December 26, 2004. That was the day tsunami stopped being just an obscure Japanese word for me. I was in Bengaluru watching the first images of the devastation on TV and reading reports from tsunami-hit Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu. It was then that I knew I had to do something. I had to reach out to those who were hurt. But how? I had no money, no plans, no NGO. Just my heart that ached to do something. Though I didn’t know it then, I would soon find out that the ache itself is often enough to drive one on.
The first thing I did was to drop everything and travel to Tamil Nadu. The bus was full of people from various walks of life — volunteers with NGOs, political party workers, journalists and photographers. When we reached our destination, I saw that everyone was there for a reason — to conduct surveys, interview survivors, assess the damage, and do a hundred other things. Everyone except me. I didn’t know what to do. Overwhelmed and unsure as I was, I nearly boarded a bus back home. But then decided not to.
That one decision changed so much for me. Over the next few days, I would share a room with Revathy Radhakrishnan, a well-known Indian photographer. Though she had come to record the aftermath of the tsunami, she was so moved that she put down her camera to support those who were suffering. Together we helped bury the dead, clean up the town, and comfort the survivors, especially the traumatized children.
Once back home in Bengaluru, I organized an exhibition to raise funds for those children. This later grew to pave the way for founding Vanavil – a movement to educate underprivileged children and empower communities.