“You live so close to Danushkodi now. You must make a trip and see the remains of the post office where granny’s dad worked…” my dad told me a few weeks after we moved into quaint Ramanathapuram. I was enthused to know that my great grand dad’s town was so close and yet I knew that there would be nothing left for me to see there in remembrance of him or of the post office where he worked. Danushkodi was entirely devoured by a furious cyclone that struck in 1964, claiming almost 1800 lives and totally ruining the town’s well developed infrastructure. Yet I believed that a visit to see the ruined structures would be worthwhile and so we chose a weekend to see Danushkodi which is mostly referred to as ‘Ghost Town’. Due to the dangerous topography of this once while prominent town, the Government declared it as unfit for habitation and so Danushkodi was never rebuilt after the cyclone. Even access to this forgotten land is tough due to sand dunes that stretch across the entire route and lack of proper road or rail transport. With all these setbacks, did Danushkodi fade from memory? Apparently not! Due to the religious significance of ‘Arichalmunai’ in Danushkodi where the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal meet, thousands of pilgrims stop by all through the year for a dip in the sea. Consequently several private operators ply special jeeps with guides to move people.
I browsed to find out more about Danushkodi before the trip and the pictures of the ruins along with the accounts of those who had been there before lured me. In many ways Danushkodi was much better than what I expected and in many ways it was a disappointment. The sand dunes, bumpy ride in a four wheel drive jeep, the buried rail and road links, the ruins and the windy shore offering refuge to so many different migratory birds captivated me. Yet the litter and garbage strewn across this vast expanse which was once a flourishing town with people striving hard to make a living was certainly disappointing. ‘Arichalmunai’ derived from two Tamil words meaning ‘erode’ and ‘tip’ lives up to its name and one can feel sand tickling the feet while standing on this cape to gaze at the perfect blend of two oceans, one calm and peaceful and the other boisterous and rough. Complementing this irony is the enormous number of liquor bottles along with trash left over by pilgrims performing sacred rites. From this point Sri Lanka is just 18 km away and this was the biggest natural asset that accelerated the growth of Danushkodi during its glory days.
I walked through each ruined building and took time to pause and ponder about the history of the site, the people who had built and lived in it and its sad status now. An immense sense of loss seemed to engulf me with each dilapidated structure I happened to gaze upon. The post office was very special. As I climbed up the stairs that remained in memory of this huge building, I could not but think of my great grand pa and his work here. I never had a chance to meet him and yet seeing this ruined structure brought out visions in my mind about his daily chores. I was immensely curious to know where his house was but I had no clue. I returned, content that it was somewhere beyond, buried in the sand.
There are residents in Danushkodi now and most of them are fisher folk and small tradesmen who attract tourists and pilgrims with souvenirs. Danushkodi will never be rebuilt. The ordinary buildings which once housed simple citizens and local establishments are now a relic. Even if these leftovers of nature’s fury bury in time, memories of loved ones who lived and worked in this scenic city will never die down in posterity.