“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Truth about the Tornado

July 8, 1988. My friend lost her husband on that day, in the notorious Peruman train accident, which took 105 lives. It shocked Kerala.

Excerpt from a news report : In the Peruman Train Tragedy, the Bangalore - Kanyakumari Island Express train derailed on the Peruman bridge over Ashtamudi Lake, near Perinadu, Kollam, Kerala, India and fell into the lake, killing 105 people on July 8, 1988.
Officials say the cause for the accident was a Tornado. But still the cause of accident remain a mystery. Ten bogie carriages of the Island Express fell into Ashtamudi Lake, and more than 200 persons were seriously injured.
The Peruman Train Tragedy is one of the largest train tragedies in the history of the Indian state of Kerala.
The 'bogies of death' still remain on the bank of the Ashtamundi lake haunting the memory of many a rail traveller who passes through the Perumon Bridge near Quilon from where nine bogies of the Island Express plunged into the lake.

There were enquiry commissions and a lot of hue and cry. The final verdict was that the accident was caused by a ‘tornado’! Kerala laughed cynically. Nothing like that had happened there. Eyewitness accounts were smothered. Public outcry died soon. The bereaved were left alone, their private sorrow leaving unhealed, open wounds…

Yesterday I met a few old friends who work in the Railways. We had met last year after 45 years, in a reunion of friends who had studied together at the Railway Primary School, Palakkad. Over a few drinks, we talked about the Peruman tragedy.

“Tornado? What a laugh! You want to know the truth? Maintenance work was going on on the bridge. They had called up the nearest station and enquired about the passing trains. They were told that the Island Express which was due to pass then is late by an hour or so. The workers had lifted a rail, delinked it and the repair went on. Then they went for a tea break, leaving the separated rail, assured that the train was not due. They were wrong; the train kept the right time. In the enquiry commission set up by the government, they quashed the eyewitness accounts, the accounts of the workers themselves. It was an accident caused by the freakish Nature”. Of course, nature is the ultimate culprit, when you look at the fact that it had allowed the cancer, the homo sapiens,to grow.

“Indian Railways”, my friends said, “is a huge institution with the largest network in the world. Mistakes happen often. 99% of accidents are caused by the negligence of the staff. We got to live with it”. So do, those who lost their loved ones. So do, those whose dreams were snuffed out.

A whole country was mocked at. Lies, black lies, whitewashed truth. It continues. And we look up at them, those in power, in abject dejection and helplessness. We vote them into power – again and again. Democracy, my foot!

********* Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 10.10.2010


Today I was travelling from Cochin to Trivandrum; I met this chap working in the Railways. During our conversation, I popped the question of Perumon; he said that it was entirely due to the carelessness of the driver/loco pilot. He said that when maintenance is being done on the railroad, the workers put up 'CAUTION' boards as well as signs on reduced speed. The signboards are displayed, he said, at distances sufficiently away from the work site so that the loco pilots have enough time to reduce speed. On the particular date signs were put up to reduce speed to 40kmph/60 kmph, but the driver ignored them and entered the bridge at 90 kmph. The driver, some D'Cruz or other was arrested and terminated from service, though the Railways hushed it up. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Blasphemous Bala, your comment. I m livid and indignant.
    " Mera Bharth Mahan"
    dont you understand?

  3. I had a relative on that train as well,who luckily escaped.
    This is how we differ from the rest of the world.Every thing here is a bag of lies.They rot and stink.

  4. cover ups happen every where. every country.. marylin monroe was murdered to protect the kennedy brothers... water gate... bhuttos' were assasinated... yes and they happen in india too. it would have been dealt differently today with all the media attention. i do remember the incident. remember reading an article in the readers digest.

  5. The picture scares me. I hope that the developments in our technology today has somehow improved the train system. My deepest condolences to the families of the deceased victims. May their souls rest in peace.

  6. My dad's sister and her 2 sons, Tojy and Toby perished in this accident. Tojy was 9 years old and Toby was 2. They will not return but It is very painful to know that there was human error behind this. I never believed the typhoon theory.

    I still miss my folks.

  7. Balan, I covered that tragedy for The Hindu. I was the paper's correspomdent for Alappuzha district then. We had no reporter for Kollam at that time and I was supposed to cover Kollam district also. The accident happened around 1.15 p.m. I remember I got a phone call from a friend in Malayala Manorama around 1.45 p.m. saying a big tragedy has occured at Perumon. Those days there was no mobile phone. It was sheer luck to get the information so fast. I had an old ambassador car. I remember driving at 80's and 90's and reaching the spot by 3.30. I remember vividly everything that I saw and did over the next three days camping in Kollam to cover the tragedy, but if I write all that it is going to take a lot of space in the comment column here.

