Posted on Jan 4, 2005

Wings of the Tsunami

She used to bring us fish.

She would come like a dry leaf in a slight breeze, bringing with her the heady fish-smell. My little son, who loves fish would welcome her arrival with jubilation, and would encourage her with his excitement as she bargained with my Ammama (grandma).

Much to the frustration of Ammamma. She is a tough lady. Her prime motto in life is to beat the hell out of all the evil vendors in the world who charge her exorbitant prices. She will quarell with the fish-lady for half an hour, will ask for a price that is 50% of the quoted price, and settle somewhere at 60%. Then they will chat for another 15 minutes as the fish-lady cleans and cuts the fish – about her two sons who do not take care of her, about the unmarried daughter, about her grandchildren, about the sun, the weather, the sea, the fish, the un-sharp knife. The ritual continued, week after week, much to the satisfaction of both the vendor and the customer.

Then the tsunami struck.

We did not know where our fish-lady stayed. We knew that she lived by the sea. A week passed without any news, and we were worried.

Finally, she came down on Friday – still a dry leaf – soaked and re-dried. She had not lost her house, but she lost all her belongings. Her sons were now homeless. She did not know how they will build their lives back. The relief and fear were still painted under her sunken eyes. Ammamma consoled her, offered her food and money. She did not eat, perhaps because she remembered her grandchildren who would be hungry. She took the money, and left, and promised to come back some other day.

My son who was excited at the prospect of eating fish, was disappointed. He perhaps could not understand why she did not bring fish on that day, or why she would not bring it for some more days, or why we would not buy fish for many more days. I told him that big waves came and took her house, but that was perhaps not a credible excuse for him. For he would not know that death and destruction had flown so close to him, touching him with the tip of a wing, as Kamala Das wrote in one of her poems.