Volume 18 Number 3
Photos of the Lost
01 June 2005

Pamela Jenner writes from Kanniyakumari in southern India

THE SCENE is idyllic-white sand, brilliant blue sea and two palm trees blowing gently in the wind. It looks like something from an upmarket travel brochure-until you turn and face inland. Where the sand ends and the land begins it is utter devastation. A village has been completely destroyed and more than 60 lives lost in this hamlet alone.

A huge iron bridge which linked two sections of the mainland was broken into four pieces by the giant wave and two of those pieces have never been recovered. My taxi driver tells me that his uncle was riding his bike over it when the tsunami struck. He shut his eyes and when he opened them he was lying naked, six kilometres away but alive and unharmed.

Further along the coast, we find hundreds of people living in rows of temporary buildings near the sea shore. On the wall of a church-most of the fishermen here are Christian-is a poster showing photographs of dead children from the village.

Until now I have felt embarrassed to be taking photos and intruding on people's grief. However, this time a man spots my camera and comes up to me. Even without understanding his language I can tell he has suffered greatly.

'His son was killed in the tsunami and he has no photo of them both together,' my guide tells me. 'He wants you to take a photo of him next to his son.'
Sadly the photo on the poster was taken after his baby son had died, but it is all this man has. I take the photo and my guide promises to get a copy to him-I hope he manages it. The man is crying as I leave him. To lose any child is devastating, but in rural India to lose a son is to lose all hope for your future.

A young woman with a girl in her arms comes up to me and asks me to take a photo of her next to two pictures of her other daughters. They too died in the tsunami and this is all she has left of them.

As I leave I look back at the little group of people gathered around the poster. Their faces will stay with me for ever. Just a few kilometres away is Kanniyakumari- the southern most tip of this huge country where the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal meet, famous for its beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I sit on the beach as the sun disappears into the sea and two young boys beside me suddenly cower under the bench.

Their father explains: 'They are frightened of the tsunami. They think it will come again at any time.'

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