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MGR Thitu: Sorrow Redefined

We (Kribs, Anita, Arun, Joshi, Chitra, and Nanda) reached the temple town of Chidambaram in the wee hours of 16th January. A couple of guys we had met on our way (during one of our tea breaks) had told us to check-in at the S.K. Guest House. After about three hours of rest, at around eight in the morning, we set off to MGR Thitu, a fishing hamlet, fifteen or so KM from Chidambaram.

Pictures of the trip are available from Nanda and Anita. Kribs promised that he will soon post his pics.

We reached Killai, where the road splits to Pichavaram and MGR Thitu. We had to take a small road off the main road to reach MGR Thitu. We decided to stop our cars and walk it up. We noticed a relief Ambulance and hitched a ride in it. All through the road we saw boats tossed about. �Were these�?� and even before we finished the question, one of the relief workers riding with us nodded in affirmative. �That�s a good couple of KM away from the sea.� He added for good measure. We also noticed that most of the trees were dead; the paddy fields were inundated. The media is not talking much about the damage that the farmers had to suffer because of the Tsunami, I wonder why.
The doctor on the Ambulance told us that we had to take a boat from Puzhudikuppam to reach MGR Thitu. The hamlet is sandwiched between the sea and the backwaters. There a small Catamaran and there were about six people sitting in it already. �Don�t worry, it can take twenty�, said Anbhazhagan, the elderly boatman. Arivu and his wife Jayasudha, of MGR Thitu, were visiting the village to perform a puja for their lost daughter.

For us, the city-folk, the Catamaran appeared to be a perilous proposition. If one moved a bit, the boat shook precariously close to the surface of the water. A few meters into the water, Nanda started talking to the boatman, Anbu. Anbu looked about sixty but I am sure the Tsunami aged him by at least ten years in a couple of days. He wore a yellow t-shirt that read �This t-shirt is all I have. The rest is hers.� The �her� now stood for the sea I thought.
�I lost my sister-in-law and my wife. Arivu and I are going back to salvage whatever we can.� He said.

Arivu said, �No one lives in MGR Thitu any more. People are scared.� The Catamaran lurched and my elbow hit the water. We were at a complete loss of words. As has been said before, you have to be there and look in the eye of these people to understand how devastated they are. The island-hamlet was closer now; the Palm trees head-banged to the devilish wind that whistled eerily, as if enjoying the specter of devastation and damage, doing a Nero. The sea on the other side of the hamlet frothed at its mouth like a hungry, rabid, wolf. �The tide is high today�, said Arivu. �On �that� day, the waves dwarfed the Palm trees. In the 40-year history of MGR Thitu, we have never seen something like that. Even the worst of the storms pale in comparison to what happened here a few days back�, he added.
The Catamaran lurched to a halt and we waded through the water and got to the shore. While Anita, Kribs, Arun, and Joshi wandered off towards the east of the village, Chitra, Nanda and I headed towards the west. We had to make our way through the thorn bushes and we found human hair and pieces of clothing entangled in the thorn bushes. We discovered later that people trying to flee to the mainland were stuck in the bushes and died as the bushes ate up valuable time. A hut greeted us at the edge of the village. It was blown away, as if a giant wolf gnawed at it and tore it off. Quite a few boats lay around along with mangled (and thus useless) fishing nets. We reached the middle of the village, which was hardly 500 m away from the sea. The Palms saved us from the merciless sun. We spotted Arivu and his wife Jayasudha walking towards us. Jaya got on a slab of concrete and placed a brass vessel, biscuit packets, sweets and some savories on the slab. Arivu looked lost. The shadow of grief made his face pale. Jaya, though she appeared to be a resolute woman, was moist in her eyes. �What�s happening?� Nanda enquired Arivu.
�We are offering prayers and gifts to our baby. We lost her to the Tsunami.� Arivu said. I had a lump in my throat. I wanted to ask so many things but I could not. �Where is your home?� Nanda asked. Arivu flashed a wry smile and said, �We are standing on it.�

Jaya told us that that killer wave hit her and tossed her on to the roof of the neighboring house. �I don�t know what happened. When I woke up, I was on the roof and my baby was missing. We found her body later.�

After a lot of hesitation, we asked how they plan to move on. �We want land. The collector says we cannot stay in MGR Thitu any more. The government says it will build a home provided we get our own land.� Jaya said. Arivu showed us his boat that the waves had tossed away. �It is useless now. It may appear fine from outside, but I know that it requires a lot of repair that may run into thousands. As you can see, we lost everything; everything that we depended on for our daily bread� he said.

