Author: Sonali Deraniyagala
Price: Rs 399
The morning after I started reading Sonali Deraniyagala’s memoir of life after the 2004 tsunami, I woke up in a cold sweat after a disturbed night punctuated by nightmares of stormy, churning seas that dredged up unpleasant memories and that swallowed those I love.
It was an inversion of sorts. Every day since December 26, 2004, the author has awakened to a nightmare.
Sonali and her family — husband Steve Lissenburgh, sons Vik (7) and Malli (5) — were holidaying at Yala National Park on the south-east coast of Sri Lanka with her parents, when the ocean rushed out and swallowed everyone in her universe.
“In my dreams always one of them died. Then I’d wake to face my real nightmare,” she writes of the months and years following the tsunami that was triggered by a major quake in Indonesia and that killed hundreds of thousands on the rim of the Indian Ocean.
The bodies of Vik and her parents were recovered within a few days. The bodies of Steve and Malli were found in a mass grave and identified through DNA testing four months later. The author miraculously survived perhaps because she grabbed a branch of a tree while being pulled back into the ocean as the wave receded.
Sonali is precise, clear-eyed and almost ruthless in her narration of the tsunami and the events that followed. Her life came undone in a matter of seconds — from the time she spotted unusual activity by the ocean, the awful recognition that something was seriously wrong, the panicked dash for escape, the terror of the wave catching up with them, then floating in the water and nothingness.
A local who found her said later that she was covered in black mud and was spinning. “Going round and round. Yes, spinning. Like children do when they want to get dizzy and fall.” Sonali has no recollection of that.
This aching narration of grief and of life as ‘Mummy Lissenburgh’ in London, where she lived with her family, and in Sri Lanka, her childhood home, stuns with its searing honesty.
After Sonali is rescued, she waits to be taken to hospital and sees a boy sobbing for his mother. “Stop blubbing, I thought. You only survived because you are fat. That’s why you didn’t die. You stayed alive in that water because you are so fucking fat. Vik and Malli didn’t have a chance. Just shut up.”
She meticulously chronicles the intensity of her grief. There’s icy denial. After her rescue, she’s curled up, insulated from the world, rigidly self-contained in the hope that if nothing changes within her, nothing will change without.
There’s brutal anger at those who survived: “Why are they alive, surely the wave should have got them as well. Why aren’t they dead?”
There’s shame at having failed her sons; despair at having to imagine her family dead, “They are my world. How do I make them dead?” she writes.
There are attempts to kill herself. Hidden in a darkened room in her uncle’s home in Colombo, she cuts herself, burns herself with cigarette butts and attempts to overdose on pills. There’s a descent into a rage-fuelled insanity when she harasses the family that moved into her parents’ home in Colombo that her brother rented after clearing it out.
She attempts to forget her family: “I need to prise them off me”. She stops talking about them only to understand later that keeping them close was the only road to recovery.
There’s horror at the fact that she’s so focused on grieving for her sons and husband, that she hasn’t really mourned her parents. “How hideous that there should be a pecking order in my grief.”
There’s almost a Prufrock-ian refrain when she details her attempts to kill herself in the six months following the tsunami.
“A bit pointless, I thought, I will kill myself soon.”
“I’ll wait until all the bodies are found, I told myself. Then I will kill myself.”
“Soon, very soon, I have to kill myself.”
“I will kill myself soon.”
These refrains almost mark time in a span of 13 pages. It all ties up beautifully later, when Sonali reveals that she recited TS Eliot’s Prufrock often to her boys.
Wave is a work of art. A meditation on love. There is a rhythm to its prose. A terrible beauty in the way the narrative unfolds. The prose in the first half is vivid, staccato and sparse. It is stripped of superfluities. It is as if the author is sitting before you, narrating the events. The writing reflects her state of clenched disbelief that those her life revolved around were dead. “Starved of their loveliness, I feel shrunken...”
As she comes to terms with her loss, and it takes years, the writing changes. You can sense the unclenching. There’s immense sorrow still. But there is also calmness, there is love. Love spills out especially when she recollects episodes from their rich family life back in London. She returns to their London home for the first time 3.8 years after the tsunami only to be greeted by the devastation of “two red school bags, hanging on the door handle as always.”
Read Wave. Not only because it’s an extraordinary tribute by an extraordinary woman to her family.
But also because it’s a testament to the capacity of a human being to enter the gates of hell and survive.
- A 'heavy-duty' life
- Delving into the youth subculture
- Are you a grudging loner?
- The wizard with scissors
- Critics don't matter: Author Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
- Think before you spray
- It's official! Pregnant women do experience discrimination at work
- Relationship Queries
- Are psychics the new detectives?
- I am unavailable on phone because I'm minding my manners: Superna Motwane
- LIVE Delhi Assembly elections result 2013: BJP, Aam Aadmi Party should come together in Delhi, says Kiran Bedi - 5 hours ago
- Live! Assembly election results: Congress wins in Mizoram - 10 hours ago
- LIVE Mizoram Assembly election results: Congress wins, will form government - 9 hours ago
- I hate India being called a developing nation: Amitabh Bachchan - 22 hours ago
- Salman Khan launches new digital poster of 'Jai Ho' - 5 hours ago