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Guinness record in tsunami village
October 10, 2005
Early September, and I'm in the office of a government official in Nagapattinam, lovely old colonial building. A dozen or more people have gathered to discuss an event that's still nearly a month away, but that will need substantial planning.
These days, for better or worse, any mention of Nagapattinam should put the word "tsunami" in peoples' minds; and sure enough, this event is in some ways a response to the tsunami. Yet it also attempts to replicate and improve a previous achievement that visibly managed to protect a village here from the full power of the monster wave.
The area where the event will happen is a rectangular stretch of about 15 hectares, along the coast. This will be divided into 20 blocks, each marked out in advance with ropes. The whole 15 hectares will also be marked off with ropes. (Someone assigned to get the ropes).
In addition, each block will need one more length of rope, as long as the block is wide, with knots tied at the calculated regular intervals. (Who will tie the knots?) To go with the knots, each block's volunteers will carry pocketfuls of chalk. Coloured chalk? Discussed and discarded in favour of white. The soil is brown, white chalk will do.
Long discussion ensues on the menu. We settle on idli/sambhar and various kinds of rice dishes (lemon rice, sambhar rice, curd rice, pongal). Other visitors will visit the community kitchen for their meals. Water will be provided in 500-litre plastic tanks, kept filled by regular tanker visits. (Someone agrees to arrange the tanks and the tankers). Everyone emphasises and reiterates -- no paper or plastic bottles/cups. Water will be served in steel cups. There will be a designated place for washing all utensils.
BITSunami, the programme run by some Chennai-based BITS alumni who wanted to do something after the tsunami.
They have some carefully-thought-out long term plans for Naluvedapathy and the neighbouring village, Pushpavanam. I've seen some of those plans translated into action, involving the villagers every step of the way. And for me, the greatest source of satisfaction is, oddly enough, that the Guinness charge -- seductive though it is -- is indeed only a part of those plans.
The value of helping yourself. The value of paying attention to the environment. The worth of teamwork. And -- why not -- a certain pride in an institution that taught so many so much.
A quarter of a million trees: testament to all that.
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