September 15, 2005

Ready to cook

A bell rings in Seepudupettai and dozens of kids erupt from a building, all in light green/dark green uniforms. I see them over the largely broken walls of a house that I was in eight months ago as well. It was smashed then, but now it is being torn down completely. Life Help, a Chennai NGO, is building new houses here, on the sites of the old ones. In passing, I note that this seems the only sensible way to give tsunami victims permanent housing: build in situ. Otherwise you get caught in the whole tangle of temporary housing, the search for land to build permanent housing, the danger that temporary becomes permanent, and so on.

In the rubble that's still left, I see two portraits. One is of Lal Bahadur Shastri; the other, on what used to be a door ("291A", it says), is of a young man and is labelled "Dhanash". Some film star I've never heard of, I suppose. Between them lies a sack filled with something, labelled "Ready to Cook, Eat and Enjoy."

On a small concrete platform outside, a hand pump leans at a slight angle, as if it is just mildly drunk and cannot stay erect. Beside it lie five bolts, all rusting badly, placed so neatly it must have been on purpose. The concrete around them is stained brown from the rust.

A new bridge leads from the end of one road that runs through the village, over a filth-filled nalla and onto the sand of the beach. On the other side of the bridge lie two brand new toilet blocks, 16 toilets in each. The fibre doors flap in the stiff wind; a cursory glance is enough to tell me the toilets are yet to be used. Adjacent to one of them is a large bit of what used to be a wall: concrete and bricks. From both the aroma and the sight, it's clear: this has been used as a toilet, and pretty recently.

Beyond, three men are working to finish a new "Dry Fish Store Room" and an adjoining "Fish Drying Yard". I ask them about the toilets. They laugh. Nobody has used them and nobody will ever use them, they say. Why would people come all the way out here?

Why indeed.

In the rubble of another house, I find a nearly intact plinth, a brilliant yellow door jamb, a small earthen diya (lamp) and a cracked plastic box that says "Sandhya Bangles". I look up from that to see several light green/dark green-uniformed kids, looking at me curiously. "Whatisyorname?" asks one.

1 comment:

Sunil said...

the other, on what used to be a door ("291A", it says), is of a young man and is labelled "Dhanash".

Dhanush, Dilip....Dhanush. You bow. He of the "Manmatha raasa" song fame...:-)

Glad you're hear writing about the conditions, 8 months down.