On May 5 last year, the death of Mohammad Sadik, a 26-year-old man from Sooppikkada, Perambra, signalled the arrival of one the deadliest epidemics in Kerala's history. The Nipah virus claimed 17 lives in weeks, killing 95 percent of the people who contracted it. While Perambra turned into a ghost village and fear struck Kozhikode, a dedicated group of people, including doctors, nurses, cleaning staff and mortuary workers put their lives at risk everyday to curb the spread of Nipah. Among these heroes was 31-year-old nurse Lini, who contracted the virus and passed away while treating Sadik.
One year on, Lini's husband Sajeesh recalls his journey over the last 12 months.
"It changed me as a person," he says adding that the love and recognition his wife received posthumously has been unreal.
"I studied commerce and worked as an accountant in private firms in Bahrain. In May 2018, I heard about my wife and returned home. Today, the love and recognition Lini receives from the public and even the state is heartwarming. I feel grateful," he tells TNM.
'Could not have asked for a better person to play Lini': Sajeesh on Rima
2019 will see director Aashiq Abu's much anticipated film 'Virus', which is based on the events of the 2018 outbreak. The film has actor Rima Kallingal playing Lini, in addition to Revathy, Tovino Thomas, Parvathy, Indrajit, Poornima, Soubin Shahir, Joju George, Kunchacko Boban and others playing prominent roles.
Speaking on the film, Sajeesh, who was at the trailer launch on Doha says that it was an unnerving experience.
"Watching the events unfold on screen was quite an experience. I was initially unsure how Lini would be portrayed and if people would accept the on-screen character. But there could not be a better casting choice for her. Rima in the film was strikingly similar to Lini," Sajeesh says.
Sajeesh was consulted 6 months ago, before shooting had begun. Both Aashiq and Rima discussed Lini's character in order to prepare for the role, he adds.
"I described Lini to them, our meetings and the conversations we used to have. Rima even collected photographs of Lini and the letters we wrote to each other," Sajeesh says.
While veteran actor Revathy will play Health minister KK Shylaja teacher, Indrajith will play Dr RS Gopakumar who was responsible for cremating bodies of the victims.
"There is my character in the film as well. But the crew is remaining tight lipped about it until release," Sajeesh adds.
'State better equipped to handle an epidemic'
Today, Sajeesh believes that Kerala has progressed leaps and bounds in its ability to handle a deadly epidemic.
"I still remember how deserted the OP (outpatient ward) of the Kozhikode Medical College was when Nipah struck. It is usually packed with hundreds of people. Those few weeks, the hospital was literally empty. Today we have bounced back to normal and we have stricter protocol for medical staff," Sajeesh says.
Across hospitals in Kerala today, nurses are being asked to wear gloves, cleaning staff are provided protective gear and pharmacists tied to hospitals are offered masks, Sajeesh adds. The greatest achievement is perhaps the Virology Institute in Thonnakkal, Thiruvananthapuram in the aftermath of the outbreak.
Nurse Lini passed away on May 21, 2018 in Kozhikode Medical College Hospital, after treating Mohammad Sadik, the first patient who is known to have contracted the virus in Kerala last year.