The Ocean of Stories

People are so afraid – today Selvadurai came running with a rumour that the water had risen again, and caused terrible destruction on the Marina. Mary became frightened, of course, because her son lives near the Lighthouse. Then, within a few minutes, Chinnaraj came from outside to say that it was all a rumour, but that the police had come to check the beach. These rumours rise and spread like fire.

There's another one that seems more plausible to me: some people living in the Srinivasapuram slum have relatives in Kalpakkam, where the nuclear plant is. The plant is right on the ocean – part of its cooling system involves seawater, and water did apparently rush into an intake pipe and flood something, and the town was evacuated, and many people there were drowned. But since then, officials have been making reassuring noises and saying that nothing has been damaged. But Mary said that people from Kalpakkam have told their relatives here that a pipe has broken, and gas has leaked, and if you smell that gas you die.

And Lakshmi saw on the TV news a big ship that had broken in half, and one half went this way and one half went that way, and a helicopter was shown, lifting up two people from the deck. And this has been woven into the larger story, of the malevolent sea, which cannot be trusted at all at the moment.

Mary, being a devout Christian, is inclined to think that it’s the Last Days. I said, “Then you shouldn’t be afraid, you should be happy.” But she grinned and looked abashed, and muttered something about her grandchildren.

Who can blame them for their fear?

I was feeling sorry about all this, and also thinking about how much of my life is a story related to me by someone else. Perhaps this is true for most of us – we may get our stories from friends, blogs, newspapers, TV – and maybe it’s lucky for us.

I thought of the minor Greek philosopher whose work survives only in palimpsest, and imagined him having a kind of half-life in those half-erased letters, trapped behind another layer of words that are brighter, more legible, and felt that I might be the same. And remembered one of the figures which caught my imagination in childhood, the Lady of Shalotte, weaving away the time, looking at images reflected in the imperfections of a pre-industrial mirror.

But I must come back to these fancies another time: we’re having dinner guests, with, doubtless, their own stories to tell.

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