    Months later, the Chief Raliway Safety Commissioner called me also for the inquiry. I was asked to bring with me the notes I had scribbled on those days, talking to witnesses etc. Suryanarayana (the Chief Safety Commissioner), interviewed me for nearly one hour during his sitting in TVM. After his finding was published, I realised he had been, all through the questioning, trying to get from me depositions to strengthen his pre-decideded tornado theory. I had filed a story in our paper about a person who was crossing the bridge when the train chugged its way on to the bridge (This report was, what we call in the profession, an 'exclusive'.) He had stepped into one of those pedestrian boxes they have on such bridges. His version of seeing the bogies falling into the river all around him, somehow by luck sparing him, was presented in my report with the full drama of the experience. He had spoken to me about the whistling sound of the wind and a slight drizzle that was on and I was a cub reporter those days and I had pitched the whole thing strong. My report was one of the things Mr. Suryanarayana had used to substantiate the tornado theory, I fear.

  8. what were they thinking when they said it was a tornado? People really believed that? Who was the inquiry judge?

  9. I am a survivor of this accident, along with my mother and my maternal uncle. I was only 1 year old when this incident happened. I happened to watch a show where a man spoke about this accident. He used to fish in the lake and he was one of the few people who rescued people from this disaster. He mentioned about how his health has been affected, he cannot earn a livelihood to take care of his family because of the injuries he suffered from the rescuing act.

    He mentioned in the interview that he remembers saving a girl child and that he wanted to see her. I do not know if the child was me, but there would have been somebody who saved me and my family and we believe it could be him and we visited him. We do help him as much as possible to date.

    Human error or natural, I am happy to have survived this accident. I pray for the families who lost loved ones and wish both HUMAN and MOTHER NATURE spare us all from more such disasters

  10. ഈ അപകടവുമായി എനിക്കൊരു ബന്ധവുമില്ല....ഇത് ഉണ്ടായിക്കഴിഞ്ഞു പത്തു വര്‍ഷത്തോളം കഴിഞ്ഞാണ് ഞാന്‍ ജനിച്ചത്‌ പോലും ......പക്ഷെ ഞാന്‍ പറയുന്നു ഇന്നാട്ടിലെ അധികാരികള്‍ ഇതിനെ വെറുമൊരു സാധാരണ കേസായി തള്ളിക്കളഞ്ഞു .നൂറില്‍ പരം മനുഷ്യ ജീവനുകള്‍ അവരുടെ ജീവിത യാത്രയ്ക്കിടയില്‍ മരിച്ചപ്പോള്‍ അതിന്നെ കേരളം അന്നും ഇന്നും ഒരിക്കലും കേട്ടിട്ടില്ലാത്ത ചുഴലിക്കാറ്റായി ചിത്രീകരിച്ചു അവരുടെ തടി തപ്പി.........ഇത് അവിടെ മൈന്റെനന്‍സ് വര്‍ക്ക്‌ ചെയ്തുകൊണ്ടിരുന്ന ആയ തൊഴിലാളികളുടെ അനാസ്ഥ തന്നെയാണ് ഇതിനു കാരണം........

  11. What a tragic accident! My heart goes out to the families of the deceased. May their souls rest in peace. I'd suggest for them to look into www.deathletters.org. The grieving process is a long and painful one but knowing someone is going through the same thing gets it a little less difficult.

  12. ippolum island expressil bangaloril ninnum nattileku varumpol ...
    enikku ariyilla enthanu parayendathu ennu...

  13. The Ashtamudi Lake is so named because of its eight 'arms' or channels is the gateway to the backwaters. Backwaters is the most popular tourist attraction of Kerala. Tourist across the seas comes here to visit the amazing location and for many travelers who prefer to stay at resorts in kollam.

  14. Superb!
    Its very attractive blog post with attractive images!


  15. A reincarnation case - Help to find out if true or not

    My intention behind this comment, is to ask for help to identify a girl who died in Peruman accident, she died at young age, not more than 25 years, and today in present life she could recall some events about her past life and since then she is desperately trying to find out if this story is true or not, and the localization of her old family.
    She has probably lived in Kanyakumari or often visited this place, her family worked with botany or something else that is related to plants, maybe a flower shop, gift shop. She also could remember about a boy named Joseph, who was a Christian and her close friend. Her father was light-skinned, short ,with gray hair, not too skinny, hindu by religion, and middle class. He used to wear lungi,a white shirt and kumkum on his forehead.
    She also remembers a party in a house, which had the architecture of a fallen roof to the side and the wall of the house was pink to salmon, could be a hotel too.

    This is a unique chance to reunite the past and the present in a single life, I would be eternally grateful if some reader knows her story, family, etc and contact the page to confirm, or give more informations.

  16. I am a survivor of this great tragedy. Still recall those few minutes during and after the fall into the water. People screaming, boats all over the place and fishermen trying to rescue as many as possible. Still recall helping a young lady get off the immersed compartment. She heard us talking of making arrangements to reach Trivadrum. Asked if she could join us.. We obliged(basic human consideration) and all of us in our wet stinking clothes headed to Trivandrum in a company organised car. As we reached her place, she quickly jumped off the car, rushed home and picked a small bundle wrapped in clothes from the dining table. it was her 2-3 month old baby. Man.. what a sight.. what a relief.. to see mother and child-united in one big hug. We forgot our pain, our injuries and were blessed to be be alive.

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    2. Do you know if any young girl ( 20 to 25 years ) from Tamil Nadu, passed away in accident?

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