January 17, 2005
The Earth shrugged
at dawn, and a ripple sped across the ocean. A hundred and fifty thousand
human lives ended, and millions more were plunged into misery. Though many
tried valiantly to save others, our preparations weren’t up to it. The
Tsunami Warning Center realized that there was a tsunami
when a Sri Lankan naval officer asked them if there were more coming.
Ocean buoys and warning systems might have saved a few precious lives, but
not the vast majority. So lets leave that issue to the babus, mantris and
gurus. The real story is in the victories of the human spirit:
Vijaykumar saw a
tsunami warning in Singapore, did some rapid figuring, and phoned home –
the fishing village of
Nallavadu, pop. 3630. “That information spread out in the entire
street. … Immediately they spread the information through public address
system and blew the siren. Because of this all are safe with their
families in this village.”
Mohan Phupalam and Dhanasagriran Godandapani
alerted neighbors in
Puthukuppam by yelling to them - as their fishing boat was being swept
away. "Some were lying on the beach, having a chat. Others were
repairing nets … Fortunately, people were too frightened to try to save
their things. All the fishermen felt what Mohan felt; they understood.
There is extraordinary solidarity in this village, there is blind trust in
The residents of
Amrita Mission near Kollam – located right on the west coast beach –
swiftly connected messages on the internet from Chennai, with the rising
sea water at Kollam – and raced to save others. They had 13,000 people
living within 1 kilometer of the sea – all survived.
Then their relief efforts went into high gear.
recognized the meaning of a fast-receding sea outside her Phuket resort
bungalow and got her family to run for the hills.
Martin Hambrook, ace surfer, rode the wave all the way to the
second-floor restaurant of his Thai resort hotel – where he stepped off to
Coast Guard rescuers in Chennai, their own ships damaged, hung out of
helicopters and pulled several people out of the churning sea off Marina
Beach – and kept going, scouring the sea all the way to Vishakapatnam,
rescuing 25 people and retrieving 53 bodies by Monday.
Heroes by habit,
all – and for every such news story, there must be a thousand that we did
not hear – and even more who gave their lives trying to save others
against impossible odds.
Rudyard Kipling’s poem
“IF” had something to describe such human determination:
you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
to serve their turn
long after they are gone,
and so hold on when
there is nothing in you
but the will that
says to them: "hold on!"
Maya, a thin unassuming
13 year old, held on - for two days to a floating wooden door, braving sea
serpents and despair – 11 times, she saw planes approaching, but she waved
in vain. Landing at the Car Nicobar beach, she followed IAF emergency
instructions and asked to be taken to the Guard House (which no longer
existed) and next the runway, which did.
Indian Army soldier
bleeding from head and foot after being hit by wave-tossed iron rods,
dragged ten children to safety at Car Nicobar.
Housewife Malawati clung to a (fruitful) sago palm tree off the shores
of Aceh until a Malaysian tuna-boat rescued her on Friday. She learned
that she’s 18 weeks into her first pregnancy.
"I slipped twice, but
managed to hold on," she said. "I saw sharks around me but prayed they
wouldn't hurt me. I'm very glad, very happy"
Anthony Praveen, 8, mustered the will to open his eyes and sit up as grave
diggers prepared to bury him in Velankanni.
clung to a tree for 10 days before falling off – and being saved by a
tribal woman, who kept him safe until IAF rescuers arrived in the Car
Nicobar village of Tapai Ming – He is heading home to join his parents who
are in a Chennai hospital.
Rizal Shahputra of
stood up and waved and shouted at the container ship, MV Durban
Bridge, 160 kilometers off the Indonesian coast on Monday, January 3. From
a floating tree.
"At first, there were some friends with me.. After a few days, they
were gone .. everybody sank."
Scientist MK Das,
Chief Medical Officer at the Car Nicobar field station of Malaria Research
Centre, is still holding his post - coordinating efforts to provide
medical relief for survivors in the worst-hit islands. His wife and
daughter were listed as missing.
And the community
10:30 on Sunday – 90 minutes after the first waves struck, with the waters
still high and turbulent,
volunteers had moved out to the stricken areas – saving numerous
By noon, eight tents and seven shamianas were erected on a field near one
Auroville communities. “Two portable 5,000 litre tanks, two
generators, a field kitchen with four cooking ranges, were put into
service. Three of Auroville's load carriers, two tractors and two buses to
pick up refugees were also commissioned...
