Gift of grace in Raichur

These are the 242 brand new pink-coloured houses, standing in all their majesty. Newly paved roads criss-cross the length and breadth of the township, connecting each house. Huge black water tanks stand on either side of the road. 800 trees lovingly planted by the brahmacharis are swaying in the breeze. Lush greenery surrounds each house.
The people here rest easy; the  Krishna river will never flood their houses and farms ever again. This stretch of land where their new homes have been constructed is far above its reach—close enough that they can pipe in its waters to quench their thirst, but far enough away that any future flooding will not touch them.

Kuruvakurda is an island village encircled by two tributaries of the Krishna which have sustained and nourished it for generations. The last time the river flooded was 60 years ago; most of the villagers had heard of the flood only as a legend. Even for those who had lived through it, it was a distant enough memory that the experience was entirely devastating. Six days of unprecedented rainfall, from September 29 to October 4, 2009 caused the Krishna to overflow its banks, rushing into their villages and inundating their homes and fields. Collapsed houses, destroyed crops, lives and livestock lost – their lives were never to be the same again.

This story was repeating itself in hundreds of villages bordering the states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Tragedy and devastation loomed large. News of the disaster brought tears to Amma’s eyes. She responded immediately, sending two contingents of medical personnel, accompanied by truckloads of medicines, blankets, garments and food. The Mata Amritanandamayi Math’s medical teams sought out those inaccessible villages that had not been reached out to by any other aid group, working to ensure that no one slipped through the cracks. While attending to the survivor’s wounds, they also worked to fight epidemic outbreaks that could prove even more deadly. {News: Karnataka and Andra flood relief photos}


The announcement

On November 27th, Amma announced a relief-and-rehabilitation package of Rs. 50 crores ($10.7 million USD) for those affected by the floods {news}. The team Amma had sent to survey the devastation brought back the name of one village which so far no aid group had offered to assist. Amma unhesitatingly offered to rehabilitate the populace of this village. That is how the construction of a thousand houses began in Dongrampura (Raichur District) replete with roads, parks, electricity, water and a community center.

On January 16th, a team of 14 brahmacharis landed in Raichur. That was an eclipse day, and though according to tradition one is not supposed to look at the sun or walk outdoors, they traversed the area without hesitation, visiting the proposed site and meeting the various district officials. The next day, the paperwork was finalized, and the very same day, the mammoth construction work commenced {news}.


Speed Mantra

Speed was their mantra; Amma’s children literally toiled nonstop, though the temperature soared up to 45o C; half the day they there would be no electricity; no water. Braving these hostile circumstances, they built the first 100 houses in less than 30 days (news) . They had fulfilled Amma’s dream of providing quick solace to those rendered homeless.

This construction miracle broke all records. Statewide, their accomplishment created ripples of awe in all circles. The government made a Powerpoint presentation of this incredible feat to other NGOs. They came in droves to see with their own eyes. Articles appeared in dailies, heaping praise. Ministers and top civil servants sang paeans from public platforms.

Keys to the houses

The keys of these houses were handed over to the grateful Chief Minister of the state of Karnataka during Amma’s Bangalore Brahmasthanam festival. {news}

New records were broken again and again after that day. 242 houses were handed over on August 4th, 2010. Today, almost all the allotted houses on the three sites stand completed, awaiting allotment by the Government for the displaced families. It is truly a gift of grace.


The villagers

In this area, the theft of construction materials by the villagers is quite common. It is such a troubled area that for the last 10 years, many officials had dared not enter. But in this area where outsiders would not step in, the brahmacharis were pleasantly surprised: there wasn’t even a single incident of theft.

The locals accepted the ashram and the ashram brahmacharis fully, and everybody mingled freely. They reciprocated the openness and the affection of the brahmacharis and the ashram. They were loving, generous and honest. Poor and illiterate they may be, but what more do they need for grace, when they have such hearts of gold?

Apart from providing shelter, Amma provided the survivors with a livelihood—hiring them in the hundreds for the house building. When they received their weekly wages, many of them would deposit a small portion of their wages in front of Amma’s photo (placed in the office cum residence of the brahmacharis), and bow in loving reverence. Amma generated so much spontaneous reverence and love in the villagers.

Volunteers from all over

Volunteers flowed in from all over India and even abroad. The whole district welcomed the two dozen Japanese student volunteers who came to help with the construction seva{news}. Amazed, even the District Collector came to see them toil. Each new group of volunteers brought a new burst of inspiration and the coolness of Amma’s love as they worked side by side with the brahmacharis in the sun and the heat. Students from Amrita University and Amrita Vidyalayam also came and contributed their help for the construction.
When some of the brahmacharis returned and visited this July, the villagers welcomed us back as if we were family members, with their heart-winning openness and warmth. Troupes of children would tag along with us from house to house, laughing and happy, sharing tidbits with us. And truly, we are family—Amma’s family. Sans race or religion, sans creed or class, defined by selflessness, and bound by love.


This house will remain with us

Eeramma lives in house #250 with her son Shekharappa and her 21-year-old grandson, who is working on his B.Ed. and already dreaming of a teacher’s job in the government. Before the flood, they were living in a slum. They say their new house is stronger. Eeramma is illiterate, but even at 65 years of age she exudes a certain vigour. Her feeling toward her new house is summed up when she states simply, “One might give lakhs (hundreds of thousands) rupees but it would not last. But this house will remain with us.”

Happy here
Though none of them can say exactly how old they are, the occupants of House # 232 are all quite young. Suryaprakash, the man of the house, guesses that he might be 23 or 24 years old. The couple have a little girl, Mahalakshmi, who they say is about a year old. With smiles ever-present, this small family has a roof over their heads, and they are happy here.

Ready smile
Shankaramma and Sannabasappa’s is a large family; nine of them are staying in the house, including their daughter-in-law and three children. Their extended family members have also been given new homes, situated nearby. On the corner near where their house stands, they have erected a shop to sell bananas, beedis, and small household items. Shankaramma, the head shopkeeper, has a ready smile.
The house is good
“The house is good and the courtyard is spacious” comments 50-year-old Sharanappa approvingly as he gestures toward his new home. Sharanappa is the Chairman of the Atkur Gram Panchayat (community). His wife Parvatamma, like most people in this area, is not sure about her age. Also like most people here, she is more at home speaking in Telugu. Andhra Pradesh is just a few kilometers away.
When will Amma come?
If one were to close one’s eyes and just listen to her speak, one would never guess she was 85 years old or anything close to it. That’s Eeramma.
Her children live on the other side of the island. Her husband passed away five years ago, Eeramma says with a twinge of sorrow. Both speech and thoughts are crystal clear. Neatly dressed, she looks fresh. Only her deeply lined face betrays her age.
In a clear voice she says, “Amma is blessing me all the time; I’m always praying to her.” Then she muses wistfully, “Amma comes to me in my dreams and wakes me up. But when I wake up, she’s not there.”
“I want to meet Amma, when will she come to Raichur?” she asks us keenly. What can we say? We console her saying, “Pray to Amma—she will definitely respond.” This much we know is true.

– Das