Friday, August 25, 2006

Report From The Tsunami Coast

Before the beginning of time, according to local legend, there was no land where I sit now writing this report, only the vast Bay of Bengal stretching into the endless ocean.

One day the Creator asked the God of The Oceans to recede a little bit so that he might have a small piece of land; "In years to come when the entire world is in turmoil, when thugs and ruffians rule the land and violence is the order of the day, I want to see all my people in one place where the could live peacefully, with harmony prevailing all around. They may belong to different cultures and races but they will look upon each other as brethren. In short, the
land will be a sanctuary of peace."

The God of the Oceans agreed, the water receded and the land mass now known as Pondicherry was born.

Millions of years later on a clear winter morning and with no warning at all, the sea came back and with a huge hungry hand, reached into every village along the Tamil Nadu coastline taking lives and livelihoods in the space of two short minutes.

Someone from home asked me the other day "What’s it like living in the middle of a disaster area?" and I was stumped for an answer. Away from the images that are fed to the world at large by the carrion birds of the media, this tragedy is not felt on a global scale
rather as an individual tragedy that visited tens of thousands of people who populate the coastline of Tamil Nadu. So while you at home are burdened with the sensationalised view of the macrocosm, I have had the privilege not only to survive but also to witness this on the more personal level of the microcosm.

Every tragedy, every loss is personal and particular to every individual; the mother who stood screaming on the shoreline that day in disbelief and horror did not suffer less to know the scale of loss that day.
So in answer to my friend, I am not living in a disaster area, I'm just a silent witness who found herself in the wrong place at the right time.

I came here to escape the cold, the crowds and the anarchy of Northern India in the winter season and lured by nothing more than the sound of the sea and the promise of the "best croissants in the world".
Auroville is an International Community that was founded in the late sixties by the followers of a French mystic known as the Mother. The Mother herself came to Pondicherry to meet the famous revolutionary Saint Sri Aruobindo whose particular yoga was dedicated to freeing his people from the tyranny of British rule.

Sri Aruobindo established an ashram in the city of Pondicherry and it wasn’t until after his death that the idea of an International community where everyone could live in peace and harmony was raised again.
So in the late sixties pieces of whenua from all over the world (including a handful of our own Papatuanuku) was deposited in the soil of Auroville and the international community of Auroville was born.

Forty years later yours truly arrives on the scene with visions of Tino Rangatiratanga yoga in her head and puku rumbling for the taste of croissants after ten months of cake shop deprivation.

Imagine my surprise to see the modern day followers of the Mother swanning around Pondicherry in Gucci sunglasses, Rolex watches and loads of makeup fixing varying degrees of pious ness to their otherwise expressionless faces. After years of trailing around the jungles of India in the company of their holy men (The Naga Sadhu) I was quite taken aback to realise that there was a five star approach to liberation!
Onto the beach community near to the International village of Auroville, 6klms from the city affectionately known as Pondy.
The place my friend chose as the pace to stay is a guest house business which is part of the Auroville community although it remains apart from the original vision of the town expanding out in a spiral, it belongs to the community all the same and in addition to the normal high season room rate, another daily "contribution" is required to be paid to the Auroville trust.

Having settled in our bungalow on the beach I then started making enquiries about the community, the fact that this guest house was sited on a still functioning cremation and burial ground and most importantly for me, the relationship between the locals and the Newcomers or Aurovillians as they like to be known.

"They only bury people there to piss us off. " Was the response to my questioning about the burial ground.
HMMMM. And the signs on the beach, in English and not the local language? "O that’s to stop the locals from perving at the women when they want to take swim"
HMMMMM. And the relationship with the locals was evident in the demarcation line between dwellings. The locals live in humble whares made of coconut fronds, mud brick and biodegradable materials in areas known as villages while the Aurovillians live in mansions in areas known as communities guarded by watchmen and dogs and huge walls.
So within forty hours of arriving, the croissants had turned to dust in my mouth and my mouth had declared the whole set up to be yet another story of colonisation.
It all seemed too eerily familiar to our own situation at home, the loss of the foreshore, the people who want to build on our own burial ground. But it is also what saved me since we moved the night before the sea came in with a thirty three metre wave and swamped the tourist resort that sits on the burial ground.

The day the sea came in, the first clue that something unusual was happening was villagers running along the street and a general air of something is up. Since trouble is a spectator event in India we also ran with the villagers to see what was happening but by the time we reached the beach, the wave has retreated in the way that any ordinary wave does leaving behind some very disturbed Aurovillians.

Righteousness is not a pretty thing folks, I am ashamed to say that my first response to the sight of the Gucci crowd dripping water instead of jewels was to laugh, travellers cheques and American dollars were already pegged out on clotheslines. A little further down the beach was another story and hard to believe that in two minutes so many children, women, men and boats and nets had simply been swallowed up by the retreat of the sea.

Every hour another report would come filtering in from a little further down the beach, the next town, the next city and then the rest of the world. The story radiated out in shockwaves to encompass the entire globe.

But you can only really deal with this on the scale on which you live and that is on a local level. Even if the sea didn’t come like a hungry hand into your life that day, it came into the international community in which we all live- planet earth. And it didn't
discriminate between rich or poor, white or black, the sea is impervious to the idea of different nations or cultures; she doesn’t have the boundaries that we build up in our minds.

I don't believe in a vengeful God, I believe in the hungry heart and I believe that cause is effect concealed and effect is cause revealed.
If we project our own limitations onto the world and if world is Gods own eye on man then how much has our own consciousness fed and will continue to feed on this tragedy which is really the tragedy of our own limited consciousness?

We live in this beautiful world like it is our jail, the bars to our cages are our own fears and desires, so if we are currently working from a state of fear, from the belief that there is something out there to be terrified of then we have certainly proved that to be true.
But the sea is not my enemy nor even yours, the same saucer of blue ink now lit by moonlight is the same sea that swamped the lives and loves and lungs of hundreds of thousands of people that day.

I want to imagine now a world where we recognise what the sea has known since time began, that there are no boundaries in this lovely planet of ours that we don’t set up in our own minds first. I want to imagine a world where we begin to work from a state of love and knowledge that there are worlds ready to spring into existence, that our international community to which we all belong begins the moment we step outside our doors and then we all might be able to help our planet regain her balance in a world gone mad with desire.
FIRST PUBLISHED PUKAEA IWI NEWSPAPER JANUARY 2005

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