Thiruvananthapuram: Soon after the bus started its journey to flood-hit Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram from Bengaluru on Friday, a few men seated in the back got into an engaging political discussion, like the ones common at chai-kadas.

Chai-kada is Malayalam for a small tea shop, a hub for socializing in Kerala.

The discussion ranges from local football clubs to international ones like Liverpool and Barcelona donating money to Kerala’s relief fund. Schools going to have just a small flower carpet and donating the rest of their Onam celebration money to the relief fund. Generous donations by Tamil actors, less so by Malayalam actors. Fishermen rescuing more than a thousand people. Hospitals affected. A pregnant woman in critical condition airlifted by the Army. And a voice clip going viral.

Rahul, seated at the back of the bus, plays the audio clip in which a male voice warns that the now opened 119-year-old Mullaperiyar dam is about to break and everyone should take shelter. Mullaperiyar is safe, according to the government, and Rahul knows it too. He is seething with anger against those spreading such fake news.

“I want to hit the guy who made this, if he is ever caught," he says. Kerala’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has warned against such fake news, quoting this Mullaperiyar audio clip that has gone viral.

Pradeep, seated next to me, chips in. He had to calm his wife who heard such rumors in Kochi. Their flat in Kochi is inundated, and she has moved to a hotel in a safer place. He is returning from a business trip to Jaipur, and since Kochi airport is shut, he has to reach Kochi from Thiruvananthapuram, a tough job given trains and buses are either cancelled or inordinately delayed.

But rather than himself or his wife, he seems more concerned about his brother, who lives in Idukki’s Adimaly, which is practically cut off from the rest of the state as rains have damaged roads and bridges. People are not glued to news there, they have patchy internet, cellular coverage and power in their houses, and the impact of rumours on them will be huge, Pradeep says.

Idukki’s situation, unlike other parts, is not fully known to the public. There’s been widespread destruction, and little access to the outside world. “A house on the slope of a hill that I know was just washed away, but thankfully its inmates had moved out the day before. This is all unreported," he says.

Not to mention the damage to commercial activity in Idukki, which affects him directly. Pradeep works for a Idukki-based company in Kerala’s spice market, which he says has lost about 8-10 crore with its storage space, filled with increased production for Onam sales, being flooded.

“When we compare our situation with theirs, our troubles look silly," says Binoy, who is headed to his hometown in Kottayam district’s Kanjirappally,

Binoy is being polite. He is returning from Qatar, where he has been working for 17 years. The 10-day-long leave during Ramzan is the most he gets in a year to see his parents and wife. Two precious days are lost.

He was stranded in Delhi with two bulky bags full of gifts, when his flight to Kochi airport was cancelled. The airport is shut until 26 August, although it was initially supposed to be closed until Saturday. He ran from pillar to post to get an air ticket to Bengaluru and then a bus ticket to Thiruvananthapuram. Yet, he is overwhelmed by the response to the crisis in Kerala. His church prayer group in Qatar has raised some 25 lakh as donation.

“I think it is the strong social bond that is saving Kerala," he said.

“Exactly," says Muhammad Shan, a native of Alappuzha, “Our masjid usually has a separate place reserved for women. But right now we have opened it to all those who are stranded, some 2,000 men and women are there," he says. He, along with his friend Sajeer, were in Bengaluru for a job interview. They are now returning with clothes, “because we got calls from our local clubs."

As it approaches midnight, everyone slips into their world of WhatsApp and Facebook, where feeds are flooded with live videos of stranded people calling for help, people loading relief materials on to trucks and so on. By morning, the rain has resumed in parts of Kerala, including Idukki.

Kumar takes his phone and dials a number, “Achaya, this is serious, we should give something, please raise money from the Malayalee association there."

Clearly, in the chai-kada, all discussions have centered on one topic.

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