Tsunami Experience at the Ashram
Nancy MosheI was sitting in the Western Canteen at Amritapuri talking with a friend when someone came through telling us that Amma wanted all Westerners not doing seva to go to the Temple to listen to a satsang. It was probably a little after 10:30 a.m. We didn’t think twice, but got up, washed our dishes and headed towards the Temple, laughing at the thought of listening once again to Amma’s talk from the 2003 Summer Tour. My friend was anxious to sign up for the South India Tour. I followed her up to the balcony and took a chair facing Amma who was onstage giving darshan to Her Indian devotees. I remember watching a line form outside the Western Shop as people waited for its 11 a.m. opening. Later I went in myself to buy a homespun cotton top.
Time passed and suddenly Swami Amritatmananda came in from the back and talked with Amma. An announcement was made in Malayalam and translated into English. But the accent was very strong and I couldn’t understand what he said. Darshan continued. I watched, secure in the feeling of being with our beloved Amma.
It was only after Anavadya came to sit with me that I began to realize something was going on. The announcement had instructed us to call our families and tell them we were safe. “ There had been an earthquake in Chennai and the pond by Amma’s house was rising.” “The streets of the surrounding village were flooded.” Still, darshan continued.
Then Amma stood up and reached for the microphone. It went dead. Later I would learn that as the water surged into the Ashram from the ocean, someone ran out and turned off the Ashram power. Her words moved through the hall. “Amma wants everyone to go to the roof.” I ended up on the upper balcony watching the water recede from below the balcony of E Building. There was non-stop talk. “An earthquake in Thailand—in Indonesia—in the middle of the ocean.” “Lots of damage in Chennai from a huge wave. Many people dead.” “Look! There’s Amma.”
And there She was, walking through the water Her arms bare, an orange mantra shawl tied around her—the Warrior. We could move down. We were to go to the boats and across the back waters to the mainland. “No, go to your rooms.” It wasn’t the 18 inches of water that made walking difficult, but the surprise debris that lurked in the dark water ready to throw us off balance. I was on the 7th floor elevator balcony of D Building when Amma appeared again. She motioned us down. We were to go the boats.
Muddy and hot, I arrived at the engineering college. “Westerners on the second floor.” I climbed the stairs and turned left. Soon I came upon an empty chair. “Thank you, Amma.” Someone I knew from the Tour pulled her chair up and we chatted. Then Devika and Smita walked out of the room next door. “Thank you, Amma.” Two hours later lunch was being served. By bedtime everyone had a straw mat.
At sunset, someone asked me to take a walk. People were saying we wouldn’t go back to the Ashram for 48 hours. I needed a toothbrush. Our rambling brought us to a house where we saw a television with the news playing. We went to inquire about what was happening and discovered there was a building next door where we could rent a room with a bed, fan and bathroom for 150 rupees (about $3.50). “Thank you, Amma.” We would later learn it was Her brother’s house.
Before going to bed I organized my few belongings—cup and spoon, flashlight, grapefruit seed extract, bug spray, liquid soap, a comb and case for my contact lenses, two handkerchiefs, food and water. I had the khadi top to wear the next day and a shawl to use as a towel.
Drifting off to sleep I remembered Amma’s words from so many of last summer’s satsangs. We need to be like a bird on a dry twig, ready to take off at any moment. This time, with Her Grace, we had all landed safely.