Saturday, January 01, 2005

Pattikullam Kuppam

With a team from AidIndia, I head towards Kovallam, a place we have to survey. The group breaks up when we realise that a village, Pattikullam Kuppam, has not been surveyed yet. We head there, using the East Coast Road (ECR) which runs alongside the beach from Chidambaram to Pondicherry.

Before the bus comes to a halt alongside the makeshift tents, we hear a woman scream, "You take everything and sell it! We get nothing!" We slowly figure out there's a racket. People collect the aid meant for villagers and sell it. To add to their problems, a BJP MLA down the road stops trucks carrying aid and hoards supplies at his home.

The village is calm, and people even seem happy. There have been no deaths here. Somehow they survived. They've shifted base around 300 meters inland. A large boat lay nearby. I asked if they had moved it for safekeeping. They looked at me like I was mad. The water came gushing in, until half a km inland, it began receding.

The men all have one request. "Get us nets. Small fish nets, and lobster nets. Just 5kg for a net. we need 125 nets. Per kg 250 rupees." The absence of boats they can handle, but they need nets. They'll walk out into the ocean and throw their nets. I don't know what happened to the government's plan of giving the fishermen a boat and a net. There's been very little sign of government action. They came to the village and handed out 4000 rupees to each family. They also came by and gave out 10 sacks of rice. But there are 180 families here. The people here live on handouts, on donations, and don't like it one bit. Which explains the heaps of clothes lying around the road. Aid workers and donors dump them on the side of the road and drive away.

Three of us pay a visit to BJP MLA Ponvardharajan, posing as workers from a foreign aid organisation called 'Helping hand'. We smile, sip tea, and take pictures. He shows us around his home. The courtyard is filled with crates of fruits and vegetables. One room has sacks of rice stacked high. Another two are filled with clothes lying around. He poses for pictures, which I have to develop. Meanwhile, his other three kids, all under six, squirt water from water sachets at each other. The courtyard is littered with these plastic packets. He tells us bjp leaders from all over the country have sent donations, which he delivers manfully to every village from here to Cuddalore. We later find out that one village, Mahabalipuram, has had only one very generous donor, and it isn't our friendly MLA.

We're deciding what to do.

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