We reassured them that the government is doing everything to help them. We told them that rehabilitation will take time and that they ought to believe. But it was easy for us to say. I am sure so many like us would have told them the same thing. They echoed my thought, �lot of private organizations visited us and said that they would relocate us to a different location. We have yet to hear from them. Even if we are relocated, we will not be able to fish like we used to earlier. We used to catch fish for lunch and dinner. We know that a big catch awaits us by the way the water behaves. It is easy to spot fish from here. If we relocate our home, we cannot do all that. It is tough to move a ton of fish from the shore to where we live, you know?� Arivu said. �We need our nets, boats, and our home. That�s all we need to restart our lives�, Jaya added.

�We will get back in half hour, take a look around and return. Do not stray too much�, Arivu told us and left with Jaya. We went around the village. We found a TV set that was broken. A computer keyboard, a photo album, a cot� these were signs that told about the prosperity of the people of MGR Thitu, but now each family from here is at the mercy of aid and relief; they find it impossible to swallow their pride and accept packets of food or sleep on bare mats, without pillows, in the relief camps.

The primary school by the MGR statue (with a broken arm) was in complete disarray. Someone had scribbled a message about the Tsunami and its trail of destruction on the blackboard. The more we saw the more the words failed us.

We decided to leave. We found the rest of the gang on the beach. They had spoken to some other couple. The story remained the same though. I spotted a herd of cows on the beach. They appeared poignant. According to Anita, these cows come and congregate on the beach everyday, swimming about half a kilometer from the mainland. Half of the cattle had perished and the ones that survived, come back everyday, because they were raised on the island, the village folk told us. Many of them have lost their owners. I am sure there are many domestic animals that need help. If you are an Animal Relief organization, please make a note of it.

We headed back to mainland on a mechanized boat. Arivu was the wheel (a rudder actually). None of use spoke a word. It was too much for a city dweller to digest I guess. We stopped by a village by the shore (of the backwaters) and distributed crayons and papers (courtesy Nanda) to the kids, got them all together, and encouraged to draw. We had a good response and I am sure the kids enjoyed it too.

Later in the day, we went to Amritham Fishing Nets and donated nets fishermen from Pillu Medu, another hamlet that the Tsunami had destroyed. We were able to do it thanks to the money that Anita, Arun, and Joshi from Bangalore had collected. Hats-off you guys, and thanks for letting me be a part of it. I want to make a special mention on Mr. Sathyamurthy, who owns Amritham Nets, for his help. If you want to help fishermen by buying them nets talk to Sathyamurthy in Chidambaram. The fisherfolk look up to him and respect him.
I want to leave you with this thought: people of MGR Thitu say they need fishing nets for 50 boats. That comes to around 1750 Kg of nets (the bare minimum they require to get back to fishing).
Each Kilogram of nets cost around 300 Indian Rupees (roughly $6.6 USD).
Each boat requires 35 Kg � roughly 10500 Indian Rupees (roughly $233.5 USD).
If you want to adopt MGR Thitu, or donate nets, do let us know. If you are an NGO or a Relief Organization, write in. There is a village and it needs help in rebuilding their lives. I am sure there are more, but this is what we saw and we know they need us.

Anita runs a blog called Just a little something
Kribs is the old man of blogging in India. Kribs, I forgot your cousin�s name but please pat him on his back. And get a real car dude :D
Nanda despite his incessant chatter is a nice guy from the Marketing fraternity.
Arun runs Surplus musings.
Joshi blogs but refused to give us his URL (I can google it and find out but I respect your privacy Joshi).
Dr.Chitra is yours truly�s better-half.

Pictures of the trip are available from Nanda and Anita. Kribs promised that he will soon post his pics.
Note: This is just my take on the trip. We are working on a formal report that we intend to share with relief agencies.
SeeRecent Posts on your left for moreWrite to me: suman[at]sumankumar[dot]com

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