Unbridled thoughts on Tsunami Anniversary

Today is the 8th Anniversary of the 2004 tsunami. Stuck yet again in Dhaka – unbelievably, for the 3rd year running, its easy to let my mind run free, raking up the images of the tsunami from the past.

… with burning eyes and outstretched arms we cry out to the sea….beach at Kalutara, Sri Lanka. Photo©Chulie de Silva

On December 19th this month, Tharaka Devinda had left this message for me “Years later your blog continues to echo through the hearts and minds of people. I wandered off here from a google search. Epic tale this one is! “Even this day will pass into memory”. what an idea to have in the mind when going through such times. …” Yes, it’s passed on to memory but it is still a memory that is fresh in my mind.

The lone armchair at Siriniwas, back verandah. Hikkaduwas, Sri Lanka, 21 August, 2012. Photo©Chulie de Silva

He was my kid brother, Prasanna. The only one who died on our stretch at Hikkaduwa. The only one who was born into this house I loved so. As a kid I was envious of that fact and that he was precious in my mother’s eyes. It mattered naught as we grew up. My last memory of him was sitting in this chair and reading his favourite Sunday Lakbima newspaper.

He was a bratty brother that we all loved so. He was my lucky mascot. Thousands of memories floated in my mind these last few days filling up spaces disturbing my concentration as I tried to write. I remembered how at siesta time we used a long stick to slide under my grand aunt’s pillow to hook and steal the keys to get at the cupboard that held delicious sweets that were made in Panadura. We tucked in and  would return the key in record time before my aunt woke up. Or the time I had to stand outside the store room while he another cousin and a young domestic boy tried to make a stink bomb we could release under the chair of another grand aunt who was grumpy. One could say now no chemicals were involved and it was a natural process of a good old farting that he was forcing himself to do and catch the fumes in a tin!!!. He was the one who got the shiny red bike for his birthday. Girls only got dolls and not bikes those days and there I was arguing why not one for me! But when he went to boarding school I was the one who got to enjoy the bike most.

Our lives have been so interlaced with the sea, the house and cherished by the love of our extended families. The years of childhood play, the disquieting teenage years, the 20′s when I had my kids, consultations over car repairs and the last months of my father’s illness – days and links, forged over laughter as well as trials and tribulations we had shared had formed bonds that went deeper – more like searing of a stamp into flesh.

So what could I do in Dhaka – miserable and cold in an empty house? Dredge up photos from the past? Could a photo capture the joy, the fragile moments of happiness?

Padmini, Matheesha, Prasanna and Kanishka at Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa. c. 1990s. Photo©Chulie De Silva

I had searched and found this image I had taken sometime in the early 1990s with my little Olympus camera – pre-digital, pre-Shahidul/Drik era. No knowledge except focus and click. As I look at it now I see that I am not there but yet I am there – in the back garden with them, in this garden where we first played catch and then cricket. The nights we were up during my father’s illness and then the funeral. The hilarious time we had preparing for my father’s first almsgiving. Prasanna kept plugging the cook he had hired with liquor and the man was up the whole night cooking and Prasanna was up too joking cajoling the man and ever willing to taste the food. The man cooked an amazing feast complete with two huge trays of wattalappan.

The cry within me silently says “I can’t let you go..”

As Tagore says it’s the oldest cry, the saddest lament…

Since creation’s currents
Began streaming relentlessly towards extinction’s sea
With burning eyes and outstretched arms
We’ve all been crying out in vain endlessly,
“Won’t let go, won’t let you go!”
Filling earth’s shores with laments
As everything ebbs inexorably away.
The waves up front cry out to the ones in the rear,
“Won’t let go, won’t let you go!” – But no one listens. . .

The same spot in 2012 — sea through the cinnamon stick fence at Siri Niwasa. Everything ebbs inexorably away. . Photo©Chulie de Silva