The experience of Raju and his wife Ragini during their trip to Chennai ,a city in south India about 500 miles south of their native town Vishakhapatnam was terrifying. It was in 2004 at the time of the terrible tsunami that devastated parts of south east Asia and caused horrible destruction on east coast of south India . It was the day before Christmas.
They went to Chennai to meet some friends. They were too far from the reach of the demoniac tsunami. They were dumb struck when they saw on the TV scenes of destruction on the sea coast. There was no wind, storm or rain to announce and forewarn about the visit of the demon. It crept on the seafloor for a few hours starting its journey from Sumatra island in Indonesia and after a few hours reached the east coast of India and caused terrible destruction. It wiped out whole fishing communities living in coastal villages of south India, caused terrible devastation in Chennai harbors licking hundreds of people there. Houses, cars, trees, boats etc were crumpled, uprooted, pulverized and destroyed. The destruction in Sri Lanka was even more terrible !
After following the news and repeated announcements over the TV they could not get over the shock and numbing feeling resulting from the realization that they were in the same city which was visited by the killer tsunami on the previous day! The demon caused destruction only a few kilometers away from them! They also learned over the TV that the demon went away never to return –(it may pay another visit only after another two or three hundred years!) they were relieved and recovered a little from the shock. The next morning they started for the beach to the beach to see the destruction with their own eyes.
They paid a visit to Marina beach area in the early evening like hundreds of others out of great curiosity . There was a big heaviness in the hearts and a feeling of great shock and sadness .they could not control their feelings and tears flowed endlessly. That casual visit to the beach changed their lives forever. It was like the “Day After” in an atomic war. The sky was overcast adding to the utterly tragic mood. Whole sea side communities disappeared. There is no exaggeration. It is utterly true! Whole seaside communities disappeared. Many people irrespective of age were wailing inconsolably and wandered like mad persons. Entire families were devoured by the demon. Many people old and young might have really become mad .Most pitiable was the plight of orphaned children who were in a semiconscious state and were herded into enclosures and guarded most affectionately by brave volunteers. Medical and police teams were reaching but they too were in an utterly confused state unable to decide where to start.
The little orphaned children were carefully guarded round the clock by brave and selfless volunteers for sending them to hospitals for urgent medical treatment and later to orphanages on priority basis. They would seek the help of police and reputed social service organizations. They themselves suffered greatly and even lost their all but the precarious situation of children, as delicate as flowers, made them set aside all their personal problems. Such was the heroic spirit exhibited by the volunteers.
The children were so weak and in such a shocked state that it was difficult to say whether they would survive at all. Some sturdy youngsters and even elderly people who themselves lost everything put aside their grief with a stony heart to help the suffering children and other affected people. Aid was arriving only slowly as everybody was in a shock and did not know where to go and what specific work to do. Many people were arriving with cooked food packets, clean water and medicines, clothes and tents. It was great heroism really to serve in such a place.
Dozens of corpses were being washed ashore every few hours. The devastation occurred hardly twenty four hours ago .The level of destruction can be gauzed from the following. All around there were heaps of debris from destroyed houses. Mountainous waves pulverized and crumpled houses as if they were made of paper.
Raju — whose home and hearth was in the city of Visakhapatnam (on the northern sea coast of the Telugu speaking state), was overwhelmed by unbearable grief. Tears rolled down his cheeks seeing the plight of the thousands of people who were displaced by the disaster. The scenes of crying and weeping and wailing of woman of the fisherman colonies searching for their loved ones were heart- rending. Raju’s wife also could not control herself and like many eager onlookers wept openly.
Raju declared to his wife “I won’t be returning to Vizag ( Vishakhapatnam). I would stop for a month or two to work as volunteer.” Ragini rebuked him gently “ You can,if you like .But first send me to Vizag from this frightening scene” They walked on. They came across a group of loudly crying children herded into a tent and kept under care of a woman. It was a horrible sight.
There Ragini saw an extremely handsome little girl who was only about five years old. She appeared to belong to a rich city family. She perhaps came to the beach with her parents. One cannot say what happened to the parents. They perhaps perished due to the tsunami fury. But now the girl was an utter . She was in a shock and was unconscious . She was connected with the world only with a week lifeline which may snap any time. Seeing the unconscious girl a sudden outpouring of motherly affection engulfed Ragini.
The woman guarding the little unconscious girl herself wept aloud and begged Raju and his wife to take the girl with them . She said that the little thing was so tender and weak that it may not bear the shock any longer and may die soon unless somebody gave her medical attention. The woman also said that the girl was mumbling some words of Telugu language now and then.
Being very sensitive and kind-hearted Raju and Ragini set aside all other thoughts and considered it their most sacred duty to save the little girl. At other times such a step as they took now would have been impossible. But in that horrible environment of utter destruction their action appeared natural and was almost automatic. Raju thrust a few hundred- rupee notes into the hands of that brave woman, lifted the girl most tenderly into his arms and marched out along with his wife at a quick pace without looking back.
They walked at a very brisk pace for thirty or forty minutes till they were out of the devastated sea coast area. As the evening approached the police were arriving in large numbers. Seeing them and some rescue teams in the distance Raju and his wife stopped their brisk walk so that none would feel suspicious about their fast movements. They changed to a normal walking pace.
It was still day light though cloudy. Raju felt that they should leave the place early. He was in a hurry to escape from the area. He found an auto on one of the narrow roads leading to the beach. He beckoned to the auto and asked him to take them to the tourist bus stand which was about eight kilometers away. He felt easy only after reaching the bus station. They now were in a busy commercial section. They got down and mingled with the busy crowd walking among them. Only now Raju’s nerves cooled and his brain worked. He entered another auto and went to a big nursing home. He told the doctor that she was his daughter staying with a friend’s family .
The doctor put the girl on glucose and after finding that she was properly responding gave her a sedation injection. He said “Rest her for a full day here and then only you can proceed to your destination.” The doctor too was emotionally upset as he followed on the TV the scale of destruction on the sea front. He had tears in his eyes. He said he had an idea of volunteering and joining a medical team in a day or two to help the suffering people.Raju felt easy in the presence of the doctor . Again in early hours of next day he put the child on sedation and the little girl slept till night.
The night passed on well. The girl was sleeping due to the strong sedation. Next day also Raju and his wife kept a vigil anxiously over the condition of little girl. Ragini who rebuked her husband previously for being too sensitive was herself now overwhelmed by emotion. With tears rolling down her cheeks she declared “I shall resign my job and give my life away for this child”. She was a teacher at Vizag.
As night fell they were readying for their journey to Vizag. Raju already took the doctor’s approval for the journey by the 8 o’ clock evening super express to Vizag. The kind-hearted doctor too helped Raju in another way by sending his assistant to the railway station earlier to book a first class cabin in the super-express train to Vizag . He gave a sedation injection to the girl just before they left the hospital. He also gave Raju some bottles containing liquid medicines which ,he said, are to be used only if there is any emergency during the long train journey. The doctor did not give full assurance regarding recovery of the girl.
“The girl is physically and mentally strong. But still I cannot assure you anything. At Vizag you should put her under care of a good specialist at a hospital. It may take a few weeks or perhaps a few months to recover. You should take help of the very best doctors. Such little children forget everything quickly. But we should be prepared if it takes even a year for the child to fully recover from the terrible trauma. Best of luck. Take good care of her”—these were his words.
The doctor was thinking that the girl was Raju’ daughter. Raju profusely thanked the doctor.
(TO BE CONTINUED)