I awoke this morning at around 4am and lingered in bed for a bit before doing some energization exercises and getting ready for the day. Didn’t sleep well, as I had a Mefloquine induced dream where I saw rope getting caught up in the ceiling fan, causing me to jump out of bed and turn it off, only to later wake up and realize that I hallucinated it all and was now too warm without the fan. At any rate, the plan was to reach the Pondicherry hospital of Aravind and accompany the team to Chidambaram where an eye camp was to be held, after which we would visit the famous temple for which the town is named.
By the time I was out the door, it was 5:30am. The sun was close to rising, and I was looking around for an auto-rickshaw that could take me to Thivalukuppam where the hospital is located. Every rickshaw driver within a 4 block radius was sound asleep inside their rickshaw, and I didn’t have the heart to wake anybody up. So I made my way back to the Park Guest House where I was staying. At around 5:50am, I text-messaged Karthik to let him know that I wasn’t going to make it. While walking along beach, I remember seeing some waves make big splashes as they crashed, but didn’t think much of it.
Though I was disappointed that I couldn’t witness the eye camp and visit the temple, it presented me with an opportunity to meditate through the sunrise over the ocean. I went up to my room, sat by the window where I could see the ocean, and began to meditate. The combination of psycho-active malaria drugs, frequent caffeination, and residual anti-histamine in my system kept me from being able to meditate deeply for at least 3 weeks, so it was a relief to find myself more still and silent than I had been for a while. Nearly two and a half hours passed before I stirred and went to use the restroom, missing a call from the U.S. which I returned immediately upon my exit. Great talking to family, all crowded around the speaker-phone, but we were all still oblivious to the big disaster.
After a brief talk, I had a decent breakfast at a French/Indian/Chinese restaurant called Satsanga, and then headed to an internet cafe. Later I recharged my cell service, strolled down Gandhi Salai, did some shopping, ate lunch Ananda Bhavan Bombay Restaurant, and then did more net surfing and film planning.
I got a text message from Param asking if I was OK. Of course I was. Many hours later, while still at the cafe, I come across and IHT article about a massive earthquake. As I’m reading it, Sarah calls. Several minutes into the conversation, she asks if I’m ok, and in the ensuing exchange, I finally learn of the earthquake/tidal wave just as I was also reading about it on my screen.
The Indian government reports that at least 102 people were killed in Pondicherry where I’m at. I return to the guest house which is right on the beach to see if its still there. This time there are police barricades and a huge crowd gathered. They let me through because I have a guest house pass, and as I survey Goubert Salai which borders the beach, I note that the waves have not crashed onto the road. The ocean did look like a lot of mud got kicked up since it was now reddish-brown rather than blue-green, and the waves were choppier and more erratic than usual. I figure the worst has past, and I go into my room and start reading.
About an hour later, Karthik calls and asks me to come down from my room. The team is back from Chidambaram and came to Pondy to check on me/the city. They bombard me with questions and are stunned that everything, myself included, seems intact. They take off, I go out to dinner, and then come here to let you all know that the rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.
If you know the geography of India and where the epicenter was, Pondicherry should have been hit very hard by the tsunami. The fact that my immediate locality was untouched during my serene meditation through the worst of the tsunami feels like miraculous protection– the kind I’ve felt before. Still, I’m reminded that the moment of our death is always uncertain, and so it important to be at peace moment-to-moment. Despite all my attempts at cultivating even-mindedness and being fully present in the moment, I still fall greatly short but my hope is that if I am to die suddenly and unexpectedly, it happens while I’m meditating rather than doing something more low-brow like singing Eazy-E lyrics.
In a related story, asteroid MN4 has a 1 in 42 chance of striking the Earth in April of 2029 with the equivalent energy of a 190 mega-ton nuclear explosion. It won’t end life on the planet, but it might end your life on that day.