Akkaraipettai was in the news for its four kilometre stretch which saw 2,600 dead on December 26, 2004.
There are no dead bodies anymore. The power has been restored. The road is being freshly laid and the schools are functioning.
'We make sure that nobody suffers'
In the primary school, BEd students from the Regional Institute of Education, Mysore, under the aegis of the National Council of Education, Research & Training (NCERT), are taking classes in tsunami affected areas and will be here for ten days.
Tenzin, who is from Himachal Pradesh, is teaching the kids in English and Deepa, her colleague who knows Tamil, is translating. The kids are very happy with these teachers who seem like a welcome diversion.
"These children are not interested in studying. They are more interested in the visitors and what gifts they bring," says the assistant education officer of Nagappattinam, Shunmugham.
Tenzin and Deepa's class did not last long that day. The mother of one of the kids came in running to say that a tsunami was coming. That was it! The kids ran out to enjoy the rest of the day off.
The rumour originated from the Annai Velankanni church, ten kilometres away. They had heard about the earthquake in Sumatra in the morning. This was enough to get the kids away from school. Since this is not the first time it has happened here, the kids don't seem scared. They treat it as an opportunity to get leave from school.
India's Ground Zero
The NCERT volunteers say the children are now beginning to get over the tsunami trauma. But yet, when they are asked to draw or write, they always draw pictures of parents, or the waves and write about them.
Their parents, most of whom are fishermen, are also very upset. They say the government first assessed the damage to their boats. Now they have to verify it.
K Sundarakumar, who owned two boats, says, "Everyone knows this is the worst affected area in the country. Instead of accepting that fact, they are assessing, then verifying, then the government will inform the banks and..."
M Jothi, another fisherman, continued where his mate left off "...Then we have to apply to the bank. They won't give us the loan. The account and loan will be in the joint name of Assistant Director-Fisheries and us. How can we take the AD with us every time we go to the bank! There are so many fishermen and one assistant director. And why the hell should we share the account with him? Is he going to pay back half the loan?"
Another worry for the fishermen is the security deposit required by banks, since they have lost everything. To add to this, the insurance rates were also too high. It was possible for them to pay the premium in the fishing months but how could they pay such a high premium in the monsoon when it was off-season, they wanted to know.
What upsets them most is that in neighboring Karaikal, in Pondicherry, the fishermen have got back everything as a grant, while they have been given loans. n the Akkaraipettai beach, the work of clearing the seashore of wreckage is still not over. The river Uppar which flows into the sea has to be dredged as it is still full of debris, making it dangerous for the boats.
The boats which have been pulled ashore by two bulldozers lie drying and rotting in the sun. The catamaran owners have got Rs 32,000 from the government and they are back at work. It's the fibre and mechanised boats that are still ashore.
The nowhere people
Outside the school are beautiful temporary shelters. The walls are of wooden board with red tiled roofs. There is a balwadi [creche] constructed by the Shunmugha Engineering College, Thanjavur.
Prakash Shah, son of state governor K K Shah, has decided to construct 200 houses for the fishermen. Two architects from Chennai had come here to find out from the fishermen what kind of houses they require. Block Development Officer K Subramaniam was taking them around to meet the affected families.
One of the architects A R Ajantha said, "They don't want to live in apartments, they prefer individual houses. They were also telling us that World Vision had given them TVs, grinders and mixies and they expected the same from us."
The Assistant Project Officer of Nagappattinam M Muthusamy revealed that the district had 11,000 temporary shelters, but Panchayat President M Kodimarie told Rediff he was very angry with the relief work done so far and launched a scathing attack on the government.
'We have lost everything and the government does not care at all. They want to teach us alternate professions. We are not interested. We know fishing and that's what we want to do. The government should have been working on a war footing. Instead of that they are involved in ego tussle. The central and the state governments have ego problems with each other. And who is the loser? We are! We have to sit here doing nothing with Rs 1000 in cash and Rs 500 in kind for a month. The NGOs are ready to construct houses but the government is not identifying the land."
At present there is one old bridge that links Akkaraipettai to Nagappattinam town. After the tsunami another temporary bridge was built with the debris. Work on a third bridge, which is huge in comparison, is being carried out at a fast pace now.
Philips India Ltd plans to build 200 houses here. Their CEO was to visit the town to identify the beneficiaries.
World Vision has already built temporary shelters here. The boards at the settlement say the money is from Japan. The NGO has also built a balwadi. The heat was intolerable inside the balwadi and one fan struggled vainly to keep away the heat as kids played.
Two were asleep at 12 noon. Just then a mother entered asking if she could take her kid back because after a long time she had made fish curry at home and wanted her kid to eat at home today. She took her kid and left.
Tsunami orphans on a high
That's all it required for the other kids to start wailing. They all wanted to go home. Finding no other way to keep them inside, the teachers had to lock the door and decided to serve lunch. The babies were made to sit in a row and the food was served. This helped in most cases but a few continued to wail for their mothers.
A few of the fishermen have started small shops near the temporary shelters, selling cigarettes and soft drinks. There are two STD booths too.
Though Ground Zero is slowly limping along, return to normalcy looks very far away. The government has to gets its act together and fast.
The tsunami complete coverage