| The place which used to be a village in Car Nicobar before the tsunami. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Chuckchucha, Dec. 25: As the heavens opened, the hands went up in prayer.
For the residents of Chuckchucha, tucked away in a corner of Car Nicobar, the incessant rain for the last 10 days has brought with it an ominous warning. With the entire village waterlogged, a flood of frightful memories have gushed in on the eve of the tsunami’s first anniversary.
Chuckchucha ' where 1,000 people survived the raging waves last year ' is perhaps India’s only model village where religious barriers do not exist.
So, as a middle-aged Hassan Ibrahim, a devout Muslim, prays to his God to spare the villagers another disaster, his sister Fate Herbert, a Christian, sings carols all day in memory of the tsunami victims.
“The sea is unusually calm today, but the dark clouds are ominous signs and on Christmas day, we are all praying to the Lord to help the survivors get over the trauma,” said Ibrahim.
Yusuf-e-Jedwet, a Gujarati Muslim, has organised a Christmas carol session at his home.
Known as the local “raja”, Yusuf believes it would take the people a century to reconstruct the island and rebuild their lives.
“Many lives have been lost here, but the people have been stoic. Last Christmas, there was much celebration, but today only a few local youths have decided to sing carols around the village,” said Yusuf, who made the island his home 39 years ago.
A little distance away, on the outskirts of Chuckchucha, Ram Pradhan’s wife Zubaida Bibi serves bowls of sewai to her guests. “We had prepared a big feast last year, but a big feast is the last thing on our minds now,” she said.
The clouds have been gathering at a frightening pace since morning, but that has not kept Henna, Olive and Solomi home. After all, it’s Christmas.
The girls have been out since late afternoon, but there is no one to share their festive spirit.
“There are hardly any houses left and people seem to be in no mood to celebrate. It is a ghost town and as the hour draws near, we are all overwhelmed by the thoughts of the tsunami that killed so many here,” said a despondent Solomi.
Chuckchucha may have shut itself indoors to mourn its dead, but Big Lapathy, about 13 km from the Car Nicobar airbase, has no time to grieve.
There, it is a busy Christmas with people sweating it out day and night to complete a granite memorial, which has been designed to resemble waves.
“There will be 900 names engraved on the memorial'. One devastated island will have two memorials (the other at the air force station). We will not have many VIPS but a sea of humanity coming for our prayers on Monday,” said Margaret John.
The “sea of humanity” will include 55-year-old Reginal Watchful, who will trek to the memorial tomorrow to pray for the souls of his son, daughter and wife.
As the rain continued to pour, spreading a wave of fear across Car Nicobar, the meteorological department said there was no reason to worry.
“The sea is very calm and there are hardly any strong winds. Rain at this time of the year is common,” said weather official Salil Mehta.
But these assurances cannot calm the islanders. Many ' like Yusuf who has sent his wife and sons to Port Blair ' will spend a sleepless night with their fingers crossed.