How tsunami scare had Sri Sri running for his life

Agence France Presse

Akkrapattai, January 8:

A top Indian guru lost his trademark perpetual smile yesterday when rumours of a new tsunami strike sent him fleeing at this worst-hit region where 6,000 died in the waves.

The false alarm was sounded around noon triggering a huge traffic jam from the already devastated coastal villages in Tamil Nadu, India’s worst-affected state when tsunamis battered southern India on December 26.

The founder of the Art of Living movement, who styles himself as His Holiness Sri Sri Ravishankar, had been scheduled to conduct a healing session for traumatised fisherfolk at Akkrapattai village. But his motorcade of luxury cars swung round swiftly when news reached the guru and onlookers said he looked tense and was in a hurry to leave.

Thanjavur District Collector J Radhakrishnan, tried to stop the panic. He repeatedly reassured people and drivers. “Why are you all running away while I am here myself?” he pleaded. “There’s nothing to fear. It’s just a false alarm.”

It took him about an hour to restore calm and get bulldozers and trucks which had also tried to get away to return to their work clearing rubble. But the white-robed swami with his flowing jet black hair had long ago disapppeared. “We were waiting for over two hours at the stage specially put up for the swami to lecture us,” lamented one fisherwoman. “His disciples told us the guru would be telling us how to maintain calm and recover from this mental trauma. It’s sad he couldn’t make it,” she said at the Muthumariamman temple.

A large velvet sofa had been brought for the godman’s comfort where he could sit to dispense wisdom to people who saw their seashore communities destroyed when the December 26 tsunami struck, killing 7,941 people in Tamil Nadu, with 6,023 dead in the worst-hit district of Nagapattinam alone. Yesterday’s panic was triggered by a fisherman, believed to be inebriated, who thought he noticed a dark patch of sea moving towards the coast. He ran into the hamlet screaming, “The sea is coming.” That sparked an exodus of nervous residents, relief workers, soldiers and policemen, all trying to squeeze over a narrow bridge connecting the disaster zone to Nagapattinam town.

The guru, based at a huge ashram in Bangalore in neighbouring Karnataka state, packs in crowds across India with a tension-busting breathing technique and a happy-clappy philosophy. One of the swami’s aides said it had been impossible to enter the area “as people were fleeing”. She said the guru was “scheduled to fly to North America on Saturday and might decide on his return whether he will come back.