A few decades ago, cholera and small pox were killer diseases, with the afflicted facing inevitable death, as no medicines were available to control the epidemics. While some developed nations were equipped with medicines, underdeveloped countries, including India, could not handle an outbreak.
In 1953, when Manapad, my native village and most other nearby villages faced a severe outbreak of cholera, I was eight years old. People were dying by the dozen and the fear of death loomed large. No one dared come out of their houses for fear of catching the disease. At least five or six people died every day.
Manapad’s Victoria Hospital, which stands till today, was managed by European missionaries. Though the nuns, aided by a few local sisters, tried their best, the limited resources were not enough to treat the surging crowd of patients.
At that time, a middle-aged stocky gentleman by the name Louis Corera, a cousin of my mother, landed in Manapad from Sri Lanka, then Ceylon. He was from a well-to-do family and his father had a flourishing business there. With his Western style of dressing, topped with a felt hat, and impeccable manners, he easily passed for a European — the reason some addressed him as ‘Durai’ (a term used to address Britishers at the time). We called him ‘Uncle Louis’ with all affection, not just because he was a relative but primarily because he used to generously fill our pockets with candies and chocolates.
While everyone in the village stayed indoors fearing an attack of cholera, Uncle Louis roamed about freely and regularly visited relatives and friends. On some nights, he even went hunting, accompanied by a few villagers, and carrying a Winchester model shotgun. Despite an affectionate warning by mother, he never stayed indoors. He defied all advice and dutifully visited those affected by cholera and began giving out medicines. The pills brought about miraculous recovery. We later came to know that he had sent an SOS to his family in Ceylon and got the medicines from there. Respect for Uncle Louis soared.
However, the epidemic was still at its peak and many died. Despite all the care taken by our family, the epidemic entered our home and I began showing symptoms of the killer disease. The family went into a state of shock. I remember family members sitting around the special cot spun from palm fibre where I was lying, chanting prayers out loud. A message was passed to Uncle Louis, and he arrived without delay. After comforting my mother, he took out a vial containing some round white tablets from his shoulder bag. He asked for a glass of warm water and helped me swallow two of the pills. He gave eight more to my mother for further medication. He did all this whistling like a child, and wishing me speedy recovery, he walked off, not forgetting to leave a packet of chocolates for me to munch on after full recovery. The medicine worked wonderfully well and I became normal the very next day.
The large-scale devastation caused by cholera led the villagers to believe it was the result of God’s anger, and that only penance and prayers could save the village. And so, every house became a prayer hall, with people reciting the Rosary and singing religious songs. When the epidemic claimed more lives, the village elders decided to take out a procession with the statues of St Antony, St Michael and St Sebastian around the village.
Whether by a miracle or coincidence, from the very next day, the epidemic began waning. No matter what we believed, no one forgot Uncle Louis and the yeoman service he rendered, risking his own life, to help many like me escape the pernicious hands of death! (email@example.com)