Adventures in India

This is an open journal of some of the things I see and think about while trying to find a place to live in India. It may or may not be interesting. I make no promises.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Back in the water

A couple of days ago there was a flurry of activity on the beach here in Mamallapuram. A few fishermen pushed a couple of boats into the water and paddled off towards a dark shadow out in the waves. It was a school of "guru" fish, a small tuna-like fish. This was the first time since the tsunami that anyone had ventured out. But the schools of fish were pretty close to the shore, and folks must have felt safe enough to get back in the water. A crowd gathered on the shore to watch. I was told by a friend watching with me that the catch would be divided equally amongst the fisher families, to help everyone get by. Communalism in action. After the boats went out, a few people even dared to go swimming in the shallows. Villagers are slowly learning to trust the sea again.

I visited my friend Kumaran's mother and sister in the tsunami relief village. They still refuse to return to the beach-side house they share with Kumaran. They are terrified that it could happen again. And the plain truth is that it could. It could happen in another two hundred years, or in the next minute. Slowly stories are shared. The death toll was light here; eight people died altogether. One woman was taking a shower in the five star hotel just down the beach. The waves crashed into her room, and carried her away. They found her body a hundred meters down the beach near the shore temple. My friend Saravan lost his little nephew. The boy was down at the water's edge taking a crap, (a common scene here in the early morning) when he was overwhelmed and carried away. He found him with life still in his body and ran with him to the village. Saravan said he was shouting for help, but everyone was in a panic and no one listened. The boy later died in the hospital. Afterwards, they were the only family left in the village; everyone was gone. He said, "Can you imagine what that was like, Tim? We were there with my little nephew's body, and no one was in the village. We were alone." Saravan said that he still can't stomach the religious rituals in the temple or at the shore the other villagers sometimes hold to placate the gods. He says no one in his family can. They just walk away and stay in the house. Everyone in his house is angry with God.

Wednesday night a powerful wind blew off the ocean. It sent tables flying on the deck outside my room and shook the glass in the window panes. I stepped outside to look at the blazing moon and feel the gale, and saw that twenty fishermen had crowded up the stairs and were looking out at the sea. There was some nervous laughter as everyone began to realize that a tsunami would not come because of a wind. But any sudden change in the weather makes people jumpy here.

Talking with Indian friends over beers, we discuss how events such as this are reminders that we simply do not know what is going to happen. At any moment. We are not in control.

The image of mad mother Kali dancing wildly on the cosmic battlefield provides a powerful image for this reality. According to tradition, it is She alone who has become everything (including all beings) in order to enjoy Her divine play, or "lila". When She scares the shit out of us, say the sadhus, She is just trying to get us to drop our attachment to the notion that we know what is going on. Cold comfort to Saravan who can still remember his nephew struggling to live in his arms.

Once, in a vision, the avatar Ramakrishna asked Kali why She allowed so much suffering in Her play here on Earth. He said the Mother smiled sweetly at him, and said, "Because it pleases me." Its basically the same answer God gives Job on the dung heap, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?" Job replies "How shall I answer thee? I cover my mouth, and am silent."

I think Saravan would have a very different response.


  • At 8:57 AM, Blogger First Sea Lord said…

    Tim -

    I just had an idea for using ebay for charitable donations. If you haven't tried ebay, the basic idea is people bidding online for items listed for 4-6 days, with the item, which can be pretty much anything.

    I wonder if you could list "Photo of appreciate people in India" as an Ebay Item and start getting auction bids; the title and concept might bring in money - people already have fun outbidding each other on charity, why not on Ebay?


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