December 26th, 2004 will go down in history as one H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E day for our nation. People died - thousands of them. A life is a life and the casualty figure makes no difference to me personally - I find it painful to digest such sudden death whether it is 5 or 50000. But yesterday was different - simply because the 'general consensus' amongst a lot of people I had the (mis)fortune of talking/listening to was that this wasn't a railway accident (where its invariably a human being at fault) or a war...This was supposedly a "natural disaster", one that could never be averted. There were even people who dared to say that it was the fury of the Gods and we had to accept it. Now, I have a problem with this kind of ridiculous reasoning. BIG PROBLEM. The first mistake I made was to lash out at them questioning the kinda Gods they were talking about who caused innocent people so much suffering and pain. Clearly this was exactly the line of discussion they had hoped to lead me into and I realised it a little too late.
Leaving that asinine bunch alone, my first thoughts went towards a few of my friends in Chennai and Pondicherry. Quickly confirming that they were safe, I also got a first hand update on the rescue work that was happening at these places. Two of my good friends, BK and Partha with whom I had been fortunate to work with in Rotaract, had sensibly rushed towards the Marina to see if there was any way they could help but it seems the area had already been cordoned off by the Police to prevent curious onlookers from creating more confusion. Unable to convince the cops that they were actually there to help, BK and Partha were forced to watch with frustration as the disorganised Police seemed totally lost with no concrete plans to mount a rescue operation. However to their credit, after the first hour of chaos, the Government and its agencies responded with lightning efficiency and by evening the situation had improved considerably.
Nothing stirs up this nation's sentiments like a disater does.. And I say this with a lot of bitterness..All day long, I know of people and families who were glued to their TV sets switching between 8 channels just to see if the casualty figure had gone up by 1. I know of people who, having heard of tsunami for the first time, channelised all their energies into learning every bit of science about this. I know of mad maniacs who called this God's way of paying back people for the tirade against Sri Jayendra Saraswathi and Hinduism (If it were legal to kill, I'd have happily finished off that man yesterday) There was even one person who had the gall to say that yesterday was a bad day for India since we had both the tsunami and the cricketing loss to Bangladesh. As if this wasn't enough, the media (save the BBC which kept underplaying it with all honest intentions of "Lets not get alarmist") went berserk - interviewed experts sitting in the warm climes of a heated room in Delhi, deferentially asked the politicos what aid they were planning to release and heartlessly thrust mikes and cameras in front of grieving people cajoling them to narrate their horror stories - each channel vying with the other in presenting exclusives and specials inserted with more than the usual dose of commercial breaks. In their own crazy way, I assume all these people meant good but what hurts is that in a week's time, December 26th 2004 would be banished in the memory of all these people to a blur and life would be back to normal.
I don't know if I am being very sanctimonious in looking down on everyone else. After all, what did I do ? I was no better. I did nothing. Like all people, I definitely wanted to be down there where I could actually lift a finger and help. Not possible. I could send money/food/clothes/first aid but what difference would it make to that 70 yr old woman in Velankanni who had come with her whole family and lost them all. My Mom was shell shocked since afternoon and I know she must have prayed a lot. For what ? For the souls of the deceased to rest in peace ? For giving the survivors strength to bear their losses ? Would that undo the damage already done ? And they say that this is all a test of faith. *&^@ .
I know I am sounding defeated and cynical and what-not but there are moments when you realise that this world is such a screwed up place and you are totally helpless. What rankles is that you don't know how to set it right and worse still, there are people who say it can't be set right. It is supposed to be just the way it is. Goddamn. Maybe I should just follow the words of a 'wise' friend of mine - Surrender to destiny, act as if nothing happened and move on. Shucks, what a way to approach a New Year !!