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Friday, March 18, 2011

My Tsunami

The recent devastating earthquake and Tsunami of Japan which caused so much destruction took me back to 1999 when Orissa reeled with the Supercyclone .
yours truly was there just days before that and experienced an early pinch of it
of course I wasnt there during the supercyclone itself ,if so I wouldnt be writing this and would have been long forgotten by now !
We had gone for a holiday to Orissa that October with our two small children .
We went to the Sun temple Konark the Chilka lake and finally and came to Puri the temple city .
It was nice weather balmy and windy cool and calm the beach was inviting with its vast sandy stretch .We went to the Sterling Time Share resort which was our place of stay for many of our sojourns .

On the said day we left in the resort four wheeler to the Puri Jaganath temple in the afternoon .
The sun was shining and all was well .
We entered the cavernous temple and stepped into a bygone era ,the pilgrims priests and people all belonged to the past .

Time had never caught up with the temple and its precints .
We saw priests scurrying with bins of cooked rice offerings held between two poles thier sweating bodies glistening in the hot sun .
The dark interiors gave us a glimpse of the past and we prayed to lord Jganath and walked into the outer compound ,it was strangely becoming cloudy and a bit windy with a mild rain whispering in its entry .
Slowly it grew in intensity and the heavy drops fell on the stoned grounds hitting it with great force .
We sheltered under an awning ,soon it rained heavily and within minutes water was gushing out of the stone steps of the massive structure and then it petered down to a mild drizzle and we walked out into a colourful market ,
we even did some shopping I rememeber because by then the rains had left and the place had a clean swept look and it was cool and nice .
We took a rickshaw back to the shack on the beach facing the sea which was our destinated meeting place with the Sterling vehicle to take us back .
Suddenly things were a bit different .
We saw an angry sea churning huge waves onto the shore hitting the small cafeteria shack with such force that it rattled .
We huddled inside the shack and there was this exited but petrified look on the faces of other tourists when one gets the uncanny feling that soemething is going to go wrong shortly .
and it did go wrong I tell you .
The wind grew in strength and the doors slammed shut with great force it became dark and forboding and like in a horror movie the lights blinked out at the most inoppurtune moment !
We were worried that we may miss the four wheeler waiting for us and I opted to go out and stand so thatI could see it and then get the wife and children into it .
I stepped out into a literal holacust as the winds whipped into me by so much force I was almost pushed againt the door of the shack which I had closed .
I struggled to cross the small lane like road which I crossed in a second that afternoon and it was like climbing the Everest with the wind pushing me back ,I managed to cross over with superhuman strength and stood under shop sign .
The huge billboard opposite me was dangling dangerously and I watched with others sheltering there with dread as it fell down like a pebble thrown from the sky the blasting noise of the fall drove daggers of fear into my heart as I was torn between going back to my family or standing there exposed to the might of the brewing storm .
I was also worried over the shack as waves were lapping on its walls and its shaky foundations were trembling ,my loved ones were trapped inside that but the only hope of getting away from this place was the van which I would never see from inside
I prayed to Lord Jaganath with the despair of the stricken and soon enough he answered as I saw the now familiar small four wheeler rattling through the rain
I shouted and gesticulated and the driver saw me and beckoned me to come quickly
I gave signs that the others including my family were inside the shack ,so he managed to come out and we both muddled our way back to the shack opening the door and howling for all the Sterling people to come quickly
In the exodus that followed I managed to grab my son and carry him dragging my daughter and wife and we crossed the door and somehow got into the four wheeler ,one other couple and one man from sterling too got in but there were others asking for a lift now and we could ill afford to take them as we were already full .
The others were mostly locals who sidled away when they saw we could not fit anymore ,the four wheeler stuttered as its engines failed to start .
we huddled wet and frightened the children scared but silent and prayed .
Finally it did start and we managed to get into the sandy road .
The road leading to the sterling resort in Puri was right on the sandy beach very nice when things are calm and collected but a night mare now .
Our vehicle rattled like a toy the waters lapping at our tyres at times we almost sunk into the sand as the driver zigzagged his way .
Suddenly he stopped and cut off the engine near a small house on the beach for a full ten minutes there was deadly silence as we all wondered what had happened .
Finally we questionsed the driver who became strangely evasive in his replies and just kept starting the engine and idling it and not driving ,the wind grew in strength and the rain was heavy and the world was dark and forbidding
Suddenly a man ran from the house into the vehicle and got in near the driver .
We then knew that all along he was waiting for this man at the risk of all our lives
We were furious and I remember shouting at him in all languages I knew ,expect the ones he knew !
He was silent and non commited almost ignoring all of us as we were at his mercy .
This was strange behaviour for someone from Sterling noted for its politeness to its customers ,the driver and van was probably hired from the local area .
We trundled along and all of us fell quite again thanking God for small mercies .
On the way there was a car sunk in the sand and a man was howling to help him and his family in the car ,the driver went and talked for some time in Oriya as the car passengers were locals finally he attempted to start pushing the car again ignoring all of us it seems the car owner wanted help to extricate his car and not to join us .
were even laughing once in a while looking at us in the vehicle ,
We really grew wild as things were turning nasty while these idiots were playing the fiddle ,
We shouted at the driver and threatened him with dire consequences and even warning him we could get him jailed for his stupidity and arrogance as one of the tourists said he was from the police department .
This bluff and some choice Hindi curses finally shook him up and he came quitely and we moved off again into the dark ,zigzagging our way through the beach .
After what seemed ages when threatening waves almost inundated us and the sun nearly burying us with rains slashing at us with such intensity far away we saw the welcome lights of Sterling resorts buring in its generator lit glow as by now there was no more elctricity and we reached there .
we managed to come out helped by the staff with beach umbrelleas wet and bedraggled .
We had no strength to report on the driver and his misdemanours and postponed it for the morrow satisfying ourself with some eiteths and strong glares at him .
we were led into our cottage and we hit the bed after towelling ourselves and changing our clothes the manager instructed us not to open the door s or windows and comforted us telling that the cottages were strong and would hold the wind .We were given candles matches and a as the generator would be put off shortly as one did not know how long the strom would last .
The whole night we could not sleep as the wind made strange noises hititng on the glass panes with such an intenisty .
Luckily the children slept through all of it as they were tired .
Dawn and light saw us looking out to a desolate world full of wrecked boats fallen billboards blown buildings sidled vehicles and wallowing water .
The Sterling staff were brave and courteous bringing us hot food and comforting us
There were no mobiles then and the phone line was all cut we would learn later that we had been thorugh a cateogry four storm a precursor of the category six and more supercyclone which came after a week or so .
A category four cyclone has winds of intensity 30 to 50 km per hour
Our parents living in Kerala reading about this in the papers were worried and panicky about our safety and had no ways of knowing about us .
By evening it became calm again and the next day we rushed back to Bhauvaneswar .
Our return journey was all messed up as trains were cancelled and delayed .
The railway station looked like a Bangladeshi refugee camp and we knew we had to spend at least one or two days in the city to get into a train
we luckily found a good hotel in the city which took credit cards ( those days credit card were accepted only in some places specially in places like Orissa ) and we were worried about spending our cash as we never knew how long we would have to stay there .
Finally we did get a berth and returned back in unharmed tired but happy
And then it struck the most devastating cyclone to strike India in the recent past and making lakhs homeless and thousands killed

