Lost Longings

Although I had seen the island of Rameshwaram on the map of India jutting out like a narrow projection from the Bay of Bengal on the South East Coast of the country, the experience per se was so different from the abstract representation. Despite our best efforts and intentions, we can only approximate reality. Just as the word ‘apple’ symbolizes or represents the apple and is not the apple; a map too, like the word, is only an approximation.

As I stood on the narrow sandy inlet that fringed the oceanic shore of south east India, the placid turquoise-green waters of the Bay of Bengal, the turbulent blue of the Arabian Sea and the inky black waters of the Indian Ocean dissolved their differences and merged as one. The Madurai Messenger team that consisted of people of different nationalities, posed for photographs at this land’s end of mainland India. The metaphor was striking. If Nature could transcend differences, isn’t it possible for us humans to live a life beyond narrow and rigid man-made borders and boundaries… and instead be united seamlessly by love and compassion?

As a young boy in the late 1940s my father travelled by the Boat Mail from Trichy to Rameshwaram and boarded the ferry at Danushkodi to travel to Ceylon that is Sri Lanka today. Today all that is the stuff of legend as a catastrophic cyclone in December 1964 destroyed most of this coastal fishing hamlet. Once a prosperous port town, popularly known as “Little Colombo,” today Danushkodi is a ghost town. After the fishing families were resettled elsewhere, the town has seen little development—including no electricity. Yet a few families chose to live there under these challenging circumstances. Among them is fisherman Kumar’s father Neechal Kali and his ninety-year-old Uncle, —. Today Kumar takes pride in telling visitors about the glory that was Danushkodi. His uncle is the sole survivor of the disastrous cyclone. Despite age, his memories of the disaster are still vivid. He is the last link to a slice of the recent past. If his memories are not archived, a vital link will soon be l submerged and lost—much like Danushkodi that lies buried beneath the sandy shore.