January 02, 2005

Write it!

The earthmover -- the same one that will later show a young girl to her grave -- mauls the little hut as I watch. It was mauled by the tsunami anyway, but still, it does something to you to see it happen a few feet away. It's clearing a path for vehicles, a path that this destroyed hut was obstructing.

After it is done, an old couple scurries into the mess and scrounges around for whatever they can retrieve. A grubby and bent pan here, another grubby and bent pan there, a few pieces of sodden plywood too. At first, I think these are thieves, but I quickly realize that this was their home. They are simply picking up whatever bent pieces of their lives they can. I feel a stinging remorse that I thought they were thieving.

They notice me and come over. We have nothing left, they say. Everything else from our houses floated away on the water. We came back through neck-deep water for such a long time, looking for our stuff, but there was nothing. Our catamaran is broken too. What can we do?

As they talk to me, a few others from the village -- actually, just Pandala Salai (street) on the outskirts of Nagore -- drift by and stop, listen and contribute. The usual tales of destruction, apathy, promises from the government not fulfilled. Then Mariamma says it first, followed by a chorus from Mohan and Pakiyam and others, then from more who join us. Write it! they order me. We want you to write this!

Mariamma says, only the Muslims helped us that day. Understood? From the whole town, only the Muslims. The Muslim ex-MLA here, Nizamuddin, organized food and water for us after the wave, and has been sending more to us every day. Only those "Islam people" helped us! The Hindus did nothing for us! Write it!

But aren't you Hindus? And if so, what do you mean by "the Hindus"? We are scheduled castes, Pariyars, explains Pakiyam. The Hindus don't care for us. That's why they didn't help us.

This is hard for me to say. But I have never faced such an insistent demand: write it! Over and over. So I wrote it. I write it.


Up and down the coast that was so tragically shattered, we have heard of and seen the help that Muslims provided to the victims. In Cuddalore, a mosque has provided shelter to several hundred people. In Pudukuppam, we found about a dozen Muslims, all wearing their white caps, resting in a boat after distributing cooked food to the villagers. Food for the eighth day in a row.

The first day, actually, was a lovely story. One Rafiq's wedding was scheduled in the Jamaat in Parangapettai (Porto Novo), just inland from these villages. The nikaah was to be at noon that day. Food was ready and the festivities were about to start. But before they could, screaming tsunami victims from Seepudupettai and Pudukuppam poured into the Jamaat. The women and kids from the wedding party were quickly asked to go to another room and given biscuits; the men distributed the cooked food to the victims, and then set about cooking some more. Then more. And more. Eight days now. Lemon rice on the menu today, to feed 300 people in Pudukuppam.

It's lucky, says Mohammed Hameem who told me this story, that there was that wedding that day. Yes, but did Rafiq ever get married? The dozen men looked at each other in surprise. Nobody knew. Cooking food had evidently occupied their entire attention since the tsunami. Since Rafiq nearly got married.

I write it.


leo said...

Its extremely distressing to find that even when facing such a calamity people are still divided across communal lines. Is it a curse we have to live with forever? Do we have to be Hindus and Muslims forever and never Indians?

Anonymous said...

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

So they forced you to write it, and you had to. It must have been hard, sure, but is there a message to your story? What is it?

One religion better than the other? Is that what we should worry about when 100000 people have died? Or ever?