As we read in the papers and saw the images in the TV we knew we would never have survived this like we did the smaller one .
It shook us that day that we humans are after all nothing in the face of nature and its furies .
Thus ends the story of our cyclone experience


saidas said...

you are a good writer nice blog....thanks was thrilling

Venkat Seshan said...


Vivid and gripping account of a spine-chilling adventure... a touch and go kind of experience narrated in the inimitable Hari-only style!! Thanks for sharing!!!

On the ill-fated day in 2004 when the Tsunami struck Marina beach at Chennai, I and my 9 year old son were just leaving the campus to go to the beach in the morning when we were greeted by my Mom and her sister who chose to visit us earlier than 0900hrs that morning!!! We got busy chatting up etc.. and finally we did not go at all!!! A couple of hours later when I came to the gate to see them off, we heard and saw people running to the West side of chennai shouting: "Pl run for life; sea waters have entered the city there's a Tsunami and so on... And all the Koovum culverts were overflowing because the sea water had inundated all of them but in a way it's precisely the Koovum canal which prevented the city from getting flooded.

You're very right ....The right to be alive and aware to the world is an incremental blessing from God!!

Ashhar said...

I have been following your blogs quietly for sometime now. This one is truly a masterpiece, not that other pieces weren't good but for the sheer life you brought into my images with your writing.So vivid & intense !! Glad that you and your family survived the cyclone!!!

harimohan said...

dear Ashar
tks indeed

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