By 2 pm, 750 people
were fed. Another 1,200 people were fed in the evening. Blankets were
arranged as the night was cold and windy.”
efforts were underway, all along the stricken coasts. The government was
allowed to help – but it is clear that no one waited for the government –
and no one was hung up about the petty differences on which our media
gurus are so hung up.
By the 27th,
Sewa Bharathi volunteers had distributed nearly 26,000 food packets in
villages. 5 medical camps, over 50 temporary relief camps, medical vans,
700 Sewa volunteers removing over 1500 bodies, joined efforts with the
Ramakrishna Mission at Kolachel, and the Vivekananda mission at
The task of removing and disposing of decomposing dead bodies from
such disasters is crucial to starting relief efforts and saving the living
– and is hugely under-appreciated. I am sure I would faint dead away at
the first sight. “Arms came off when they tried to pull them..”.
Municipal workers and even police, often recoil and run away – and our
media experts of course love to imagine that this atavistic terror is
“caste prejudice” etc. This is what the Sewa people and other selfless
volunteers did - away from media glory, since there weren’t many Angrezi
reporters traipsing around there, for sure. They also rescued some
survivors from among the dead.
Large amounts of
purified water packets, food, clothes and blankets were trucked to
Nagapattinam. In Cuddalore, the local Jamaat and masjid fed over 3000
survivors, organized shelter for 10,000 – and helped bury or cremate the
dead. Temples, churches, mosques, schools, colleges, missions – all became
shelters to all who needed shelter.
Women in Bangalore, the city that ships software and engineers all
over the world, hand-rolled, cooked and packaged 25,000 chappathis per day
into ready-to-eat meals “(three in a pack along with sachets of sugar
and pickle”), and putting them on the 7pm express bus across to the
east coast. Dr A Thanammai of Kolachel’s hospital went into action at
10:45 on Sunday – and at last check had been going 4 days with 3 hours of
sleep each. Bharti Prasad of Delhi has been running her telephone and ham
radio from Port Blair reuniting familes separated by the disaster – she
had taken 3000 calls in the first few days. Dandapani Kadirvel, district
engineer, is at his desk from 7:30AM to midnight, assigning donations of
relief supplies to truck drivers.
pullers of Salem collected Rs. 3500 in
“the form of coins of one, two and five-rupee denomination (imagine
the hard work that went into earning that) –
to try to help others. When those paragons of Customer Service, the babus
of the SBI- Salem Fort Branch, set the bank’s security bouncers on them,
they protested and exerted their rights as citizens. Police intervention
convinced the SBI to accept the Indian money and issue a draft to the
Chief Minister’s Relief Fund – their top Babus made sure the press
reported their incredible generosity – they waived the bank draft
charge! The Tamil Nadu Mercantile Bank sent food for 3000 people.
“AIM for Seva” lodged and gave medical aid to 1,000 women and children and
was feeding 3000 people in Koradacheri.
By December 30,
AID-INDIA volunteers had
started relief efforts; helping to coordinate relief supplies, drive
delivery trucks, concentrating on 7clusters of 30 villages in South Tamil
Nadu and around Chennai. They also provided gloves and masks to those
removing the dead.
Muralitharan, Sri Lankan cricket star, leads a team, which has distributed
over 200,000 meal packets – yet they were gracious enough to buy up the
entire stock of an ice-cream vendor and distribute it to the kids in a
watch the things you gave your life to broken,
and stoop and build
them up with worn-out tools,”
Gautier quotes Auroville resident Hannah: "I put so much work in this
land and God took everything back, but he spared our lives and that is a
miracle." A week after the disaster, the catamarans of Nagapattinam were
on the sea again, put back in business by Indian Army engineers. The Army
also brought in mobile desalination plants, built bailey bridges, and
cleared roads. Helicopters were taken in through Myanmar from where they
could make the hop into the Andamans – a job that must have taken some
The huge change
that we saw was the swift common sense of cooperation: “The
Administration has requested us to take charge of two relief camps in
the vicinity of Port Blair.” Web
“blogspots” simply posted information.
