KOCHI: Mithun Shenoy will never forget the night he spent on the Chalakudy bridge. The roar of the river. The screams of people perched on top of buildings for help. It was pitch dark all around and the water was inching closer to the bridge. A night between life and death.
"The river had changed course and was flowing six feet high on both sides of the bridge. There were more than a hundred people in the vehicles parked on the bridge. Even cattle had taken refuge on the bridge. It was raining heavily and we felt the bridge shaking. We waited for the dawn but the night seemed endless," Mithun's voice choked with emotion as he recounted the ordeal.
The marriage of Mithun, a software engineer with Oracle in Bangaluru, with Sangamitra, a native of Palluruthy in Kochi and an assistant professor at S H College Thevara, was scheduled to be held on August 17.
But destiny had other designs.
It gave the 15-member groom's family that started from Bengaluru on August 15 an opportunity to witness the fury of the flood and experience the undying spirit, unity, compassion, and brotherhood of Keralites that helped the state to withstand devastation.
The marriage ceremony of the Gowda Saraswat Brahmin community being elaborate, the groom's party was expected to reach Ernakulam by 4.30 am on August 16.
However, the train got stuck at Shoranur for around two hours due to an engine snag.
At 6 am, they reached Ollur railway station and train was stopped as Chalakudy Puzha and Periyar were in full spate. Meanwhile, Sangamitra's co-brother reached Ollur with a minibus to take the groom's party to Kochi.
"At 8.30 am, we reached Chalakudy and the flood water had entered the road. As the bus entered the bridge, we were informed the water was flowing four feet high on the other side of the bridge.
"Though we tried to return to Thrissur, the water level had risen dangerously. We parked the vehicle on the bridge and waited for the water to recede. We survived on some chapathis and bread we had carried along with us. There was a three-year-old child and a 70-year-old patient among us. We had no other option but to pray for the rain to subside," he said.
The marriage was scheduled to be held at 12:30 pm on August 17, but when it dawned, the flood situation had worsened.
The mobile networks were down and there was no way to contact the bride's family.
They could see houses submerging on either side of the bridge. Around 8.30 am, a Navy helicopter airdropped food packets.
Around 10 am, a dinghy came to their rescue. Children and elderly people were shifted to safety in the boat while the rescue workers helped adults to cross the flood waters holding on to a rope.
"An auto driver guided us to St Antony's Public School at Koratty, where a relief camp was set up. None of us knew malayalam and we struggled to communicate with others in the camp. There were many people - rich and poor - belonging to various faiths. But all were equal. We could experience the spirit of unity in the camp. By August 18 evening, the water level receded and we reached Aluva Metro Station at around 9 pm. We took a metro ride to reach Maharaja's College in Kochi," said Mithun.
The bride's family had arranged accommodation at Hotel Bellwether in Palluruty for the family.
On August 19, both families consulted an astrologer and conducted the marriage at Palluruthy Azhakiyakavu Bhagavathy Temple at 10.30 am on August 20.
The couple left for Bengaluru by flight from Naval Base Airport the next day.
"We returned to Kochi on August 31 and wanted to thank the church authorities and the relief workers who supported and kept our spirits high. We visited the church on September 1, but the relief camp was over and there was no one left. We distributed some books and sweets to the children and returned.
"It is the empathy, the unity and spirit of Malayalees that moved us. It is an inspiration for all of us. It taught us the importance of unity and compassion," Mithun said.
Sangamitra said her family was concerned about the safety of the groom's party, who had to spend a night on the bridge.
"We were praying the whole night for their safety. There was no way to contact them as the phones were not working. On August 17 morning they contacted us and informed they couldn't come. We had prepared food for around 500 people. We distributed the food to the inmates of Palluruthy Relief Settlement, a rehabilitation centre," she said.