Monday, January 31, 2005

S.M.S. aka S.O.S.

Sometimes an SMS is an SOS. It saves my soul.
When I feel like going to the garden to eat some worms, when I feel friendless, directionless and the downswing of my bi-polar depression hits me, a small beep sometimes brings a smile from very far away, with its sense, or better still, its non sense.
Like this one did. Some days ago.

"Khidaki se dekha to raaste pe koi nahi tha,
Khidaki se dekha to raaste pe koi nahi tha;
Raaste pe jaa ke dekha to khidaki pe koi nahi tha."



Saturday, January 29, 2005

The sea of stories

I'll keep this simple.

I'm back! :) Brown, battered and banging away at my computer.

I've got some great pictures this time (at least I think so) and more experiences to talk about. But not yet. I'm pooped, thanks to lack of adequate sleep and food and lots of exercise. All of which I'm unused to. Meanwhile, though, here is something I wrote for the paper, but was not carried. Which explains why it sounds so newspaperish!
Go ahead, read it and let me know...

At the very edge of Parangipettai, in Cuddalore district, just ahead of where the land meets the sea, there is a shed from which strange mechanical sounds emenate.
Strange because they come from a shed that is not used to having such sounds shake its insides. It stands on the land belonging to Annamalai Universtity’s Centre of Advanced Studies in Marine Biology, and has heard other animal sounds. As the door of the shed opens, you can see eight men poring over three greasy red engines stacked on a couple of wooden tables. One of the men, in blue overalls, attaches a small length of rope to the motor and whips the other end. After a few false attempts, the engine coughs back to life, spewing black diesel smoke. The men are delighted.
Six of them are naval engineers with INS Adyar (Flotila Technical Support Unit) and two others are from the transport deparment. All of them are on special duty, repairing the boats that were damaged in Cuddalore by the tsunami. “We are here on request from the State Government. The revenue department staff bring the engines here and we do the repair work,” says officer in charge of the operation, Anoop Kumar. The naval team landed in the district a couple of days ago and have since been busy at the shed, tending to engines and more importantly, to their owners.
He points to one of the engines and says, “This one here is ready for use. But its owner is unhappy. Though it is quite unnecessary, he wants us to take the engine apart and fit new spares.” Revenue officials bring the engines to the shed in Parangipettai, pay for the spares, bring the boat owners to see if they are satisfied with the repairs and prepare an inventory of all the engines that need repairs.
Joint Commanding Officer S.Vinayan says the engines can take from half a day to a full day to repair, depending upon the nature of damage. “If sea water has entered the engines, it would have corroded the parts inside. Another thing we have to consider is that the engines have been literally put together, using various odds and ends welded together. These will have to be replaced with proper spares.”
As was the six-year old boat engine belonging to K.Selvakumar, son of Kasinathan that took a beating during the tsunami. After half a day’s work, it sputters to a start after a few attempts. And then, shrugging its tsunami induced- stupor, it roars once again, preparing to shake the boat it will power on the high seas.


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Cuddalore: Just in case! :)


Cuddalore: Wide Angle

Since I'm off to Cuddalore and Nagapattinam tommorow, I thought I'd download the pics from the former trip. Tsunami size!

I figured a way not to let the photos eat up my space! :)


Sunday, January 23, 2005


I'm wondering if I'll ever hear the sound of silence anymore.

To me, now it means, a world without mobile phone tones going off in the next cabin, in the next seat, in the next ear, oops, in MY ear.
It wouldn't matter so much if they all sounded like they make you want to dance. I remember, some years ago, when a colleague brought the first polyphonic phone into office, all of us would stop work for a while and listen to it ring. We'd even tell him not to pick up the phone, so we could hear it some more! :)
But, either its all blase now, or standards have rapidly fallen. Some tones make you wish you were profoundly deaf at birth.
Like I heard one today that sounded like a song women wearing wet- yellow - saris sing as they dance over hot coals, their hair askew as they wave neem leaves in front of the camera. Did I say at temples? If you have'nt seen that one yet, or heard it, just try an 'Amman' tamil movie.
They seem to have a rather skewed effect on certain polyphonic phones. My skin burst out spontaneously in hives as I listened to that one.
Most annoying are the phones that are set on maximum volume, though their lunatic owners are not hearing impaired. And they ring only when a meeting is going on or when some one is observing two minutes silence for tsunami victims. Obviously the non-hearing-impaired owners are not aware that the monstrosity they carry in their hands can be set to vibrate silently.
Hold on... I think my phone's ringing. A.R.Rahman's Ghanan Ghanan from Lagaan. I'm going to let her ring cause I thoroughly love this tune! :)

So tell, what tune excites your mobile phone....


