Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Memories of a disaster

It was this very day two years ago. The time was around quarter to seven in the morning. I was sleeping in the ground floor bedroom in our Hooghly house. It was still a bit too early for me to wake up, but my grandma and the maid were up and about for quite some time.

I was drifting in and out of sleep. It was that state of sleep where your senses take inputs from the outside world, and your brain tries to accommodate those inputs into a dream. In my case, I heard someone shouting something about the pond water. A very prominent sound that I heard was a dog yelping… no, whining or crying would be a better word. I can’t describe that sound now, but I felt that the dog was very scared. There was sound of water, and I heard my grandma shouting that she hadn’t seen anything like that in her life. Somehow I was sure that a dog, probably a puppy had fallen into the pond behind our house and it was crying as it was unable to get out. All the people were shouting about that. Then my grandma told the maid to wake me up as I should also see such a thing. There was a banging on the door and I jumped out of bed and opened the door.

There was no dog anywhere. My grandma told me to go and see the enormous waves that were rising and falling in the pond. I rushed out to the garden. My first impression was that the water was receding from the end next to our garden. Frogs, snakes and crabs that were taken by surprise and left high and dry tried to clamber down to the water level again. And then the water came back with a sudden force and jumped around three feet high. The poor creatures were again carried back higher than ever. But the intensity of the waves was decreasing, and they soon subsided. I heard that before I woke up there were waves around five feet high. Strange thing is, I was the first person to suggest that it was an earthquake. A little later we heard on the news that slight tremors were recorded in Chennai and Bhubaneswar. There was no damage to life and property.

Hooghly is a town full of ponds and when I went out to the market after some time, I saw that all the ponds had been stirred up. It was easy to see that, as the floating weeds and water hyacinth had broken up their smooth cover and lay in tatters across the surface of the ponds. People said that in some ponds the fish had jumped out on the streets. Some self-declared experts were explaining, “It’s not an earthquake, you know! It’s a waterquake. It occurs very rarely. Old Mr. Ray of our colony had witnessed another one in his childhood.” I didn’t say anything. A small Japanese word had come into my memory. I had read it for the first time in a short story in our class sixth literature book. It was a story where a village chief in a small Japanese island had seen the sea receding from his house atop a hill and set his granary on fire so that the villagers would come rushing to put it out and would thus be out of harm’s way when the sea returned with a renewed force. I didn’t know that foreign word was going to be a part of everyone’s vocabulary in another hour or so.


The rest, as they say, is history.

And yes, I forgot all about the dog. It was our neighbours’ Alsatian Poppy. He cried for a few minutes when the actual earthquake hit, although nobody else felt anything. I heard him in my sleep, but other people were too concerned about the pond to hear.


  1. Hmmmm...
    so u got to "feel" the thing. But surprisingly I cudnt feel anythng that day....considering I was at vellore...which is abt 100kms from chennai. We came to know of the tsunami and the destruction it caused only when the news channels started flashing the pictures of Marina Beach.

  2. Very interesting (and a very well-composed, imagery-filled post.)

    I didn't know that those tremors were felt in towns as far away as the Hooghly.

  3. @aurindam: Which is quite normal, considering that you were probably asleep at the time.

    @km: The tremors were very strong. In Hooghly, however, very very few people actually 'felt' the tremors, but the effect on all the ponds was amazing.