To hell and back - The 2004 Tsunami


I got an email from M V Krishna this morning addressed to Pavan, Pushkar, Venkateshwar and me wishing us a happy 3rd anniversary. It struck me instantly that today was December 26th, exactly 3 years after the tsunami of 2004 in which the five of us were caught and escaped miraculously.

The email brought back memories of that day and the days preceding it.

It was nearing December end - a time when there is not much work happening in office because most of our clients are off for their annual Christmas break. Some of us wanted to go to some place for a few days and chill.

Unfortunately, we had not planned in advance and because of that many places like Goa were ruled out. Travel bookings were also increasingly difficult. Accommodation was even more difficult to get.

Finally, an uncle in Chennai managed to get us 3 cottages at a resort in Mahabalipuram for the 25th, 26th and 27th nights. 6 of us - Pavan, Pushkar, Venkateshwar, M V Krishna, Srikanth and I were supposed to reach on the 26th night and Uma and her kids were to reach the following day.

Unfortunately Srikanth met with an accident on the 25th morning and had to drop out at the last minute.

The rest of us set out and reached Chennai late in the evening. We took a taxi and headed out towards Mahabalipuram. We toook the picturesque new Mahabalipuram road which ran parallel to the East Coast of the country. Even in the night the sea was beautiful. The strong waves, the pollution free atmosphere and the great weather had all our spirits up and we were looking forward to the great time we were going to have.

I remember making a comment. I told the other guys that however much fun we would have, we would tell Srikanth that he was lucky he did not come because we did not have any fun at all so that he would not feel bad at missing the trip.

I did not realize at that time how prophetic my words would turn out to be.

We reached at around 9 in the night I think. We checked in to our rooms. To our delight, we were given rooms right on the beach. There was sand under our feet as we stepped out of our room. We freshened up and went to the open air restaurant. We finished dinner and then went to relax at the beach.

There was a row of reclining chairs which we sat on and were laughing and joking for about an hour. We planned for the next day. We would come back to the beach the next morning after getting ready, spend some time there and then go over to the Mahabalipuram city and do some sight seeing. I had learnt about the Shore Temple and the Pandav Rathas during my school days and was looking forward to seeing them.

We then went over to a table tennis table and played for some time. It was probably around 2:30 in the night. We were all quite tired by then. We decided to call it a day and went back to our cottages and tried to get some sleep. Pushkar and I were in one cottage and Pavan, Venkateshwar and MVK were in the neighbouring cottage.

The tiring day and the fun and games we had just had were taking its toll. Sleep was our master in a matter of few minutes.

Unknown to us, a few thousand kilometers away, a few thousand meters under the sea, nature was planning her next revenge against mankind for taking her for granted. Two pieces of earth slid past each other unleashing great power from within. This caused the displacement of a mind numbingly large amount of water which started making its way to land at a huge velocity, with a huge amount of force.

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We woke in the morning at around 7. We stepped out of our rooms and were chatting about nothing in particular. We then decided to have a quick breakfast and get ready, sit on the beach for some time and then head out.

Unknown to us, the tsunami had struck Indonesia by then and wrecked havoc in many areas. Thousands had already died and many times that number were homeless.

We obviously did not realize that the mother of destruction was heading our way. Blissfully we went about our morning ablutions excited about the day ahead.

I ordered an Idli for myself, finished my Peritoneal Dialysis exchange and was watching TV. MVK came down and was fiddling with the camera. After a while, he went to his room to get ready. Pushkar went to take a shower.

Suddenly, water came into the room from under the door. I did not know what to make of it. I just shouted out to Pushkar. The first gush was barely a centimeter deep. The water went back as fast as it came in, only to be followed by repeated gushes, each bigger then the earlier one.

By then Pushkar came out, wrapped in a towel and we were both wondering what the heck was happening.

Thoughts crossed my confused mind trying to make sense of the situation. I had heard the previous day that this was a full moon day and was wondering if the tide was a little stronger than usual due to which the water had come this far. I was puzzled why no one at the resort had warned us about this. I thought this might be a regular occurrence and the resort management did something stupid by not telling us.

Pushkar made his way towards the door. By then we were both neck deep in water. The room door was closed. The pattern of the water continued. Huge gushes of water inward and then a surge outward. The pressure of the water was intense.

We still had no idea of what was happening.

Pushkar forced the door open and was petrified with what he saw. As he would describe it to me later, he saw a huge wall of water coming towards us.

