Monday, November 11, 2013

Be thankful to bad times...

Life has shown me many shades so far. Ever since I moved to this cosy little villa in a cosy little village on the not-so-cosy Sea. And the Sea, which is just at an arm's length from home, always soothed me by just being there. Energetic, bubbling, gushing, excited on one hand; calm, contented, cool on the other. But never once did I witness its ugly fury and the ferocity of its power. Though there were threats - minor and major - on and off in the past five years, neither the Sea nor I succumbed - we always stood the ground. Together, through thick and thin, rain and shine. 

But now, there's a difference in our attitudes and there's a palpable distance. Not between the Sea and me, but between the Sea and me. In a different way. So what has changed? I just cannot drive down anymore to go see my old friend without feeling apprehensive. To figure out whether all is well with him. To know how he survived the gurgling and circling and depression deep within him. I wasn't around at the right moment and I feel guilty and ashamed of fleeing - to save myself and my daughter; desiring to be as away from the dear friend as possible at the most crucial and critical time; leaving his side when disaster hit.

But was it so simple? Not really. When I hear stories, in excited voices, of the cyclone Phailin from neighbours, colleagues and friends, I feel blessed to be hundreds of miles away in a safer zone enjoying a sizzler on the not-so-quiet evening that Phailin was doomed to hit my current hometown. Not that it reduced the population of our district by a few thousands but it did devastate the lives and livelihood of all survivors.

Deciding to go ahead with the pre-planned Dasara vacation wasn't like running away - it's not like I would have died if I stayed on but I would have been terrified while trying to put up a brave front for my daughter's sake... And she would have been scarred by the experience. But experience it would be, of a lifetime. Like the one I had in 1990 when one of the terrifying super cyclones hit Machilipatnam. I can still recall the memory of rattling doors, the whooshing wind, the violent swinging of fans, the grinding stone pushed against the kitchen door, the gusts trying to lash against my face when I tried opening the window just a wee bit - more out of curiosity - as fresh as if it happened last night.

I still remember the way we sat against the windows holding them in place - me and my brother, along with the daughter of my aunt's tenant. She was the oldest at 17, I was 15 and my brother was 13. My cousins' children were too young to understand the effect of cyclone and the fear on the adults' faces. For us teenagers, it was exciting and scary as hell. And it was a miracle that we survived that night, more because of how long we had to hold our bladders since the toilets were outside the house and we couldn't step out unless we wished to die. Finally, when we couldn't bear it any longer, all children (including us) were allowed to relieve themselves near the bedroom door or kitchen door. And the suggestion came from none other than my super orthodox attha (aunt). It was then that I realized life is far more important than a few superstitious beliefs.

But coming back to the now when another of those vicious cyclones wreaked havoc, I wonder why do all bad and frightening things, and calamities, strike in the middle of the night? I've no ONE answer but I have a few guesses - God is probably still trying to send us a gentle reminder that while we need to face the dark dangers, we also need to learn to trust that the dawn will break soon, despite the fury and the destruction. Also, it's good to GO in an unconscious sleepy state rather than in a fearful fully awake state. And God, methinks, wants it that way - with as little consciousness and pain as possible because the inevitable cannot be changed.

I've been hearing a lot of things/ theories from various people in the past two weeks -

"No matter what advancement and progress man has made, he can never gain control over nature."
"Nature's fury is unstoppable and we feel so naked and vulnerable beneath its wrath."
"Natural calamities like these occur because innocent saints of the Hindu religion are targeted."
"Phailin happened because Christians in Odisha were treated badly."
"Only Saibaba saved us. How else can we explain the minimal destruction that we suffered as compared to our neighbours!"

And life did come to a standstill. A clear look around me tells me what's wrong, and right, in this part of the country. The nights (should I say evenings) are dark, deep, lonely and endless. The mornings are tiring when nothing, absolutely nothing, gets done - just take a walk on the road and you'll find huge trees lying lifeless on either side of the road, an everyday reminder of how close we all are to death and how easy it is to simply lie flat and die! Walk around the college campus and see the bare ground which was once a 'green campus' and a proud home to hundreds of trees - the variety itself was mind-boggling - all fallen to dust. Meet people anywhere - the only thing they talk about now is the nightmarish experience, how they survived, what they have lost and what is intact!

Phailin is a terrifying, numbing, and unforgettable memory in many minds - including our own dog Frizbi who wouldn't leave the side of our watchman even after we returned. Each time I look into his eyes, I still see love there but trust? I doubt! Though as unassuming, un-accusing, and unconditional as ever, Frizbi's gesture of preferring to sleep close to our watchman rather than with us in our bedroom as he used to earlier conveys it all - that we left him at the most crucial time. And the ONLY person to stay with him then was who he prefers to stay with - still!

Thus he taught me another valuable lesson of life: "Respect, honour, serve, pray for and be loyal to those who helped you in bad times, but also be thankful to those bad times for they show who is truly yours!"


Though I wasn't around to witness all the drama and the fury, I now have the second-hand account(s) of what and how it all happened! And Mr. Dharma Rao who talked (in the video) about losing 670 coconut trees, the morning after Phailin hit, is the father of two of my ex-students - young school-going children who I tutored for about 2 years.

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