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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Nostalgia

Drops of tears ran down my cheek. The chill wind rubbed and tried to freeze those drops. I opened my eyes, and connected the stars and patterned a child's face. No. Let them be free. I let the face sink into thousands of other unborn faces. I closed my eyes again. I remember. Thank you.

-- Originally written for LJ on 11-12-2004

Forgiveness

A snowy evening. The shade of darkness was changing slowly. It was a small cottage in the woods, lit by lanterns with all the wilderness observing it. There was a water falls nearby and one had to walk at least ten minutes from the cottage to get to the bottom of the falls and the water ran deep into the forest. An owl glanced at the moon which was partially visible beyond the dark clouds. Silence engulfed the sound of falling water and croaking frogs.

He watched a fox pass through the creek. She was preparing a salad with the nameless leaves they had gathered that afternoon. They had spoken very less since they got to the cottage. Words seemed ineffective and futile when there is complete acceptance. Opening the mouth and producing a sound is an extravaganza. She came over and sat next to him. He wiped her tears and kissed her gently, very gently.

-- Originally written for LJ on 25-12-2004

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Blog

Let us just say, in the course of an amicable discussion, you know, like friends talking it out openly, nobody trying to offend anybody, though it takes a lot to offend somebody like you because of your thick skin and maturity and coolness... well, we're talking about our blogs and suddenly it all seems like an empty exhibition of our mundane ponderings, which I know you're going to thoroughly refute as the whole point of the existence of a blog, but still, since I know that your mental clarity is still (still, as in pond water, not the "I'm still not reading your blog") enough to see that the entries don't go anywhere and deep down you've been avoiding the question your conscience has been trying to sneak into the foreground of your thoughts - which is, "are you really going to write something worthwhile?" and you already know that nobody's interested in reviews, trivia, cross-questions, interrogations, introspections, examinations, life, love, neighbour, linux, weekends - and still (not the pond water stillness, but "I'm still reading your blog" kind) you insist on coming up with meaningless ramblings about the pointlessness of blogs in a thoroughly boring single sentence which actually seems quite meaningful in an existential sense, which is really the point, though there isn't actually any.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Dead Silence

Kameshwaram is a village south of Velankanni, the house of famous Shrine Basilica. The residents were two-fold: farmers and fishermen. The fishing hamlet comprised of 200 families before the tsunami and now, it has close to 100 or a number near that. It has atleast a hundred coconut trees and each one survived. A bulldozer was clearing the top of a hut when I arrived with other volunteers. The face masks, I don't know to what extent they were helpful in preventing air-borne germs from entering my nostrils, but they certainly didn't help with the foul smell of rotting flesh. A young girl's body was dug out, 7 days after her death. She was carried in a bedspread and buried a little far from the hamlet. Someone said "It's Moorthy's daughter".

We had some material resources, but more importantly were asked to provide emotional support(?), offer them hope and promise a better future. In a manner of speaking, I'm quite efficient in using my words with strangers. I started with a middle-aged man. He's short and a little stout and maybe around 50. His arms were like wooden logs. I enquired about food and other basic amenities. "It's been 7 days since I had food. There are many people like you who come here and offer help. We're grateful. But, I can't eat" he said. He said his stomach is petrified and the sight of food doesn't provoke anything. He was at sea on the fateful day with his sons. He could feel the unusual strength of waves, but didn't even imagine the scale of disaster.

Every fishing family had atleast 5 different fishing nets (for various seasons and fishes) and the entire cost of the nets ran upto Rs.50,000. All the nets were tangled unimaginably and were rendered useless. The hamlet in the shape of a rectangle of 1 X 0.5 km, packed with huts and a few brick houses, is devastated. Only a couple of brick houses withstood the waves with little damage. Boats were toppled, and many were in two pieces. The entire hamlet was strewn with fishing nets. We had to walk with care so as to avoid getting struck in the nets and falling down.

As I walked around, this woman who was staring at the group clamoring for buckets and mugs started talking to me without looking at me: "I lost my husband and two kids." She then turned toward a ruined hut, which I assume to be her residence. When I started to mumble "We're all here to help you. God will..." she said "I lost six goats." She hadn't listened to me. I don't even know if she acknowledged my presence. Another woman was weeping: "I want to see my daughter's face. That's all I want". I decided it was better not to waste my words of hope and future. Because no one's listening.

