The sea took away Valli’s daughter, the only earning member of the family. And Valli could never bear to go to the beach after the tsunami. “I haven’t gone to the fish market near the shore to sell fish. I go to the Nagapattinam harbour every day and sell dry fish,” she said. She lost her granddaughter a few years ago and lives in a house donated by an NGO.
Valli has not moved on from that day of horror. Nightmares keep her awake and water still scares her. During rainy days she does not even step out of the house.
AGAINST THE TIDE
When the water receded he came back home, only to see the wreckage and his sisters weeping. His father was missing and his mother wasothing short of a miracle would have saved Sakthivel’s life on December 26, 2004. In Sambanthapettai, a coastal fishing village in Nagapattinam, the 11-year- old boy was watching television with his two older sisters when his father came running. “He asked us to run away. My sister held me in her hand, but when the water level rose she drifted away. I climbed into a basket,” he said.
dead. Karibeeran Paramesvaran and Choodamani, a couple who had lost their children to the tsunami, took him home and sent him to school.
Sakthivel now lives with his sister and has completed his diploma in marine engineering. “After a few months I will join as a fifth officer in a ship,” he said. And he does not hold any grudge. “The sea is our mother,” he said. “We lived near the sea and it was the source of our livelihood. I want to live my life by the sea.”
PILLAR OF STRENGTH
Minutes after the killer tide at Nagapattinam beach began to ebb. she joined rescue efforts. And she has not stopped since. Her deep understanding of the socio-cultural milieu of tsunami-affected villages made her adopt a bottom-up approach to relief and rehabilitation.Jesurathinam began her life as an activist in 1984, with the NGO Sneha (Social Need Education and Human Awareness), which worked for the uplift of fisherfolk in Nagapattinam. Later she married its founder, P. Christie. In 2004, two years after Christie’s death, Jesurathinam took up the most challenging task of her life: reaching out to tsunami-hit villages near Nagapattinam.
Her first effort, in the months after the tsunami, was to curb child marriages. “There was a practice to marry off young, orphaned girls to men who were in need of a family to get the relief package,” she says. “There was an influx of gynaecologists immediately after the tsunami. But there wasn’t a single doctor to provide pre- and post-natal care.”
Ten years later, women at Nambiar Nagar hail Jesurathinam, 59, as the goddess who rescued them from devastation. Every other NGO that worked for the people in this region is gone. But Jesurathinam remains as the pillar of strength for fisherwomen in Nagapattinam and Velankanni. •