My Friend, The Sea
When the tsunami devastated
thousands of Asian lives on December 26, 2004, what did it leave behind?
Horror. Bewilderment. Incomprehension. And anger against the forces of nature. The
stories and the images in the media only reinforced these emotions globally.
?My Friend, the Sea,? a 2005
children?s book from the Chennai-based Tulika Publishers, redresses the balance
in a sensitive, incandescent way. It won Sandhya Rao the Berliner Kinder und
Jugendbuchpreis in Germany
recently. First published in English and Tamil, it is now available in Kannada,
Hindi and will soon see the light of print in German.
What sets this fictional book
apart? Its power to heal. To see the tragedy through the eyes of a boy in a
Tamil Nadu fishing community. To understand his pain, his hopes and his dreams.
To enter his world with eyes that see, ears that listen, and a heart willing to
respond. That is the magic of this slim book.
Its text, couched in the boy?s
voice, stems from the author?s conversations with psychologists and families
affected by the tsunami, from facts in the media and first-person accounts. The
narrative is enhanced by positive photographs by Karuna Sesh and Pervez Bhagat.
And delicate crayon lines that heighten the call of the sun, the sand, the
shells, the sea.
What images are these? Of boys
playing in the waves. Of the kattumaram, logs of wood tied together,
traditionally used by fishermen for over 3000 years. Of a net being cast amidst
a sun-glazed sea. Of a row of boys lying on a sand embankment, looking
seawards. Of a sari-clad woman with her back to the photographer. Is she
cooking? Or mourning? Of a little girl looking out. What are her thoughts, her
memories, her stories?
Through the narrative, we learn
much. That the boy still hopes his father will return, after media reports of
rescues off the Indonesian and Thai coasts. He attends a village school, but once
played in the sea all his spare time. Now, he seeks his friends in
rehabilitation shelters. ?I want to ride the waves with my friends,? he
How does he recall the tsunami?
Most potently through his grandfather?s eyes, those of one who has trusted the
Ocean Mother since time began: ?Grandfather says he was standing up one moment,
and the next moment he was being tossed high on the waters. He struck out with
his hands and legs and found a log. He held on to it. When he was finally
washed ashore, he was completely exhausted? We don?t know what happened to my
father. He has not returned.?
This book has an amazing depth, a
simple flow like that of the waves. Partly because it stems from an earlier Tulika
book by Sandhya Rao, with lyrical photographs by Raghavendra Rao, titled
?Suresh and the Sea.? That was the story of a fisherboy in Tamil Nadu.
Essentially, ?My Friend, the Sea?
is about a child and nature. About our time and all times past. Communing with
the book makes the spirit soar, the heart surge with hope. Isn?t that the very best
reason to reach for it?