“There are only 14 camps and around 40000 people are housed. All these
camps are being run by us.”
organizations sorted out priorities:
“Compared to other
districts in Tamilnadu the damages suffered by Chennai city is on a lesser
scale. But Media and NGOs are concentrating only on Chennai. Therefore
Volunteers are engaged in relief work in areas like Pazhaverkadu and
Wave Rats and
Human nature being
what it is, there were the inevitable losers, preying upon the victims and
survivors – or on the gullible but generous public. Reports started
surfacing about looting in Thailand and predators in Indonesia. A
Connecticut journalist thought she was donating to a charity when she gave
away the ownership of
www.tsunamirelief.com, only to see it being auctioned
starting at $50,000. Her article about the “Wave Rat”, stopped that
auction cold. The alleged “rat”’s mother defended her brat: "His
intention was solely to give to tsunami relief."
sufferings have been horrific, but some questions will be raised about
their government’s attitude towards the northern and eastern areas. From
Sydney Morning Herald: “Pictures from the north and east of Sri
Lanka are too horrific for Australian audiences, says the only aid agency
willing to venture into the tsunami-devastated area.
Most of the dead are
children and rigor mortis has already set in, Tamil Rehabilitation
Organisation (TRO) spokesman Siva Sivasubramaniam said… Many of the
victims were Tamils, displaced as a result of the Sri Lankan civil war and
living in tents on the beach.”
Other reports spoke of
Sri Lankan Army personnel hijacking aid trucks headed for these areas.
In the US, the
Pakistanis did what they do best – try to hurt Indians, even those
battered by a tsunami. Their site which also lists such gems of truth as
“4000 Israeli Employees in WTC Escape” (on 9/11/2001), “warned”
generous donors against donating money which might get spent well:
“Please remember the lessons of past natural calamities: Latur earthquake
in 1993, Orissa cyclone in 1999 and the massive earthquake that shook
Gujarat in 2001. Sectarian groups in the guise of non profits have swooped
in on these areas engulfed in tragedy (funded in large part by
unsuspecting donors in the
US) and established
their presence in the grief-stricken communities on the pretext of
They cited a 2002
attempt by the ISI’s Communist “friends of South Asia” in the Forum of
Indian Leftists (FOIL), slandering the India Development and Relief Fund,
with baseless accusations and innuendo. Example: IDRF was “anti-Muslim” -
because it sent money to the families of New York firefighters killed in
the 9/11 terror attack. Reasoning? "The victims were mostly non-Muslim
and the perpetrators were all Muslims". Their’ “Report” which they
claimed to be the best they could jointly produce after “five years of
meticulous research” was thoroughly
laughed off inside a few days. Many of the
FOIL’s “researchers” have since moved to more lucrative professions
such as “Kashmir
Researchers” pushing an “Andorra Solution” to reward Pakistani
hurt the Pakistanis most was the effectiveness of the grassroots
organizations whom IDRF funded: “Because of their social and cultural
affinities, such organizations are well equipped to intervene in on the
ground activities.” Sadly, the Pakistanis forgot to list the exemplary
relief efforts of Yahya Khan’s army in East Pakistan following the 1970
cyclone – where British Marines eventually forced their way on shore to
rescue the dying survivors.
Pakistanis have reason to be worried – that Indian relief efforts would be
as effective as that after the Gujarat earthquake, which won three
international awards from world agencies. The for-profit “charities” which
they “endorsed” would suffer by comparison. As an example, their
“SINGH Foundation” boasted a 52.9% overhead – that’s before they paid
for any charitable program at all,
such as funding the living expenses of Ms. Teesta Setalwad and Mr. Javed
Anand ahead of the Gujarat riots of 2002. Coincidentally, the lead
author of the hate attack against the IDRF is a Vice-President of the
SINGH Foundation. In the years since they were exposed, references to
SINGH in the “appeals” of the
various FOIL “charities” have disappeared.
The university of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign distinguished itself by displaying less
honesty than the mother of the alleged “wave-rat”. A message bearing a
email address asked recipients to “circulate widely” the Pakistani
whines. The sender “Ra” is listed as a member of the Editorial Board of
“Ghadar – the Journal of the Forum of Inquilab Leftists”, and is cited for
his columns in
“The Illini” by
other students for “repeatedly printed fabricated lies and quotes
taken out of context from obscure sources and attributed incorrectly to
Israeli leaders.” Gaiutra Bahadur of the Philadelphia Inquirer did
what she could to propagate the lies.
B. Sampath enthusiastically reported how “TNSF, DYFI and PSF” were working
together. The DYFI and the SFI,
listed as “principal mass organizations” of the Communist Party
(Marxist) of India, profusely thanked AID-India for the
free flow of funds to them. For once they had money to spare to help
fellow-citizens, not just burn buses, wield cycle-chains, knives and iron
kill policemen. One does ponder their work ethic, remembering them
sitting at the Baggage Claim exit of Kochi airport, extorting money from
passengers who handled their own baggage. But from all accounts in the
media, they are doing commendable work – they have at least
been seen standing around in areas where supplies are being loaded.
