The fishermen saw the suffering on the TV – all the poor rice farmers deluged by one week of solid rain, the rivers overflowing their banks, people neck deep in water, the soaked clothing and collapsing mud walls.
Having been through the fright and flood and loss of tsunami, their hearts went out.
The Auroville Tsunami field staff and the fishermen from 17 kuppams, who have been meeting weekly since February, decided they must help. The field staff approached the Auroville Tsunami coordinators and asked that Auroville add food and shirts to the distribution, and they spent all night packing it all into 200 bags. BLESS a friendly NGO working in the area had told them of a particular village which had not yet received any relief.
The young fishermen went home and told their headmen, who hired loudspeakers and called all the people to bring any extra blankets or clothes to the temple. In 17 kuppams blankets, bedsheets, sarees, dhotis and lunghis piled up – brought all together it filled a small lorry.
The lorry, along with a bus full of a representative fisher youth from each kuppam, and the Auroville Tsunami staff, set out on the morning of Monday, 5 th December, down the East Coast Road . Past Cuddalore, the effects of the flood grew more and more evident – soaked fields, new lakes, ubiquitous puddles. Leaving the main road we made our way toward K-Adoor, our destined village, traversing rutted rugged narrow tracks through green seas of rice fields, wet wet paddy extending to the horizon in every direction, and along the sides mud houses sinking into marsh.
The Panchayat President of K-Adoor, Mr. Sabesan, a mountain of a man who seemed to know all 4000 of his fellow villagers by name, took us to the Dalit colony which had been the worst affected, and there we found out that rather than 200 families, actually he had a list of 307 families who've lost everything in collapsing houses, and how can we give to only two hundred?
So, our field staff was sent to try to get a list of 200, while we picked our way carefully between puddles and bog on a long walk through the wretched village.
This is the Dalit colony, the place of the poorest of the poor, landless labourers. Everywhere mud huts were in disarray, walls washed away, roofs fallen in, with the thin but smiling people sorting and putting damp things back in order.
We arrived at last at the main temple – a large impressive structure built long ago of very big granite stones, with ample space to put all the clothes and food behind large wooden doors, and a big staircase up which the petitioners came. With the staff and fishermen quickly repacking in the background, the Panchayat President and other fishermen stood at the door and doled out the relief to a very grateful crowd of people. It took hours – more than 600 people were given food, or clothes and blankets.
The sun had set before all was distributed and they said they were very happy and satisfied. Mr. Sabesan said thank you and goodbye, and trundling ourselves into the bus, off we went in the dark along the same narrow road which seemed much shorter on the return, and back home to Auroville.
It was a world away.
But we had crossed over the divide, -- actually over many divides – the caste divide between fishermen and dalits, the vocational divide between farmers and fishers, the class divide between rich and poor, the geographical distances, the shortage of time -- the power of care and concern had broken down the boundaries, and again we felt the secret Oneness behind our individual lives.