When you live near water, hearing its sound becomes part of your life. A fisherman living in a coastal village will hear the tides of the ocean like his own breath. Someone living along the banks of the Ganga will hear its never-ending flow like their own heartbeat. These sounds are usually a constant and steady presence in their life. But sometimes, like a sudden heart attack that hits with no warning, the constant and soothing sound of the water’s flow becomes the sound of rage and pain, chaos and violence.
The coast of Tamil Nadu and the Himalayan valleys of Uttarakhand seem to be a world away from each other. Located at either extreme of the Indian subcontinent, on the surface it would be hard to find something in common with these two places…except for water, a constant flow of water. And on two very tragic occasions, way too much water.
The last time I helped coordinate a visit of the Japanese student volunteers was when they came to Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu to help with the Tsunami relief work. After spending several days here in Uttarakhand it is hard not to see similarities in the damage we saw.
There are so many unnatural sights of things that aren’t where they are supposed to be: an upside-down car far from any road, a bed far from any bedroom, walls of a house far from any foundation. But even more devastating is the damage you can’t see because the destruction of the tsunami and theses floods was so complete and violent, it completely erased places from the map. There was literally nothing left.
Beyond what can be seen with your eyes, you must spend some time in a place to know how the damage hit below the surface. You must speak to the survivors to know that some family’s homes might still be standing but with one or several less family member(s). How a hotel owner was fortunate enough to not lose his source of livelihood, but no longer gets any tourists, because the roads leading there are now more hiking trails than highways.
So after the brief but terrible sounds of the abrupt destruction that ravaged both these communities the water goes back to its normal soothing flow. It returns to being the constant part of normality that these people always knew. And at this point the people have chosen to carry on living, to rebuild their lives, to smile. And after spending some time in these Himalayan villages and when we did in those coastal areas of Tamil Nadu, it is so amazing to see how quickly they have done that. Just a few months removed from such devastation we only find warmth and beauty, smiles and laughter from everyone here. It is easy to envy to resilience, bravery and simplicity with which these people face every day of their life. If it wasn’t for the broken roads and debris all around them it would be hard to imagine these people so recently faced such a disaster.
photos by Vivek