But here again, the political-officer types who apparently run AID took
over. In a seamless integration of dishonesty and poor taste, AID
baldly denied that any funds were going to the DYFI. They also deleted
the statements on their website instructing that funds to libraries should
go only to DYFI-approved libraries! So much for acknowledging those who
Beth Duff-Brown of the Associated Press thought she was following a
safe habit – joining the various “Multi National Charities” in bashing the
Indian government and predicting that the GOI would “have to be pressured
into accepting aid” and citing the awesome speed of the US effort for
comparison: by Dec.30, “American planes already
have delivered 1,400 body bags to southern islands in Thailand”.
Was she in
for a surprise! 88% of Indian readers supported the Prime Minister’s
decision outright, while 12% asked for more care in delivering aid. A
whopping 0% agreed with Ms. Duff – her expected adulation base among the
desi-angrezi media had evaporated. The reason is not far to seek. The
desi-angrezi editors, having spent the past decade cursing India as
“Hindu-nationalist”, “fascist” etc., suddenly find themselves in the
position of “TASS”, the Soviet news agency: the government is their own
party. After a habitual dirt-throwing start, Indian publishers and editors
seem to have swung around faster than the tsunami. Thus even the Marxist
paranoia about cooperating with America is now defended staunchly by the
editors of the Free Indian Press. Eat your shoes in envy, General
If you can trust
yourself when all men doubt you
but make allowances
for their doubting, too.
If you can wait but
not be tired of waiting,
or being lied
about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated,
don't give way to hating,
wave-rats, whinos and Political Officers - the big story is how Indians
have come together as rarely before, to help not only their compatriots,
but also their neighbors in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Seychelles, and
Indonesia. Our navy was the first help on the scene. The government
swiftly relaxed foreign currency restrictions on relief work. The Chinese
Ambassador promptly got his photo in
The Hindu, paying the management. There’s a big change in India today
Middle Class from the Propah Families, is actually coming out to help,
and get their hands dirty.
never seen anything quite like this before.
Lawyers, doctors, IT
professionals and chartered accountants are taking one and two months of
leave to clamber on trucks piled high with relief material and head to
remote tsunami-struck villages to help volunteers find, lift and bury
rapidly decomposing bodies. Young people are packing knapsacks and
hitching lifts to the coast to offer both brains and brawn in an attempt
to help devastated villagers. Students from city schools and colleges are
sitting up late, sifting through and meticulously cataloguing the
never-ending flood of food, vessels, clothes and money, coming from all
over the world, everyday….In the slums, men and women, who can barely
afford a daily square meal, are collecting Rs. 5 per head to help the
tsunami victims. Teenagers from poor housing colonies are going from door
to door, raising tens of thousands of rupees in the process. Along the
coast, in every colony, people are collecting money to help neighbours who
have lost everything”
We ARE finally becoming a superpower. Of human compassion.
Veteran diplomat G.
said it best when he explained why India was in no hurry to bring the
foreign Bwanas to save our people: “India's polite
refusal to accept any foreign aid recognised that "foreigners could come
in the way of our own relief efforts", Parthasarthy said.
"Ten foreigners come and work two hours a day
and the world's media think they've sorted out our problems tickety-boo,"
he said. "We have the resources to manage our own situation."
That statement did
not draw any major whining from “The Hindu” or “The Times of India”. Even
the “waste no chance to bash the heathen wogs”
Christian Science Monitor wrote in grudging acknowledgement: “Development
workers on the ground suggest that the Indian government is coping without
the kind of foreign help that's pouring into neighboring Sri Lanka. "If
things were not going well here we would raise the alarm," says Corinne
Woods, spokeswoman for the UNICEF. "But everything at this point is
working just fine given the circumstances."
Oh! How the times
have changed! It’s like January 1972 again – and it didn’t even take a war
to unite us.
The media hype and
“blogs” will be gone in a week. The MultiNational Charities will move on
in a month to more lucrative business opportunities. The Designer
Charities will move on to more fashionable causes. The grief and the
emptiness will remain each day, each hour, each second – and the shattered
lives will take much longer than the shattered boats and huts to rebuild –
also one small step at a time. Its fine to airdrop food – and truck-dump
old clothes today, but dear reader – there’s no hurry. Please remember to
support those who help the people to help themselves live and grow as
healthy, educated, proud citizens. This year. Next year. And in the years
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