I was right about the matrix. It does not give you signals in vain.
I just lost my cellphone. Some one not so nice (who has it now) has apparently switched it off, which means he/she has no intention of returning it. :(
Well, three nasty things have already happened to me. Hope it stops with this. After all, there were only three deja vus.


Thursday, January 20, 2005

Deja Vu

Today has been a day of deja vus. Thrice so far...

There must be a glitch in the matrix.


Sunday, January 16, 2005


I first thought it was some kinda raspberry award!
Honestly, it was the first time I had heard about the Indibloggies award. But in a couple of days, I've learnt more about this one than I did think possible! Apparently, someone (very nice!) has nominated this blog under the NewIndiblog category! You could have knocked me down with a feather, but it's the truth.
The battle's hot on Indibloggies and I have 26 votes, as of now (like seven per cent of the votes) ! But what the hell, I love this and I'd rather not have another addiction, thank you very much!!

May the Force be with us!


Tales from Cuddalore - 2

Perhaps I am writing because I must. Not simply because I want to, but because I have to.


I toss and turn in bed all night. Hotel Durai has surprisingly clean linen, but my room juts out on to the main road; town buses are blaring all night. It is like a blessed sound and light show!

I screw my eyes shut. To ignore the world would be to invite the darkness home. Tonight, the darkness overwhelms me. I don't mean the night.


Driver Murugan is there at the appointed time. I have risen early again, but today I'm neither bright nor full of beans, unlike yesterday. Yesterday is aeons away.

Murugan makes for Killai, close to Pitchavaram mangrove forests, where he assures me I will not be "disappointed." I'm surprised at how quickly he has latched on to my journalistic requirements. I check the mirror to see if my curiosity shows on my face.

Killai is about 60 kms away from Cuddalore town and an hour's drive away, passing through Chidambaram.

I read the New Indian Express that I found under my door in the morning. Vani Doraisamy has written a rather fine piece about how the media have behaved not quite unlike performers in a circus. I message her immediately, telling her how glad I am that someone wrote about it. As I send the message off, my signal dies.

I look outside, through the window, at clutches of people waiting outside relief centres, vans cruising past with banners strung across their front, policemen on duty watching the road, and then, the sea. My car's black-tinted pane makes them seem darker than they actually are.


I must have dozed off. I wake with a start as the ambassador reluctantly drops anchor. We are in Muzhukuthurai's abandoned beach. Only one house stands, its frontage battered by the waves. A cycle stands on the porch, a policeman's cap hangs carelessly from the handle bars, his khakis bundled up more carefully on the carrier behind.

I'm looking around for people to talk to. A little distance away, I spot two guys, one brushing his teeth with a twig, the other looking at me. I walk towards them. The man chucks his twig away, and releases his lungi from its fold at his knees. Respectfully. Before I can ask he says, "10 people died in this village. But still, property has been badly damaged."

I'm a little slow to pen this down. I'm looking around at the pristine white shore, dark blue tide slowly snaking past, the coconut grove - making the tsunami seem like a lie. The tooth-cleaner interprets my awe as disinterest. Eager to please, he says, "See there, MGR Thittu. Over 100 people died there and the village was washed out," he says pointing east, as if brandishing a trophy.

How can people tell? Muzhuthurai is as important as M.G.R.Thittu. It should be. Is it?


I have to wade through a nameless river to take the ferry to M.G.R.Thittu. I whip up my flair-bottomed stretch jeans, roll it up to my knees, and take in my breath as the cold water laps gently at my feet.
There are a few people on the boat already- waiting for me. I climb in and sit gingerly on the edge of the boat, as Murugan holds my bag. I realise the people on the boat- locals returning to their ghost island - are staring at my legs. I don't seem to mind...

I cannot explain how or why everyone is concerned about the 'outsider' in this place... even in their deep loss...

S.Thiruvengadam rents out earthmoving equipment. He is in Muzhukkuthurai to help out with relief and insists on coming across to M.G.R.Thittu with me. Bouncer-like. What is he going to protect me from?
"Come back in an hour," the boatman says. "Or you will have to walk a long way to reach the boat."
I'm touched.


