Of Tsunamis and Aftermaths

I suppose I am just one of the millions who watched the evolution of the tsunami from a mere tremor in Chennai to one of the most spectacular disasters in the headline-bars of various news channels. And believe me, I was never as grateful to the Power Above than when it was eventually confirmed that all our relatives are safe. Narrow-minded and selfish, perhaps, but definitely relieved.
Of course, as Hussain put it, over fifteen thousand people killed… and all of them strangers! Makes you stop and think about the population of this country!
But then, were they all strangers? Coccooned within Lord Ananthapadmanabha’s lap, Thiruvananthapuram was just one of the few cities that was saved from the waves’ fury. Barely sixty kilometers on either side lie the evidence of the wave that now crashes benignly into the sands of the beaches… evidence in the form of destroyed homes and barren tracts, of rotting corpses – though that situation, according to the despatches coming from the affected areas, is now under control – and the emptiness of the innocent. It is really humbling to think that Colachel, barely fifteen km from my college, was completely washed away… and that we had entertained thoughts of visiting Kanyakumari on December 26th.
It would be insensitive to brush – or accept – all this aside with a philosophical altruism, when the maximum danger I have been exposed to has been the inundation (p’n the pun) from all and sundry for donations to the survivors.
What makes me sick more than the tragedy is the callousness that led to it and the greed that has succeeded it.
Before : (1) The Pacific Tsunami Watch/Warning Group learns that the earthquake off Aceh has/will probably lead to massive tsunamis. All the countries which are already members of the group are informed – but the nations that will be affected directly in a few hours time are kept out of the loop because they are not members. Talk about exclusivity…
(2) If the meteorologists knew of the earthquake, why wasn’t the satellite focused over that area for a few hours at least? The ISRO’s argument that the satellite was facing another direction speaks of a certain lack of anticipation among its meteorological staff. After all, if a sixth-standard student could know of tsunamis, why couldn’t those whose business it is to study and forecast such phenomena?
(3) And after all this, what does some responsible fellow at the Indian Dept of Meteorology do when he finally receives the warning? He sends it to the emergency number on his call-list… except that the number is the personal – and perhaps now-non-existent – number of the former minister. Hey, he followed orders, right?
As one of the most famous characters of this season would say, “Bah! Humbug!”
After : (1) The body of a toddler, its arms stiff and outstretched… tens of hundreds of bodies deposited all over the land that had once sustained them… hospitals and morgues, ill-equipped and understaffed, trying to handle the despondent survivors… and hordes of politicians flying all over the place. You cannot blame the authorities for their priorities, for the netas and the powers-that-be have survived (making you wonder whether a God does exist) the disaster. Left to themselves, the administration could have recovered – at least in order – within a couple of days.
(2) Greed. With tax reliefs offered for tsunami donations, most corporations and almost all organizations are trying to collect as much as they can and contribute it as part of their kitties. Of course some of them even spare the IT department the trouble of auditing the returns – they simply keep their collections for themselves. Really makes you wonder if the tsunami washed away the wrong kind of people.
(3) Another thing the tsunami seems to have washed away seems to be the respect we have always had for the dead. By we, I indict the media for their insensitive advertisement of the victims in order to move us to generosity – towards their relief fund. So far, the only channel other than DD on which the donations are requested in the name of the PM’s Relief Fund has been HBO – every other channel asks us to contribute towards its relief fund. Little do they remember that until 12/26, each victim was someone’s parent, someone’s child, someone’s sibling, someone dear to someone else.
(4) The survivors huddle behind a fence, showpieces for the visiting dignitaries. The CM walks along, looking at them as one would at a beast in a zoo, a man overcome by the enormity of the disaster and aware of his own inadequacy to face it, talking to selected survivors called up by the secretaries accompanying him… perhaps, rather than be treated in such a fashion, one would rather be washed away… for therein ends the indignity of surrender…
And beyond all this is the fact that there is precious little we can do. Unless you are willing to roll up your sleeves and dive beneath the rubble, or pick up a shovel and start laying new foundations… but in the end, we will just donate money, as if that act alone could exonerate us of further responsibility.
It is not a judgement… merely an observation.
It was a cyclone day before, an earthquake last night, a tsunami today… if we are far away from them, if we are left unaffected, does that absolve us of all responsibility? Or does that make us more guilty?
The real question should be, When will we ever learn?