He slowly made his way out of the room. There was a window next to the door that had a concrete cover. He shouted out to me to get the hell out of there. I slowly walked towards the door. It was quite difficult. The inward gush of water forced me backwards. The outward gush took me towards the door but shut the door too. I glanced to my side and noticed the television set, refrigerator and cots bobbing up and down in the water.

Was this it, I wondered. The last way I wanted to die was by drowning. Random thoughts crossed my mind. The risk of infection of my exit site (the point in my stomach that had the dialysis tube going in), the dirty water I had ingested, everything was scary.

The next time the water came in, the door opened and before it could close with the outward gush, I put my left leg in between to prevent the door from closing. I then forced myself through the doorway and managed to get out of the room. Pavan and Pushkar helped me and pulled me out. Slowly we made our way to a higher piece of land and caught our breath. In the next few minutes Krishna and Venkateshwar also came there.

I learnt later that Venkateshwar was outside the room when the water came towards us for the first time and instinctively darted away from the water. The surprising thing is he did not even get wet!

Pavan and Krishna had had a harrowing time too.


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It looked like the water was less violent by then. Everyone except me went back to the room to try and salvage what was left.

All this while, we were thinking that this was something very local, something confined to this resort, something that was at the most confined to a kilometer around where we were.

We had no inkling that this was one of the worst natural disasters to have hit mankind.

The resort staff was in total disarray. People were shocked. No one knew what had happened. The gushes of water and the receding continued but with a much lesser force. We went to the resort owner's cottage and kept our stuff on the 1st floor and went and sat on the terrace unsure of what would happen next.

After a while, Pushkar and Venkateshwar went down to try and assess the situation and decide on what to do next.

They came back after a while and told us that our taxi driver had parked the car on a road that was high enough for the water to reach. We decided that we would go to the car and head back to Chennai.

In the meantime, we slowly learned that similar incidents had happened in Chennai too but the main city was safe.

We went down and took our stuff and walked towards the exit of the resort. To do this we had to actually almost swim across a large pool of water that had collected between the road and our side of the resort.

We finally got into the car and started out. We were advised by the locals to take the old Mahabalipuram road since parts of the new one were inundated.

On the way we saw a lot of panicky people.

We reached the city of Chennai in a few hours. On the way we called our folks at home and told them we were safe. We drove straight to Apollo Hospital where there were no signs of anyone knowing what had just happened. A couple of relatives came there. We got first aid at the casualty ward, had some food at a restaurant and then went to a relative's house. There, during the course of the day, through the television news reports I came to know the magnitude of the damage that had been caused in so many places.

I took the evening flight to Hyderabad exactly a day after I started out. Those 24 hours were probably the most eventful I would ever have had.

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Epilogue

Some people I met after the tsunami tell me how lucky I am that I was part of a historical event. Excuse me! I would really have liked something less unnerving than a tsunami to be part of history.

Seriously the whole experience was so scary that no one can ever wish for something like that.

And personally for me, the tsunami marked a turning point in my life. A few months after that I had an infection in my PD exit site. This infection marked the beginning of the end of Peritoneal Dialysis for me. The infection subsided with antibiotics but resurfaced a few weeks later. The exit site infection graduated into a tunnel infection. The PD tube was repositioned. Did not help. Eventually I had peritonitis and had to discontinue PD forever.

And with PD was gone my independence. My ability to travel meaningfully. My freedom from fluid restriction. My freedom to eat whatever I liked. Nocturnal Home HD is good but not as good as PD. PD was a completely unshackled life. NHHD is like having one toe chained!

Was all this due to the tsunami? No one knows. They argue saying the infection started 3 months after the tsunami. So, it cannot be. I don't know why it happened then.

Globally too, odd weather has been observed after the tsunami. It snowed in the Middle East. There were floods in Rajasthan's deserts.

I have no idea if all this related. Maybe its all due to global warming. Is it time for us to become really serious about the issue? Is our existence at stake?

Do we need more than a Nobel for Gore and Pachauri? Do we need some more action at the grassroots?

The big countries discard theories suggesting that we're nearing doomsday. The problem is that these things cannot be proven. But don't we see a pattern emerging?

The stakes are too high for us to ignore the warnings.

A few weeks after we got back, we had a small party at my house. We played TT, laughed and joked about the whole thing.

I guess there was a bond the five of us had formed for life. We might go our own ways through life's twists and turns but we will never forget those hours we spent together on the beach of Mahabalipuram.

2 comments:

Nisha said...

I can fully understand how...the five of u would have felt...because we ...I mean our Street... Had experienced ..similar chilling experience last December... Chennai floods...to hell and back will be an apt description...

Alpaxee Kashyap said...

Nice read!