It was a sunny winter afternoon when I visited the shore temple at Mahabalipuram. As I walked towards the iconic temple, I noticed a small railing along the shore. Beyond the railing was the ‘tsunami temple’ as local people call it. This temple, which was under water for decades, resurfaced after tsunami, and hence the name. The tsunami temple’s main deity was found to be similar to the main deity at the shore temple. Natarajan, an official tour guide here for over two decades spoke to me about witnessing tsunami right in front of his eyes.
It was one of those days in 2004 when Natarajan was explaining about the temple to a few school children. Far in the distance, he could see a wave of water slowly rolling and curling up, coming towards them. The movement wasn’t fast, he said. He had seen water coming into the temple, but not something like this. When I realised danger was coming in, I took the students along and scampered to safety in the watch tower. We climbed up there and watched the event unfold. No one even knew the word tsunami then. For about two hours, we were there. The tsunami washed away houses, shops and the entire land was covered in black mud.”
As much I heard him curiously, and empathised with him, I cannot even imagine, what happened to the people who lost their livelihood, and how they would have mentally grappled with such an unexpected event.
Natarajan said that after a few days there was a heavy downpour and it cleaned away the black sand. About five people died (actually 3 died and 2 missing- they could not find their bodies).
Natarajan’s source of income was gone and he did other things to sustain. No foreign tourists even came here for almost a year. After about 6 months, local tourists started coming though.
After ten years, things look normal now in Mahabalipuram.
As I walked along talking to shop keepers, I heard more about the tsunami encounters. The shopkeepers did not get any compensation for the shop losses. After about 6-7 months, they started all over again, reconstructing their shops from the scratch. The business remains dull though. These are not the fancy shops that foreign tourists visit, but small shops which is often thronged by people who buy things in tens to hundreds. Survival after tsunami is difficult, they say. But they were not forlorn.
I cooled off the scorching December afternoon with few ice creams and watched a bunch of people enjoying in the water. When I asked the people about preparing for a disaster like tsunami, this is what they said- “We really don’t know if and when it would happen. If it does, we will deal with it when it happens, but preparing for it, what’s the certainty in life? Who knows what will happen? We just live by the day. Today, I have this life and I will deal with it, tomorrow is another day.”