NAGERCOIL: A deathly silence hung over the hamlet, broken only by the breeze. But for the lone khaki-clad police officer, standing guard at the entrance of the locality, not a single human being could was spotted. The buildings and houses stood as remains of their former selves, ravaged by the tsunami.
This was Manakudy, some 15 km from Nagercoil and about 9 km from Kanyakumari, once a busy coastal hamlet till Christmas in 2004, says Jawaharji, a freelance photographer, who visited the village a day after a tsunami gobbled up scores of houses and whatever that came its way in 2004.
The intensity of the waves was so severe that there was no trace of a bridge connecting Mela Manakudy and Keezha Manakudy villages along the West Coast road.
Jawaharji captured on lens every nook and cranny and created an album that depicted the magnitude of the mass destruction at Manakudy. Recalling the tremor that he felt in his heart, Jawaharji says that there were bodies and nothing else all around the place. “Totally 112 of them,” he says.
The man in khaki was a Sub-Inspector standing guard as looters tried to make the most of the tragedy, trying to rob valuables from ravaged houses. “Not one to take any chances, he refused to allow me inside the hamlet,” recalls Jawaharji. Later, when a senior police official reached the scene along with a team to retrieve the bodies, Jawaharji was also allowed in only to take photographs of the deceased for identification purpose.
“Unfortunately, there was no one in the village to identify the victims and police decided to photo document the bodies before burial,” says Jawaharji, adding that the interment was carried out by a clutch of policemen, four laymen and a local parish priest.
More gory scenes were in store at the cemetery as bodies were brought in bunches. “Due to the absence of stretchers, workers created a frame with available materials and did the job without any protective materials like gloves or masks,” informs the photographer.
The work stretched on for about three days and then a JCB (earth moving equipment) was deployed along with the fire and rescue service personnel.
“The camera lens was spotless but my eyes were filled with tears when the faces of the bodies had to be straightened before clicking pictures. Though I did the job for three days, the horror remained in my mind for several months after with sleepless nights,” recalls Jawaharji.