M.G.R.Thittu is indeed a ghost island. Up front, it looks even more deserted than it does from the mainland. Settlers on the island came when M.G.R. landed there, some thirty years ago, when he was shooting for his movie, "Idhayakani". Since then, or because of this, it has prospered. The village even has a primary school, a balwadi and a ration shop. Ironical what a little connection can do to a village that is merely a sand bar (Manal thittu = sand bar).
Unbelieveable what a tsunami can do: the houses have been plucked from the foundation, a fibre boat sits atop two coconut trees with browning fronds from when the sea washed them...

Kuppama is sitting at the pedestal of the MGR (can it be another) statue in the village, lamenting at the sea. My camera cannot cover her and the statue. It must be of 'publishable quality'. I'm forced to ask her if she can stand up. I feel guilty. She obliges, readily. It makes me feel worse. I must click, nevertheless. I do.


Murugan suggests we take the East Coast Road. Not ours. Theirs. " It runs right through the coastal stretch of Cuddalore - villages that have been most affected," he explains. He need not have bothered, the trail of destruction speaks for itself... Parangipettai, Indira Nagar, Pudukuppam... The montage repeats itself with stunning regularity, stark, like Eliot's Wasteland. To me and my Canon A400, it seems that the ravages intensify with every exposure...


There is a crick in my neck. It hurts. More than that, my neck hangs weary. The albatross is around it. It sneaks into my heart as well, weighing it down. I am the Modern Mariner - I harbour a guilt acquired on the shores.

I must tell my tale... again and again... until the bird drops off...


Monday, January 10, 2005

Tales from Cuddalore - 1

Sometimes, I think being a journalist is vulgar. Your curiosity kills their cat.


I have not often risen before the sun. This time I do. Up and shining. Raring to go. The Call taxi is unbelievably before time. In fact that was what woke me up. Fifteen minutes later, I am ready to go.
At Koyambedu, the beedi-smoking conductors blow thin wisps of smoke in your face. They are all selling their bus services. They only peg on the time factor - who is leaving first, because they all offer the same rickety ride, anyway. I pick one that leaves first. Which means I take a bus to Pondicherry and then, one to Cuddalore. There is so little space between the seats, that I, have a problem. I seldom do. However, it's not so bad as the loud music blaring from a speaker above my head. Blast! I should have sat elsewhere.
But then, there are other things on my mind: When will I get to Cuddalore, will Venkatesh of Hope Foundation be waiting for me? how do I begin? How do I spend two days...
I consider these questions and ignore the music.


At Pondy bus-stand, a friend turns up. He finds one other journalist going to Cuddalore. Though I would not have minded travelling alone, I welcome company. We travel together to Cuddalore.

I need not have worried. In Cuddalore, you trip over journalists - Indian, south Indian, British, American, North Indian...
Hotel Durai did not sound like the kind of hotel I usually stay in. There was no option, however. Thanks to journalists and aid workers, the rooms in the three big hotels are all taken. I get the last remaining room in Hotel Durai: A/C double bed, Rs 570 per day room rent, advance Rs.1000.
I start work immediately. Task One: find a reasonable cab driver to take us around. He would have to know the place as well. We are lucky to find Murugan. He was in the affected villages merely two hours after the tsnami was there, driving a political smallwig around. The rates are expensive though, hiked by the sudden influx of desperate strangers sniffing around for stories.


We leave almost immediately in the cab.
Thank god for Hope Venkatesh. He takes us to Sothikuppam, an island about 10 kms from the city. 23 children of Sothikuppam were washed away as they tried to run where they thought there was safety. Running from high ground, they tried to reach the wharf and take the ferry to the mainland. As they crowded around, a wave from the river swept them off, only leaving them dead on the shores a couple of days later.
I know there is a story in this. I cringe at the satisfaction it gives me.


We take the ferry to Sothikuppam and walk down to the shore. People are eager to tell their tales. My black spiral-bound book is a dead give away in this fishing village. Actually, I'm a dead give-away. I stick out. Hopefully, not like a sore thumb.
They take us around, showing us the village, its houses smashed by the waves, its women- their wails dying on their tired, exhausted lips. They are all eager to talk. And tell their tales again and again and again...
And I'm not tired of listening or writing it all down. I don't see how I can stop. After all, they are looking over my shoulder at my book, waiting for the blue lines to appear, in a script they cannot understand. I write in English.
As we leave, an old, toothless woman comes up to me. "My daughter died, her three children too. If only we had a bridge to the mainland, I will be playing with my grandchildren now," her voice breaks down. My throat goes dry. It is not only because there is a sun that's beating so furiously on my head.


