India Uncut

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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Despatches 24: The receding waves

“We could see two kilometres into the sea,” Kumar tells us in Bommaiya Palayam. His hut, which was washed away, was right by the sea. He says that it wasn’t swept away when the waves came in, but when they receded, furiously sweeping away houses, boats, trees and people with them. They receded so fast, as if something at the heart of the ocean was sucking it away, that the villagers could see land for two kilometres beyond the coastline.

“And what of everything that was swept away,” I ask.

“Oh, we found a lot of it on Auro Beach,” he says. Auro Beach, we gather, is a couple of kilometres from here.

In most of the places that we have travelled to in Tamil Nadu, people tell us that it is the receding waves that have done the greatest damage. There is plenty of visual evidence of this. In Silver Beach, Thevanampattinam, just outside Cuddalore city, we noticed that all the structures that were still standing were leaning conspicuously towards the sea, indicating the powerful force that uprooted them was on its way back towards the ocean. There was a large circular water fountain that looked as if it had dropped a tap towards the sea and was just bending to pick it up. There was a large platform that looked as if it was leaning over and scanning the horizon for the statue that had, till December 26, been on it.

There were also roofs without a house lying on the beach, small pyramid-shaped roofs by themselves. We never did the see the houses they were from, though we presumed they must be somewhere further inland, exposed to the sun.
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