Tsunami pilgrim

artwork by I. Giardina

Roof top hut saves the day.

Flight from the city

It was shortly after completing a degree whilst living in a capital city of Australia for five years that I once again took to travel abroad. The tentative aim was to write and document travel and to somehow synthesise decades of experiential research with recent academic readings. I felt a renewed sense of optimism given my encounters with affiliated artists. They too were pondering their own questions and coming up with innovative visual art solutions through their practise.

My questions pertained to consciousness and the social construction that places perceptual possibilities upon the person. So travelling to India was a way to gather data in a fresh environment and be inspired by a region that was both familiar yet strange. I found the scene exilarting in the sea side town of Mahabalipuram in December 29 2004.

Tsunami pilgrim encounters the wave

It was a couple of days after moving from my beach side room to a roof top hut that upon walking along the beach in the morning I noticed the waters had receded far from the coast line. I recall having a sense that this was an extraordinary event given there were no mud flats which should have been evident. So rather than venture forward to investigate as others were doing, I headed back to my roof to room. Soon after getting back to my new abode I heard the words ‘TANI TANI’ (water water). People were screaming and running along the narrow path. Apparently the first wave had hit the coast (wiki) and just reached the edge of the elevated area that I had relocated to. A few minutes after regaining composure I ventured out to see the water lapping around building 300 metres in from the shore, and on elevated ground.

Hunger and homelessness pervade the coast.

Hordes of hungry villagers congregated near a temple, rushing out to an incoming truck crowns clamoured to catch loafs of bread thrown from trucks. Once the bread was caught it was soon snatched by other hands. This kind of human desperation I had never witnessed on such a scale. After a week or so, the social upheaval began to subside due to more food drop off points at encampments set up by international non government organisations (NGO’s).

Tsunami pilgrim food drops.

I met up with some fellow travellers, and we bought food stuff from Chennai and delivered the supplies to villages along the coast where official NGO’s were only marginally active. Although most villages were near deserted there were people to be seen getting on with some kind of life, but most seemed in a daze. I decide to stay in Mahabalipuram and take up sculpture classes with a group of granite stone carvers so as to participate in grassroots rebuilding and cultural connections. It was soon after finding a guild that they invited me to go on the yearly pilgrimage to Iyaypan. This was a cohort from Mamallapuram district to set on a ten day pilgrimage along with many other pilgrims from surrounding towns.