By Lacy Wood
Level one cyclones are not generally considered destructive. In the case of the one that touched the Pondicherry and Auroville area, a lack of structural preparation made cyclone Thane extraordinarily damaging. There was ample warning of its arrival, and as we returned from a long day’s hike and swim in the countryside, no one seemed concerned of a system that in the West we call a hurricane. Auroville felt indestructible somehow.
After a long night of wind gusts of up to 150 km/hour, we survived that first day on the graces of Kalsang and her family, who run the Tibetan Pavilion where many of us live. That afternoon, the rain slowed long enough to venture to the nearest village for water and food. Along the way, we examined the extent of the damage. Every twenty feet a tree was down across the road. With electrical wires interspersed, the roads were virtually impassable.
She made us lunch, led us to the nearest vegetable sellers, and opened her home to us. Despite being wet and tired, it was because of her, that our rain day was actually quite enjoyable. The following morning, our clean up began with the tree in front of the pavilion, planted on its commencement. Even though Kalsang was there for its construction, dedication, the hosting of his holiness the Dali Lama, I was the one crying as the tree was cut into pieces. Stoic and wise, she understood that this storm is an opportunity for rebirth.
I only saw her get emotional when she announced later in the day, that she would not be hosting her New Year’s Eve celebration. Instead of spending the entire day moving trees and clearing roads, her family and friends would get up early to put out over five thousand oil candles, cook food, and prepare the pavilion for the guttural chanting. Busloads of people show up every year to witness the memorial of those that have died in support of the Tibetan people.
Watching the stars this New Years eve, Kalsang described to me how the scent of the oil, the sights of people packed into every corner lit up by the glow of endless candles, and how the throbbing of the chants surrounds you. That night, the absence of light in the pavilion became a symbol of the devastation of thousands of homes, the loss of many lives, and the upending of the glory days of development in Auroville. As we watched the moon poke in and out of the clouds, waiting for the midnight to strike, Kalsang, was stoic as ever, making her resolution to be positive in every situation. Even though I struggled to be optimistic about the coming year, I decided to leave our fate in the hands of Shiva. It is obvious that the god of destruction and rebirth has visited us this New Year, forcing us to accept what the future holds.