A Trip to Velankani Worth Remembering

Photo Credits :

Shanthi Munisamy

Writer :

Shanthi Munisamy

20th December, 2018

Continuing from the previous blog of how I love weekend trips, my next was even more special because I was joined by my closest friends.

We travelled to a small seaside town in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu called Velankani, the most visited tourist pilgrimage spot in southern India.

Apart from those who visited to see the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health, Velankani was also for those who love beaches and a fresh platter of sea food.

We reached mid morning at 9 and gathered the left-over energy after a long bus journey from Bengaluru.

To our surprise, the bus stop was less crowded than what we had expected. Excited, we walked along.

We were surrounded half by tourists and half by guides/brokers who offered services of finding accommodation, travel, history of Velankani or any other help we needed.

Cautious at first, of taking the right persons help we came across a charming 60 year old man who offered to find us an accommodation of our liking. A room with a view of the beach and easily accessible to the beach.

He walked us through the streets along the beach while we persisted our requirements.

He stopped outside a hotel and directed us inwards.

We explored the rooms and they were perfect!

Facing the beach which was just a few steps away and under our budget! We were happy to give him the commission he demanded as he had got us a good deal and also because he had mentioned of him being the only bread runner in the family!

As planned, we rested for a bit and woke up excitedly to go to the beach.

The waves, sea breeze and the smell of the air welcomed us with open hearts and we decided to go for a swim.

Wow! How wonderful and happy it was soaking ourselves in the ocean and jumping up and holding on together along with the waves.

We stepped out of the water, content and extremely hungry. This was the most eager part of my trip, to try a platter of fresh locally caught fish varieties being a seafood lover.

Scattered along the edges of the beach were the food shacks with the freshest catch from the sea all smelling of perfectly grilled fish!

These eatery huts, built with minimal scarp material found or picked from the beach were a delight to see.

From a simple tarpaulin for the shade to a few plastic chairs and tables for decor, a single tin barrel grill produces the aromatic smell of the fresh sea catches.

While I soaked in the surroundings, the memories of Velankani took me back to the time when it was one of the worst hit beaches during Tsunami 2004.

From then to now, 2018, the transition seemed normal and the spirits high, compared to all the losses suffered.

"Whom do we blame for this?" asked my heart to my mind.

I smiled to myself as an answer, looking at the spirit of every person on the beach that day! From my procrastination, I came back to reality smelling the fresh grilled fishes. We entered a shack and ordered local fishes spiced and grilled to our liking.

We were served with a lot of love by a happy lady who owned the shack and who seemed to love to feed people.

We savoured our lunch, watching the waves hit the shore, tourists walk by and the sea breeze calming our souls.

Curious to know about the lady, I started a conversation.

"உங்கள் பெயர் என்ன (What is your name)?"

"Selvi", she replied.

There was a little girl who was sitting in the entrance of the shack gazing around watching the sea and the passers-by.

"Her?" I asked.

Selvi replied that her name was Gloria and she was her elder sisters daughter.

Curious to know more about their family and her experience of Tsunami if any, I asked her if she had any story to share.

She smiled and said that she was standing at the same spot on the day of Tsunami while her husband was fishing in the ocean. Thus, she started to narrate her chilling experience of 26th December 2004.

Like everyday, she was preparing fresh grilled fish for all the guests seated in her shack. Suddenly, panic set in and all the tourists started running away from the ocean. Being the next day of Christmas, the beach was unusually crowded.

She was extremely confused, watching people run towards her, though she could also sense a shift in the weather.

Uneasy, as she looked on, she noticed a massive wave not only gushing towards the shore but towards her. She had never seen this in her life.

"RUN RUN" she heard everyone scream.

Initially, she stayed put as she wondered why should she run when the world was going to end some day.

But as the wave gushed towards her, fear kicked in and she turned around and ran away from the wave to save herself.

She managed to make it to a nearby building terrace in time.

She witnessed the massacre the wave had caused, as she stood there helpless watching humans and settlements being washed away by the waves, horrified.

When she gathered her thoughts, sudden fear struck her.

Her husband had gone fishing in deep sea and her sister was selling fish on the shore and she being 9 months pregnant. Where were they?

I stood there shocked, while she narrated one incident after the other, hoping for a positive outcome.

"A miracle!" she exclaimed.

Her husband was fishing deep sea and the wave had broken out quite close to the shore, keeping him safe.

As the waves neared the shore, along with many other people, it also washed away her sister.

Miraculously, her sister survived as she was rescued before she hit any surface by a group of people who pulled her onto the building. It was after that, when beautiful Gloria was born.

"Wow!" I reacted. I was trying to feel the mix of emotions the entire family must have been through, but all that i felt was fear.

I just looked on at little Gloria, an oceans child indeed!

The spirit of Velankani that i spoke about earlier was the energies of people like Selvi and Gloria. Of people, who lived, loved and respected the land every day.

This story stuck to me for the entire trip to Vellankanni. It set my spirits for the rest of the trip, making me live in the moment and appreciate and be thankful for every experience I lived through.

I am Shanthi Muniswamy, a trans artist, poet and blogger. As the documentarian at The Aravani Art Project, I bring stories to you from our projects. Especially, stories that move my heart and will resonate with me forever. I am sharing these experiences, with a hope to build acceptance and love towards my community.