Women are emotionally fragile. They're inconsolable. But the men are emotionally strong. I was amazed at their courage. Jayapal has lost six members from his family. He is Moorthy's brother and it was his brother's daughter who was found that morning. The corpse was washed atleast fifty metres from their home and gotten struck in another hut. Jayapal who was on the shore that morning started running as soon as he saw the tsunami. Water receded in five minutes, he said. When he ran back, his house (brick) was flattened. He found his mother dead near his house. His brother and sister-in-law were washed far away. His father was hurt and he took him to the nearest hospital and battling death for 6 days, his father relented. While he had taken his father to the hospital, the farmers, who were deep in the village had come and looted Rs.50,000 and gold laces from their iron shelf, which had remained intact.

Jayapal, who is shattered at the loss of his family is least worried about the material loss. He showed the cardboard case of a new LG engine which he had bought for his boat at Rs.40,000. He said the engine could be lying beneath the debris. I asked him: "Would you go back to the sea". He thought for a while and said: "We've had bad days at sea. But nothing like this. I now fear the sea. But I don't have many alternatives. I could open a shop here, or go to the city and find a job..... I've been a fisherman all my life. I guess I'll go to the sea again."

I moved. Volunteers were talking to this guy, and I didn't get his name. "I started climbing the tree (coconut) as fast as I can. I could hear my neighbors crying for help. But, I was helpless." Tsunami which was high enough to drench the 40 metre trees left him without his shirt and lungi. "I could see bodies all over the place from the tree top." There are many survival stories and many death stories. They all sounded the same and somehow, each one is different, as if every single death and every single survival had it's personal tsunami.

The government officials!! How could I not write about them. These are people following orders. An order issued by the local chief officer, who was instructed by the district collector, who received an order from the state chief minister. On the night of new year's eve, we were transporting clothing materials from Nagapattinam to Velankanni, when this police officer (who is celebrating the new year) who should have drunk to his neck started harassing the truck driver with bullshit questions. The driver, who should've seen many such police officers in his career, deftly handled him. Even in Kameshwaram, a couple of police constables who were supposed to route the relief supply vehicles to the fishing hamlet segment of the village, simply rerouted the government supplies to the local farmers. Later, we were told that the police have a connection with the farmers who bribe them for a variety of reasons (illegal arrack, etc) and the police were only expressing their gratitude.

What we volunteers did, you ask!! Thanks for asking. The answer is bare minimal. We distributed water packets, cleaned houses that seemed usable, went door to door educating people about epidemics and requesting them to get inoculated, transport clothes and rice sacks and a few more trivial acts. For most of the time, we were listening to them speak. And that was the most difficult thing.

Still with me? Great! I appreciate your patience. Have a wonderful 2005!!

--Originally written for LJ on 04-01-2005

Quake Hits Me

My city, Chennai (Madras) in South India is one of the worst hit parts by the tsunamis triggered by the quake. Marina beach, which I frequent a lot is throwing up dead bodies since yesterday morning. Water has come into the city. The beautiful beach road is partially submerged. Hundreds of fishermen are missing, the media says, and we know what became of them. The official toll, so far is 2500 in TN, my state. Since the chief minister has announced Rs.1,00,000 for every family that has lost a member, the official toll would in no way near the real figure.

My uncle residing near the beach said that he woke upto a rude but brief jolt and found everything okay after a while. Then, the tsunamis, the giant killer waves, slowly showed their presence. Nagapattinam, home of around 5000 fishermen is very badly hit. Many were at sea and their families lived close to the shore. The hospitals are ill-equipped to handle such big-scale emergencies. The top bureaucrats would see this as an opportunity to swindle from the emergency relief fund. Thanks to the public that are providing fantastic humanitarian assistance. They need to be educated about the potential outbreak of epidemics (open drainage mixing with water and flowing around the streets) and the means to prevent them.

Whenever I saw a bunch of corpses that belonged to Palestine or Sudan, I would go 'Oh my god! It's terrible' and continue my routine. Today morning, brushing my teeth, I didn't find the usual boring face in the mirror. I was unusually very aware and conscious of my morning routine activities that 'routine' seems an inappropriate word to describe my yoga and shitting and bathing and eating. Yes, I'm alive.

--Originally written on 27-12-2004 for LJ.