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Following a trail of destruction

Cyclone Gaja has painted a different picture of districts famous for their culture

There is a dialogue in the Tamil blockbuster Thillana Mohanambal that captures the indifferent attitude of a people towards a tragedy. When the heroine’s mother mentions Nagapattinam, Nagesh, the comedian, says: “Is a cyclone arriving? That donkey comes every year anyway!”

For a music lover and cultural enthusiast, the composite Thanjavur district, now trifurcated into Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam, always conjures up images of great composers, musicians, dancers, bronze idols, and majestic temples built by kings, particularly the Cholas. The writings of T. Janakiraman, which capture the cultural milieu of Thanjavur, further strengthen my bond with these districts. I have visited these districts several times for stories on musicians, musical instruments, bronze statues and temples, and occasionally to report on an agrarian crisis.

Cyclone Gaja, which has ravaged Nagapattinam and parts of Thanjavur and Tiruvarur, painted a different picture of these districts for me. I forgot all about temples and music when I travelled the length and breadth of these districts.

It looks as if the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu is being transformed into a drought-hit area, with its great past being buried in the process.

The cyclone has changed the lives of the people there forever. The poor are left with nothing, and the middle class and the rich have become poor. Villages and towns look like the sets of a Hollywood war film. Only concrete structures have survived; huts and tiled roof houses are beyond repair. Electric posts and cell phone towers lie twisted. Not a single electric post has been left untouched by the speeding winds. It may take at least a month to fully restore power supply. Sea water has spoilt the groundwater in the area. The delta region has been left without drinking water and is now dependent on water supply from tankers.

People have been put up in camps or in temporarily created structures at the entrance of their villages, which are connected to the main road. This draws the attention of those distributing relief material. When I visited, I saw many of the affected stopping vehicles and pleading for help. When they came across media vehicles, they requested journalists to visit their villages so that the extent of the damage could be reported and could reach the ears of the administration.

The bird sanctuary in Point Calimere (Kodiyakarai in Tamil) looked like an area that had suffered heavy aerial bombing. While many birds have deserted the sanctuary, thousands have died. The trees there looked bald without their canopy. It may take months for them to look alive.

At the entrance of Point Calimere stands the temple of Kodiyakarai Kuzhagar, which has been sung about by the Shaivite saint Sundaramoorthy Nayanar. Writer Kalki, in his novel Ponniyin Selvan, describes the temple in such a captivating way that I have always wanted to visit it. In a hymn, Nayanar wonders why Lord Shiva prefers to stay in a forest when there are so many places where large numbers of devotees can visit regularly. Nayanar curses himself for seeing such the pathetic sight of the Lord in the forest. I cursed the cruelty of the cyclone and left the place without visiting the temple.

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Printable version | Jul 14, 2020 9:34:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/following-a-trail-of-destruction/article25599724.ece

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