Thursday, January 20, 2005


In Pukar, our town,
Waves pull down our sand houses. And women,
Tears welling up from spearlike eyes,
Long wounds fresh on moon-faces,
Scoop sand by the handful to fill the sea.
The Cilappatikaram, 7:30

Dear Friends,

I’m home now, after a long but uneventful flight, trying to get back to a normal routine and pack to go back to school. (Despite his complaints of being overfed, David found that he had not, in fact, gained any weight.) On the plane, I read a translation of the Cilappatikaram, a Tamil epic poem, the story of which Krishnammal told me. (The translation by R. Parthasarathy, is wonderful, and is available on Amazon.) The first part of the epic takes place in Pukar, also known as Poompuhar, an ancient city very close to Nagapattinam. The story tells of how, because of a single unjust act by its king, the great city of Madurai was burned to the ground, but the innocent people were spared. There seems to be a folk tradition that the untouchable (dalit) areas of the town were not reached by the fire. The poem, the title of which translates as "the tale of an anklet" is full of an incredible richness of detail, found in no other epic I have read. It is as intricately told as the finely cut and sculptured walls of a Tamil temple.

Memories of my trip are crowded in my mind. My mind’s eye sees a single firefly flying above the office at Kuthur. It sees brick kilns and broken houses, prawn farms and paddy fields, chilies drying in the sun, petticoats, crowded roads, and cremation grounds. I can hear Jagannathan’s question:,"why did the children die?" and I don’t know if it was rhetorical or not. He probably has his own answer, but that is an age-old question that is up to everyone to find his or her own explanation. My own answer is not clear, but I have never been one to look for morality in nature. Human beings, when they listen to and act on their own consciences, are God’s tools far more than any unthinking phenomena, or so I believe. Coming from natural processes deep within the earth, the tsunami was millions of years in the making. This view of the world is not comforting, but I will not worship a God who will kill innocent people, and, despite my mostly rational mind, I cannot keep from believing in a divine power within living things, and within nature as well, though it will not interfere with the rules of the earth. I feel this power with a part of me far deeper than my reason, and far broader than my emotion.

My life flows on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.
Above the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing.
It sounds an echo in my soul;
How can I keep from singing?

I will continue to sing, and to hope.

In the Light,



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