When the sea boiled over

Sometimes tragedies go too far- yesterday was one such time. Surrounded by the dead and cold saline water is not the most pleasant sensation and it certainly wasn’t what I was looking forward to. Having left a miserably cold Delhi for a short break in Chennai (which is at the very least warm!) to look after a collection ailing relatives didn’t seem particularly appetizing back then– but then that was before Tsunami struck.

Strange, how small these incidents seem to make you feel. All it takes to destroy a lifetime of property and achievement is a ‘palm-tree’ sized tidal wave. Meanwhile somewhere in Spencer Plaza (a posh mall in Chennai) a press reporter asked a ‘modern’ twenty- something year old of what he thought about the disaster (sniffing around for what the press now call ‘human-interest’ or ‘mood’ stories) “I don’t feel bad about the deaths…” , “India has a population problem anyway…”; little does he know that no elite is elite without the plebian.

Somewhere at the back of my mind- while I struggle to grapple with the enormity of the loss of 20,000 lives… amidst the black-outs in a house sunk sixteen inches into marsh land I find the blissfully non-existent response of the government almost scary. Fifty years of disaster management, coastal regulation and a much accomplished met office; India was still unprepared.

Why? The government has had all its incentives in the wrong place. Misdirected incentives draw out misdirected priority lists– the Tamil Nadu government has fought quake and flood insurance for over thirty years… So now Chinnamma dies in the General Hospital foaming at the mouth because the government ignored the market for disaster insurance. And so will die her family because belongings were washed away and compensation shall never reach.

Perhaps my anger is illegitimate. The police did evacuate beaches two hours post the wave, after 300 odd people had drowned… I suppose I should feel cheerful that they did that little bit. I must also smile because– the little girl we rescued today is alive, the rabbit we rescued seems to be taking a lively interest in the cabbage and pages of my text books are beginning to show signs of drying up… And guess what? I can now see portions of my floor.

Time for soggy dinner and then appeasement. Till later then.