January 06, 2005

Ferry Cross the Upannar

A row of parallel beams, gracefully curved -- carved -- into magnificent large "U"s and at either end, another one that sweeps perpendicularly up into a proud prow.

I know that pallid description, before the final word, will hardly tell you what this is, so here you are: it's the shell of a boat being built on the shore of the river in Thaikalthonithurai, near Cuddalore's harbour. It's a huge thing, there like upside-down bows marching into the distance, or like some Viking-scale achievement. The shady grove of tall coconut palms, the enormous cleanly-sliced logs (from the iluppa tree) that lie around, the river, its mouth beyond which the sea lies, and the constant breeze -- all make this the loveliest spot we've been to on this trip. Which is not saying much, but still, I mean it. And this unfinished 400-ton capacity cargo boat is a nice touch. Nity tells us he often comes here on his travels through the area, to catch a nap.

Thonithurai means "the place where you have ferry boats", and in this place, indeed you do. I watch a ferry tack slowly through the breeze, moving across the river Upannar with a load of passengers from Sothikuppam there to Thaikalthonithurai here. Today, the Sothikuppam pier is ... damaged? Looking into the setting sun, it's hard to tell, but I know it's likely to be so, because I've just heard what happened here about ten days ago.

From Thaikalthonithurai, you can drift downriver to the sea, only about 500 metres away. (Amit is apparently more familiar with the term "furlongs", so -- the sea is about 25 furlongs away). Or you can cross to Sothikuppam, hike across some 1-2 km (about 100-200 furlongs) of land, and come to the sea that way.

One Sunday recently, the villagers in Sothikuppam saw a gigantic wave rising up out of the sea. Terrified, they rushed their kids to the pier and tried to get them onto a ferry to take them across the river to the boatyard and, perhaps, safety. But to their horror, the wave rounded the headland at the mouth of the Upannar and bore upriver, thus down on the kids, at a fearful speed.

Over 20 children were swept to their deaths.

I stand in the magnificent half-boat in this place where you have ferry boats, my 6-foot frame dwarfed by the solid curved wood reaching from beneath my feet for the sky far above, and watch the ferry tack, and I think of those kids. I try to imagine this peaceful river in that transformed avatar, this enchanted spot as an abode of death. I try to imagine destruction screaming past this graceful piece of craftsmanship.

I can't.

And it's not for the first time that I'm struck by the ironies, the tragedies, this killer wave flung ashore.


Anonymous said...

Dont get me started on those furlongs or else...:-)


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