Monday, July 25, 2005
Among the Ruins of Dhanushkodi
This is one of my favourite pictures. I took this when we went on a tour of South India last December.
This is a ruined church at Dhanushkodi, about 20 kms from mainland Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu. It has a history that is truly heart-renching.
Dhanushkodi was just another port town with a population of around 25,000. In 1964 a cyclone wiped out the entire populace and what is left is a ghost town with ruins of a college, a school, a temple, a church, a post office, railway station and the other trappings of a town. Yet what is amazing is the number of people who continue to live there. There are around 200 families of fishermen who constantly live under the shadow of another catastrophe. Each family lives in a hut that does not look capable of withstanding a slightly bigger wave even, let alone a killer cyclone. Every household has a mobile phone but it is not the result of any mobile revolution or a sign of prosperity. For them, a mobile phone is a basic necessity, not a device of luxury or convenience like for the rest of us.
Dhanushkodi is not connected by roads. Before 1964, it was connected by a train from Rameshwaram. Now to reach the place you have to drive down a few kilometres from the mainland. The road is so straight that you can see ahead for miles on end, kind of gives you an idea of infinity. You can see the ocean on both sides of the road. You then reach a dirty smelly fishing village where an enterprising trader sells cheap sea shell jewellery and other souvenirs as you wait for your ride.
Now is the fun part. No hardy vehicle is allowed into Dhanushkodi. You have to get into a specially designed small truck paying upto Rs 450. The very bumpy ride takes you through the ocean (yes you read that right!) on a sandy trail for the next 20 minutes. There is a very real chance of getting bogged in the middle of the ocean if you deviate from the trail.
Believe me, it was surreal going through the ocean. You then reach the town of Dhanushkodi where for the people we are just pesky tourists. Looking at the ruins is really very very saddening. There was this ancient man who had survived '64 but I couldnt ask for much details because he spoke a kind of Tamil that was beyond my rudimentary grasp of the language. Our guide showed us a deep hole from where drinking water was gathered, not at all salty. Sri Lanka was just 18 kms ahead of where we were standing. It seems you can actually see the 'bridge' (some say it is a coral reef) that Lord Rama built to get to Lanka to bring back his wife Sita. It is today seen in satellite images and is called Adam's Bridge.
A woman I spoke to said that the trucks that come by are their only source of getting in and out of the island. Kids here get educated. Life is normal there if you look past the stark reminders of imminent danger.
Going there reminded me of how fatalistic my countrymen can be. When I asked them if they were not scared of a disaster, they said that so far nothing had happened and they believed that God would protect them.
The devastating tsunami struck less than two weeks after my trip. Amidst the horrifying toll of damage and death, I was thankful that Dhanushkodi was spared from any major damage. Maybe God was looking out for the people.
I have travelled around my beautiful country but never have I seen another place like Dhanushkodi. It is so beautiful, so silent in its obvious and hidden pains, so full of hope. It sort of reinstates your faith in the fortitude, courage and faith of people, reminds you that life, inspite of everything, should and will go on.
The Sethusamudram Project that was conceived over a century ago has finally taken off. It seeks to have a connecting canal between Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal without the ships having to go around Sri Lanka. It will be good for trade and I hope to God that it will in some way be beneficial for the good people of Dhanushkodi.