Ten years. One decade. But it’s still fresh in our memories. How can we forget the 26th of December, 2004 – a day of life and death. The day my family was reborn.
We had a fantastic Christmas celebration at a beach resort on the East Coast Road in Chennai. We partied till late at night with a band playing great music. It was the first such experience for my kids, who were five and two. My daughter got a gift from Santa and loved it.
We got up early the next day, went for a walk, hit the pool and were enjoying every moment. I had a tough time pulling the kids out of the water when it was time for breakfast, but they finally obeyed their father.
As we entered the restaurant at 8:40am, I noticed everyone — with delicious food on their plates — shouting out in horror. I couldn’t comprehend the situation at first. I picked up my plate from the counter and turned towards the sea.
Oh God, how can I even begin to explain it. This was not the sea I had appreciated barely half an hour ago. A huge wall of water was approaching us ominously. I dropped my plate and asked my wife to remove her high heels and run to safety. I then hoisted my kids over the shoulders, shouted “run” to alert the other people and then scampered out.
By the time I reached the parking lot, I was neck deep in water while the kids were shivering and crying. All I could hear was shrieking and wailing all around me. After a search lasting about 45 minutes, I found my wife and we hugged each other in immense relief.
I called up my employers asking for assistance and they obliged, ensuring my family and I were dropped back home safely. I contacted my parents, asking them to come over so I could see them again.
While driving back home, I witnessed heartrending scenes of children weeping on the roads, failing to find their parents who had ventured into the sea. When I finally switched on the TV after reaching home, the first word I heard was, “Tsunami.”
A chill ran down my spine on learning that about one lakh people had been killed, realising how close we had come to certain death. It took us about five to six years to venture out to the sea again as my kids were traumatised.
My surname is Balaji and my uncle renamed me “Tsunami Balaji” after this episode. Not only was the catastrophe like a rebirth for us, it also taught us to stay humble and enjoy every moment of life.
(As told to KV Lakshmana)