On December 23, 1964, at 11.35 pm, a devastating cyclone hit the shores of Pamban Island and Dhanushkodi. Tidal waves rose to almost 20 feet. There were 5000 families residing in the area who perished in the ocean. Apparently, a train travelling from Chennai to Rameswaram derailed and was swallowed by the waves. There were 1,200 families returning to the coastal town that day. Only two people survived the tragedy. One of them was fondly known as Neechal Kali. He swam in the dark for two hours to save his life. That night, waves rose from both Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean, and crashed onto the shores. And, everyone he knew ceased to exist.
During Rest of My Family’s visit to Dhanuskodi, we bumped into Kumar, Neechal’s son sitting in one of the stalls selling biscuits and tea. Over the next few days, through our interactions with him and the rest of the community, we learnt that the government had declared the land a ghost town thereby rendering it unfit for inhabitation. As a result, Dhanushkodi has no schools or hospitals functioning in the area. The nearest hospital is almost 13 km away while all most of the kids are enrolled in schools in Rameswaram.
Today, there are 236 families residing in two settlements there. 110 lived near the harbour while 126 settled down near the defunct railway station. During our stay with them, we realised that although the settlements are quite content with whatever they have, the lack of a community vehicle to aid them with procuring supplies, transporting children to schools and enabling elderly folks to visit hospitals on time in case of emergencies could take a toll on them in the long run.
We have managed to provide the fishermen community of Dhanushkodi with a bus that would now enable villagers to take their children to school, help patients receive medical treatment provided on time at the nearest hospital and help the community with any and all contingencies. The painting on the bus depicts the story of Dhanushkodi and is an ode to its current residents.
Story by Akshatha Shetty and Piyush Goswami