. “The CM went by this route in the morning at 7 when the shop’s shutters were down,” he shrieks. “How would he know anything when the shops are closed? He needs to see them open to know an entire world has been ruined inside.”
“I do jewellery repair, Sir,” a soft-spoken man whispers to me. His tone mellow, perhaps embarrassed to share his problem with a stranger. “All my jewellery powder got washed away, worth thousands of rupees.” I just look at him, put my hand on his shoulder, not knowing what to say.
A couple of shops away, two wholesale garment stores are taking out heaps of cloth material and world-famous Gadwal silk sarees, all wet and muddy. “These are the two advance cheques of 20000 rupees each that I had received,” says proprietor Vithal Rao. The cheques are so wet that they will tear if I even touch them and the sarees, even after a dryclean, will have to be given away for free.
On the street, a family of three is huddled together, eating biryani given by a relief truck. I notice three steps away lies a dead cat in a puddle of water. But when the pangs of hunger are so loud, you choose to be blind. Just like the government is blind to the reality of a town of two and a half lakh people, living life in the most unhygenic conditions imaginable.
What hits you the most in present-day Kurnool is the garbage. Heaps and heaps and heaps of them in every street. Outside every home. Household items that have had to be thrown away as garbage, thanks to the sticky deposit of black loamy soil from the Tungabhadra river, that has become Kurnool’s curse. Tractors carry them and dump them on the outskirts of the town on one side of the Hyderabad-Bangalore National highway. The sight of mountains of Kurnool’s garbage is what greets you as enter Kurnool now.
How long will it take for Kurnool to look like the Kurnool of old? The local MLA says 15 days, an official says 45 days, locals say two months. “Never,” says Mahadev Rao, who has lived in Kurnool for the last 40 years. “The attitude of the administration has broken Kurnool’s spirit.”
“We are tired of asking everyone for help,” says Sankaramma. “Apni bhi koi izzat hai na (We also have some respect, don’t we?). She says the routine attitude of the administration, treating it just as “another day, another flood, another relief camp” has hurt the sense of dignity of the people here.
As we leave Kurnool, crossing the Tungabhadra and the toll gate, we find heaps and heaps of clothes on either side of the highway. These are clothes sent from different cities, collected by political parties, NGOs and so-called philanthropists, who have garnered or should I say, cornered, a good deal of publicity before TV cameras and shutterugs, before they despatch the relief material to Kurnool. The trucks arrive here and just dump, yes, simply dump the clothes on the roadside. Because there are few takers for these second-hand, sometimes torn clothes. I am told they burnt them in Alampur in Mahbubnagar district in protest.
“We are flood victims, not beggars,” a man told me, even while searching for a red shirt that would fit him. “Why only red,” I asked, half-amused.
“Kyunki khoon khaulta hai Sir”. (Because my blood boils)