Day 34 (Part 2): ‘The cyclone changed the character of the place’

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“A group will always have violent and non violent elements. But no good has ever come from hurting anyone. I am Tamilian and my friend is Sri Lankan. And, we are both human beings. Why fight over borders and identities when we can all live in harmony?  Today, I get to meet him once a year during Kachchathivu Tirula. When I was young, I went to a small town near the port in Sri Lanka. It was breathtaking and I made many friends there. However, if you stay there long enough, you wouldn’t want to come back. But I had to for my heart belonged in Dhanushkodi,” said Kumar.

Owing to ambiguity with respect to laws and legality surrounding the international maritime boundary lines, there have been several unaccounted instances of fishermen exchanging their identity cards during the festival in order to visit a different country.

Kumar even narrated an incident of a man crossing Lankan waters to meet his friend residing on the opposing shores. On realising that he didn’t have any papers on himself; his friend sorted him out with an Identity Card of a recently demised relative who bore a striking resemblance to him.  He then used the card for almost two years before returning to India.

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Due to security reasons, they are no longer sanctioned permission to visit the island on the other side of the ocean as often as they used to decades ago. Back then, fishermen couldn’t entirely comprehend what legal or illegal terms were. Therefore, they would be questioned repeatedly by both Indian and Sri Lankan authorities on the purpose of their visit. “Once they were assured that these people meant no harm, they’d be let free. Sometimes, the officials would have to explain to perplexed fishermen that they couldn’t see their friends without proper documents and permits. Most of them live and die on the coast. They don’t get to travel to distant places and meet different people. All they knew was that a piece of paper would allow them to visit shores unheard of and places they would otherwise never be able to travel to in their lifetime,” said Kumar.

Drawing circles in the sand, he looked away from us for a while; his eyes transfixed on the waves lapping at the shoreline.  A young boy ran to the stall and demanded for some candies. Exhaling between forced drawn breaths, he asked Kuppuswamy to pack him some tea.

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An old man sitting beside the stall gazed at the boy half dreaming, listening to his conversation. A hint of smile broke on his lips as he took a long drag of his beedi. Soon his eyes fell upon them once again, falling into nothingness; structures that were long forgotten and buried in time.

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It was only minutes later when in walked two middle-aged women bursting into a fit of giggles as they greeted Kumar. They had not a moment to lose. Exchanging pleasantries with the gathered crowd, they strode along the shoreline in a great hurry towards their home. “Lechumi and Ramayi akka have been inseparable ever since they were little. When their kids left to the city, they consoled one other and promised to never let go. When their parents passed away, they offered each other their shoulders to cry on. They even take tea breaks together. And, do you know what’s even more beautiful? They don’t realise they are never apart,” said Kumar with a warm smile.

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In conversation, we asked him if he ever wondered about old Dhanushkodi and wished for things to go back the way they were.  He paused frowning in deep thought for a while. Although he believed that they couldn’t change their past, he was certain they could transform their present and build a better future. “I heard the cyclone changed the character of the place. It brought in a wall of sand. Now, wherever you go, you see white dunes. Everything and everyone my father knew is buried underneath them. We see hundreds of tourists everyday but not many know the story of our town. I wish the government helps us put up posters and pamphlets in and around the ruins. So, people will know what they are; what they meant to those who lived here. That way, our children will never forget our history and my father will always be remembered,” said Kumar.

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(to be continued…)

Project ‘Rest of My family‘  is an attempt to connect back, re-discover our relationship with and understand our responsibility towards the larger family that we are a part of — the rest of our human family. Hence, it is titled Rest Of My Family.

Through ‪#‎RestofMyFamily‬, we will focus on highlighting social issues and human interest stories, documenting the triumphs of the ordinary man despite all the hardships they face constantly, and help these stories reach a larger audience and wherever necessary extend support to the individuals and communities that we write about. We hope to make a direct impact to the lives of those people we meet and find suffering due to various social issues; to connect the ones who need help to the ones who can help….

Find more about the campaign here: http://igg.me/at/restofmyfamily/x/539502

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