Next stop: Devanampattinam.
The first deluge was on December 26. The second happened two days later. When the world in general, and journalists in particular, learned that Vivek Oberoi had adopted the village.
He is not in when we drop in. We wander off, to the beach, where the sea has scooped out the cement road. It is just blackened sea sand now. AGain, people want to talk. They come to you if you have a camera. I have one.
"Write my name down," "and mine", "what will you do for us?" They ask me questions in return. "I'm a journalist..." I begin and someone finishes for me, "Madam will write. What else do you expect her to do?" I'm touched. Deeply. I write that down too...


Swami Chidanand Saraswathiji sees me wandering around with my tell-tale notebook. He sends a litte boy out to summon me. Perhaps he saw my hunger for information. He spends nearly half an hour with us - this spiritual guru of the Oberois. As I make to leave, he invites me to his ashram in Rishikesh. "It is a beautiful place, "he tells me.


I go to a beautiful place next: Thalanguda. White sands, the beach, coconut palms lining the shore. You have to look further to see the damage of the tsunami.
The people welcome you again. They are grateful for the help that has come their way. A source of pride that one family has actually filed for and received a premature claim on life insurance. Machagandhi's family is happy that LIC had given them Rs 64,000 after Machagandhi was swept away by the tsunami. Strangely, I am happy too.

As I stroll on the beach speaking to Subramani, who is full of tales of how he and his mother ran from the waves, I see a luxury bus rattle down the mud track. It could have been a ship. At least, it was in better form than most boats lying in the sands there. A clutch of people tumble out, most of them white, few like us.
One man stands above the rest. He also seems very familiar. I rack my brains for an image from the past that would tally with this hulking Black American - don't have to think very hard. The jigsaw falls in place: Evander Holyfield. Four time heavyweight champion and the guy that got bitten on both his ears by Mike Tyson. A warmth gushes in me again. A STORY!

Holyfield is distant and I don't mean tall. He is, perhaps, shy. But he thaws. By the time he leaves the village, he is even smiling. I am smiling too. All the way to Cuddalore. A story, exclusive, perhaps global, with pictures. I cannot believe my luck!

I have sent my story and four pictures. Earlier, I had to run from photo centre to internet centre trying to copy my digital images onto a CD, trying to send the images to the office. At connectivity speeds that are possible in Cuddalore, it truly becomes trying.

After I have sent the story, I'm not relieved. A thought crosses my mind. My delight in the Holyfield exclusive rankles. It's not what I came here to write about. Tch!

Sometimes, I KNOW it is vulgar to be a journalist.


Wednesday, January 05, 2005

To Cuddalore...

If the entire set of circumstances was not couched in such tragedy, I would be rejoicing now.
But since it is, and the fact is that the tsunami is sending me to Cuddalore, I shall be appropriately sober.
Yes, I'm going to do what I've been dying (groaaan) to do for the past week and go to Cuddalore.
Better still, it's official too. Which only means, in addition to doing some relief work, I can actually write from Cuddalore.
Now, before I get insensitive and tell you all how good a thing this is, I'm going... to Cuddalore.


TV- the good, bad and ugly!

I dint think there would be, but I now realise that there are two severe limitations to bringing home a Sony Wega Trinitron 29 ".
No, one of them is not the money you spend on that gorgeous talking machine. After all, you've planned that in advance, taking advantage of 'Puthandu thallupadi'. And then factor in the poor sales person turning all his charm and, at the end of the day, not so pleasant odours on you - offering prices you dint imagine you could get and deals that you never thought you could push through.
Plus, talk about 'paisa vasool', you've never felt it like when you've brought home that kind of technology. WOW!
But, there are disadvantages too...
Like, when you bring wonder monster home, suddenly, your living room shrinks up. Where did all that space go? Now you feel like tearing down the house and building one that would live up honourably not only to the Sony, but the Wega and Trinitron as well. That's disadvantage number 1.
Disadvantage number 2, when you switch on the TV after a long, tiresome day at work. And a channel comes up that is playing a Vijayakanth movie. Talk about inopportune moments - one would be a close up shot of "Pure Gold Captain Vijayakanth", when you are not prepared for it. **thwack**
I'm still recovering from that shock!


Sunday, January 02, 2005

The Good News Blog

I'm not in the habit of providing links to my stories (I have done it just once before, I think), but this one, I simply HAD TO! Because it is about all our collective efforts - every one of us who wrote even half a word in sympathy, hope, sorrow or help...
There were some hitches on the site initially, but they've been sorted out, so you can now read the article online at The Hindu.
I have quoted a few people in the story, but I assure you, that it is a tribute to the sensitivity of the blogging community! The Force, most certainly, is with us!

Three Cheers!!!