December 26, 2005

Those we lost

A year later, I have memories by the barrelful. The bodies, the destruction, the images ... And then my mind goes back some more years still. Orissa, 1999: a cyclone that ravaged lives just as brutally as the tsunami would in 2004.

And this small story is about one of those lives.


One evening, I'm sitting with an orphan. There's a TV crew I've bummed a ride with, and they have specific instructions to find an orphan and put him on air. TV news directors, what's there to say.

So eventually, somebody directs us to this solemn little boy in a battered school building. Many other villagers are with him, taking shelter. The crew sits him on the verandah and string out their wires and set up their cameras and pull out a major-league microphone and thrust it in his face. Try to get him to say something.

He won't. Or can't.

Now I know zip about TV and its methods, but I feel like when I saw the poor kid, I could have told the TV guys he wouldn't be able to speak. He looks dazed, dumbfounded by the enormity of what has happened to him. And that's before he has the mike before him, to try to say something into.

Later, I sit with him. "Look", I say to him, showing him my empty hands. "I have no mike, no camera, no book. I'm just sitting here with you, is that OK? You don't have to speak."

What else do I have to say to this little fellow?

We sit in silence for a while. But then -- slowly, softly -- he tells me what he could not say to the mike.

He's alive only because he came to visit a relative somewhere near here. When the storm came, he ran with many others to the shelter of this school. As far as he knows, it took away his four brothers, three sisters and his parents. He doesn't know about the relative.

"These are the only people I now know in the world," he says, waving his hand at the others here with him. Complete strangers before the calamity, they are now his family. His home.

And even now, over six years and other great disasters later, I remember how Billy Joel's words suddenly drifted through my mind, maybe incongruously:
    When you touch my weary head,
    And you tell me everything will be all right ...
    Long as I have you by my side,
    There's a roof above and good walls all around.
    Well I'll never be a stranger,
    And I'll never be alone,
    Wherever we're together,
    That's my home.


Take a moment today, this week, any time, to remember those we lost.

1 comment:

wise donkey said...

words fail me.

(i understand the importance of tv and the probs with competition, but the specifications and the approach!)