January 04, 2005

What kids do

Near the Kalpakkam nuclear plant is a neat colony for its employees. It's called Sadras, and I mean that word "neat" to apply to what it looks like now, after the tsunami. Of course it was clearly hit -- there are books and clothes and bags and a ragamuffin doll up in a tree and fences torn down. But an army of workers and earthmoving equipment are cleaning up. The school, which was flooded to a 3-foot depth, is so spotless now that you would swear that "tsunami" remains a somewhat unfamiliar term from one of its geography texts instead of the word on every pair of lips for miles around. Even its front door, which was smashed, has been replaced.

Especially because we arrive here after days of meandering through places that face an enormous clean up job, the way Sadras has been restored is startling.

Madan Rao, the principal, and Neelima Srivastava, the chemistry teacher, take us through all that has happened since that Sunday morning. It's an inspiring story of hard work and community building -- one that you wish could be the story of other places too -- and we are full of appreciation for them and for the people here.

And now there's an interesting initiative the kids, back at school on January 3rd, are taking. Even though many of them suffered the wave's effects, they are writing letters to send to the families of other victims. Here are a few excerpts:

We are feeling sorry for your loss. Be happy from this year. Be bold we will help you. God will bless all. Don't lose your heart. Don't worry about this incident.


We will give our best and rise above the rest. When you have done best leave the rest for God. Leaders wear a crown of good thoughts. Nature has its own way of destruction.


From the ocean rose a long hand,
Carrying huge amount of water and sand,
And none could control or predict the killer band.
The long hand is called a tsunami,
It took many known and unknown people from me.
It has happened not only for me and you,
But also for the babies which were born new.


And as we walk away from the school and these letters, for some reason I remember the boy we saw in Killai the previous day. In his hand were two big, beautiful, black-and-red butterflies. I asked if he’d let me hold them. He smiled and shook his head. No.

Oh, and why not? Because they’ll fly away. But what are you going to do with them? Drink honey, he says.

(Here's how my friend Amit Varma wrote up the same little incident).

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