December 31, 2004

Fire down below

From the fire behind me, there is an awful "pop". Something has exploded in it, and given that I know what's in the fire, I know what the pop is likely to be: some part of a human body, consumed by the flames. I've watched those bodies being piled onto the pyre, and the last thing these poor twisted rigid souls look is human -- but they burn nevertheless, and it's the last chapter in what must have been a terrifying, whirling end.

We are on a wasteland -- there's no other word for this vast empty soulless landscape of rotting slush, debris, mud, nets and dog and cat and human carcasses -- just outside the town of Nagapattinam. It has taken us nearly 90 minutes to negotiate our way through the slush and stench to where D Lakshmi Narasimhan, a tall gentle doctor from Salem, greets the dusk with his team in the only way that makes sense in this post-tsunami zone. They pick up and burn the bodies. We are only 500 metres from the town, but nobody except this team is out this far -- and from what we hear, there are dead bodies strewn all the way in fron of us, 5 km in front of us, all the way to Vedaranyam. Nobody seems interested in coming out this far. So what will happen to those bodies? How will they go through that final chapter in their agonizing end?

We can believe that there are those bodies out there. In getting here, we've seen at least three others being burned, at least five others lying around. One's a little form, sex or age or even humanity eroded beyond belief, lying in a carton. Nearby is another -- brother? mother? cousin? -- sprawled in the mucky sand. Bodies everywhere.

The pyre I mentioned is really a collapsed hut; one body lies on top of it as if he (she?) was sleeping. Calmly after the storm. The team lifts up the collapsed roof and there are bodies below. They pull one out -- a young boy, I think -- and put him on top with the other one. Then they light the roof. Incongruously, three cats emerge from below the hut, alive and running. The family cats? Here since the tsunami? Just sheltering here? Who knows? But we stand there, as Veerappan, his wife Parvati, their daughter Pasupati, and their sons Ganesh, Dinesh and Abhi -- the names listed in a sodden exercise book nearby, their photos in an album nearby -- go up in flames.

Popping to sicken my heart.

Walking back, it's dark. I can't see what's around me, so I just step into everything. Slush, rot, whatever. Seems hardly to matter. Seems appropriate. I don't know how to have a happy new year.

2 comments:

Sriram said...

Very tragic. What else can be said? This is one of those tragedies that we are all searching for someone to blame. Left blames right and vice versa. Rich blame the poor and vice versa.

Let us be pragmatic here. Could this have been anticipated, let alone prevented? I am not sure. For most people in India, this is the first time the world "Tsunami" has entered their vocabulary. How do you guard against the unheard of?

In Tamil Nadu, natural disasters on a lesser scale happen every year. Three out of every four years, there is severe water shortage and the state government asks for drought relief money from the centre. The fourth year, it asks for flood relief. This happens all the time and is highly predictable. What exactly has been done to fix this? Is there efficient storage of excess rainwater being done in reservoirs to be used during lean periods?

It is easier for politicians to play games with Karnataka over cauvery water.

One more thing: One of the first things the TN CM, Jayalalitha did after the tragedy was to tour the coastline in a plane? Why is this being done almost ritually everytime there is a natural disaster? Don't we have enough news, photos, videos and reports flowing in? What do politicians accomplish by flying over the country and remarking "Yeah...that looks bad"?

nakulan said...

You are repeatedly removing this post! This means that you are a cheat! Be honest, keep it.

Oh dear, the truth hurts, doesn't it? For those who missed it, here is what I pointed out in my post that Dilip D'Souza removed. I am adding a few more points.

1) I lived in poverty as do my relatives. We piled on with one relative or other until they kicked us out, or lived in portions, and for one stretch, even in a hut.

2) For education, water, power connection, and even food, we struggled to get by. We kept borrowing food from neighbours. My mother would starve so we could eat.

3) Bureau-RATS were responsible for this. They lived in mansions while we struggled to live.

4) GLOBALIZATION rescued me from poverty. My relatives are still poor, but at least I am able to help them.

5) It is dishonest of Dilip D'Souza to oppose globalization, but having gone to America and worked there and saved dollars. This is a perverse attitude.

6) JB D'Souza's job as CEO on behalf of his political masters is a shameful example of the corrupt neta-babu nexus. They pass laws to keep us in suffering while minting money out of our suffering.

7) I was fooled by AID too. They are crooked people.

8) Economically, Communism is one sadistic idea that keeps people in poverty while the bureauRATS and politicians have it good.

9) Dilip D'Souza must stop evading the issue - why did you work in America if you want to prevent others from benefitting from globalization and liberalization?

10) ONLY YOU RICH PEOPLE TALK ABOUT US POOR PEOPLE. Enough is enough. If you are a bureauRAT's son, shut up and don't harass us anymore. I had enough harassment from your father and his types. I am NOT going to let you harass me anymore, you lowlife loser.

11) Notice that all Communists are RICH or POWERFUL - N.Ram, J.B.D'Souza, Arundhati Roy, Prannoy Roy, etc. They are people who want to keep us in poverty. Trust me, I have no desire to go back into poverty and won't let you decide for me.

12) Don't be dishonest and suppress freedom of expression. I have violated no policy. My points are legitimate.

13) One last point - you may have had the good fortune of being an IAS officer's son and avoiding life in poverty, but it is clear that you have a low IQ and cannot figure out that globalization did people like me a world of good. When it comes to brain power, you Communists are INFERIOR.