December 24, 2010

Schooldayz: 2004 Tsunami

At the enrichment camp...

If it wasn't for one of our "petu" friends insisting on eating breakfast first, our sunday morning stroll to Kalpakkam beach would have been our last.

December 2004. Atomic Energy Central School-2, Kalpakkam. It was the last day of Enrichment camp, an annual affair where all the so-called "bright" students congregated from about 20 schools nationwide. I don't know how I made it to the team.... the scorns I got in the class reflected that pretty well. Bharat, Sandhya and I were representing Manuguru. I suppose they were the real deal and I was backup.

All was fun...

Four days went by fast and we had a real great time. Physics, Chemistry, mathematics.... science biggies were called in to lecture and inspire us. I remember how, in the mathematics class, I watched helplessly as everyone around me was having wicked fun answering questions. Physics and chemistry were ok though and I had no trouble keeping up. We skipped biology classes and
spent time in the library where I finished a Jack Higgins novel.

We even won a quiz...

On the fourth day, a quiz programme was announced and we wrote a small screening test with questions that varied from science to sports. Bharat and I made it and were to take on three more teams in the final showdown. Meanwhile, Sandhya read poetry onstage and we missed most of it. Then the quiz. My first time on stage and it had to be in Kalpakkam! The home team was there too and we were kinda sure we'd be ripped apart in minutes. Turned out, it was the best fun I ever had! After a nail biting series of rounds, the final quickfire was were we got the edge. For the last question I did something which still cracks me up... I was to name the sports personality from the picture shown. I knew the answer but not how it was pronounced.

I wrote it down for Bharat to read, to which the quiz master quipped "Are you solving it or what?". Bharat slowly read it out like it was written YE-LEE-NA ISAN-BA-YE-YA. Bingo! Right answer! We won the quiz.

The principal gave us a nice pat and handhsake when we got down stage. Sandhya and another girl congratulated too but our enigmatic Sir didn't even smile.

We went to our rooms all fired up... waiting for prize distribution the next day. The next day would be the most shocking and memorable day of my life... and no prize.

and then it happened....

It was Sunday. One of the friends I'd made, who was from Kaiga, suggested we skip breakfast and spend some time on the beach. His friend shrugged it off and settled down for his meal, which was served in the school hall. We all drew up our chairs in a circle and sat down. We were
almost finished with breakfast when a few kids ran in through the front gate screaming. They were sobbing and muttered something in tamil I couldnt quite catch. The vice principal then screamed "EVERYONE!!! UP!!!" We left our folders and bags on the chairs as we ran upstairs. Through a small window on the stircase I saw what the commotion was all about.... water. It
came with such force and in such quantity, it freaked the hell out of me. It took a mere minute to flood the whole ground floor.

The sea water had picked up the red mud from the nearby ground(from where the kids had come running). All chairs, bags, our folders and Bharat's camera were washed away. We then went into a classroom facing the sea and saw to our shock, another big wave coming in. Bikes, bicycles and scooters were floating around in what was left of the parking shelter. There was no sign of the school gate.... nothing at all. We prayed for our lives as there was only one floor and a further rise in water level meant we were done for.

I don't mean to self-pat but I told Bharat it looked like a Tsunami(I'd read about it Cussler's Dragon). My doubts were cleared when a Physics teacher confirmed, it was announced on radio that a major earthquake off the coast of Indonesia had created a massive tsunami.

the horror...

The water subsided in about 20 minutes leaving behind a trail of destruction everywhere. The principal's office, the record room, the library... all were ruined beyond repair. Rescue buses were called in which took us to Anupuram colony where we were given a classroom for refuge. Most of the the kalpkkam residents were there. I borrowed a cellphone and sent an sms home that I was safe. We left for Chennai the next day at dawn and stayed at Sir's place before catching the train back home. I didn't take my Kodak to the camp(I still can't figure out why) and Bharat's camera was washed away in that big devastating wave that killed thousands...

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