| A tsunami survivor wails for her relatives on a beach in Nagapattinam on Monday. (Reuters)
Nagapattinam, Dec. 26: A human bone wiped spotless by the gentle waves sticks out grotesquely from the sands as though holding up a finger in warning.
Nearby, a group of schoolboys play cricket, consciously pushing out memories of the monster that swallowed their team captain on this very beach this very day a year ago.
A little way off, the smoke rises skyward in a huge swirl as a priest holds a group shraddh for the hapless hundreds who got washed away. “Om shivaya namaha, om shivaya namaha'”
Suddenly, the dam bursts. Dinesh, a Class X student who is playing cricket on the beach, can’t take the tension anymore. And his story comes pouring out.
He and his friends had been playing marbles on this same Keechankuppam beach that day, he says. “We just ran when some older people began shouting after seeing the tall waves. But one of our friends, Chinnasamy, drowned'.” His voice chokes.
A little later, he resumes. “Chinnasamy used to be the captain of our cricket team. In his memory, we have renamed our Challengers’ Cricket Club as Chinnasamy Memorial Club.”
The next minute, he walks away ' from the beach, his friends, the cricket and all.
A few yards away, Paramasivam strolls around, a little restless. He can’t take his boat to sea today because no one’s going to sea, in homage for the dead and in fear of what this day might bring.
Then he spots the bone. “You know, this is from the body of a woman and I know it for certain because I buried her at this very place,” he announces.
The people milling on the beach are stunned. Perhaps, the salty sea water is a preservative, Paramasivam muses. That may be why the bone is so clean.
A photographer of a foreign agency races in to check out what the noise is all about. He’s out on assignment and the bone could well be his anniversary scoop.
But he declines. “I don’t want to take this picture,” he says, anguish in his voice.
As the tsunami anniversary sun rose today, the mood across Tamil Nadu was mixed: of mourning for the dead, fear of a repeat, prayer that such a disaster never happens again and hope in spite of everything.
By the time the clock struck the dreaded minute ' 9.17 am ' group rituals for the dead and to appease the sea had been held in all 72 fishing hamlets in Nagapattinam, the worst-affected district.
Fishermen took out silent marches in several districts. Children, with candles in one hand and petals in the other, paid homage at a memorial in Keechankuppam.
A tsunami memorial and awareness park was opened at the Nagapattinam district collectorate.
On the memorial pillar, a damaged clock, its hands frozen at 9.17, appeared to mark time for posterity.