Sister Maria Silva greeted us with an easy smile and a slight bow beside the church at Paramankeni Kuppam. "She's also our doctor," said one of the men jostling for sitting room around sister Maria, Govind and me. Very calmly, on our asking, she informed us of everything the village needed. Nothing for herself. The men looked on, careful not to interrupt. We had spoken with them before greeting Maria, and after describing the height of waves and trajectory of catamarans animately, they stopped gesturing wildly while speaking of Maria - a sign they were in comfortable territory.
You know that one person you turn to when everything goes wrong? The lady dressed in beige was that person. She never stopped smiling. Not even when she told us that the village school, Sacred Heart High School, had applied for government aid four years ago - to take up an offer of free meals for children - but had no reply yet. She only stopped smiling, and that too for only an instant, when we told her it was time for us to leave. She insisted we have tea with her. It was perfect. The cool air, the sound of water splashing on the beach, a warm cup of tea, a black sky above. It was perfect.
On December 26, shortly after the waves hit and flung a catamaran over a house, roared through concrete walls, wiped out 230 of 280 thatched homes and dragged a girl into the sea, Father Martin Joseph drove over 250 families from Paramankeni Kuppam to Cheyyur, nine kilometers away. Across the state, across the strait in Sri Lanka, across the ocean, there were stories of good being done. Walls that were either real or imagined - of caste, of religion, of suspicion - were broken when the tsunami hit. Even some local minister were doing their best for their villages. A wall in my mind crumbled when I heard that.
But a few things might take some time to change. In the wake of the tragedy, the governent announced that each home would get a bag of rice and Rs4000. I asked the fisherman how far they could stretch the amount. For a family of four, one month, they said. But they added that each home received only one sack of rice and Rs4000 regardless of the number of people under it. One home had 12 occupants. You do the math. No, don't do the math. It's depressing.
Ps. At 8:20pm, the lights went off and the skies revealed themselves. I saw a clear, starry sky. The only stars I'd gotten used to seeing are on bloody page 3. And some of them were black holes.