Batticaloa, Disaster Management

Baby 81: 6 years after the tsunami

“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in” ~Henry Graham Greene (October 2,1904- April 3,1991). Novelist, Playwright and short story writer

Abhilash Jeyaraj who is usually very shy to meet visitors waits with his mother Junita Jeyaraj at their gate. He wears a pair of jeans and long sleeve tshirt with stripe and neatly combed hair. His big smile invites me immediately, while he holds my hands and directs me through the main entrance of the house. He calls his cousin Thulanika Uthayaramesh and they begin to play cricket in the courtyard at dusk. His mother joins them. Abhilash is excited and begins to bat as quickly as possible.

“My favourite subject is English. I like to play cricket with my cousin” says smiling Abhilash. As the sun sets its rays, he quite often hits the soft ball over the wall for six runs. He enjoys playing cricket.

“I am very sad and worried when people call my son as “Tsunami Baby” at his school and village. On the other hand, I am helpless as I am unable to do anything to change the attitude of the people. We have given him a nice name-Abhilash, which means aspiration or desire or wish ” says Junita Jeyaraj while her voice breaks down and tears fill her both eyes and rolls down her cheeks.

“Abhilash wakes up at nights and asks us “Why do people call me “Tsunami Baby”?. We do not have any answer for his question except to say that, they do not mean to call you by that name” mentions in his gentle voice Murugupillai Jeyaraj while joining the conversation. His parents shared their agony when Abhilash plays cricket with his cousin in the courtyard. They do not want him to listen what they discuss. They are concerned when he grows up, if the people still keep calling or identifying him as “Tsunami Baby”, it will affect their son Abhilash. Both Junita and Jeyaraj discussed about it and decided to describe it to their son later when Abhilash is able to understand what happened to him in Tsunami. His parents are carefully preserving the newspaper clippings, cds of photos and videos to show him and tell the true story in a few years. His parents do not like their son to be called “Tsunami Baby” or “Baby 81” anymore. They want him to be called Abhilash.

Baby Abhilash Jeyaraj was admitted at the Kalmunai Base Hospital after Tsunami stuck the Eastern coastal belt in December 2004. He was given a number Baby81; from then onwards he was called Baby 81.

He was reunited with his parents on Valentines’ Day (14.02.2005) after almost two months. Junita and Jeyaraj were happy to get their child back nearly after two months (52 days) of continuous battle. He was separated from his parents and their house in Kalmunai was washed away. Parents continued to fight to get their child back. DNA test was carried out in Colombo and it was proven Baby Abhilash belongs to Junita and Jeyaraj.

Baby Abilash hit the headlines locally and internationally after Tsunami. He was two months when he was washed away with waves. Luckily baby Abhilash survived, but the bitter battle continued till he was handed over through Kalmunai Magistrate Courts to his parents. Little Abhilash Jeyaraj was the centre of attraction in late 2004 and early 2005. He and his parents flew to United States of America to participate in a popular television show in 2005.

“Our son Abhilash brought fame to us. But our neighbours and relatives think the fame brought money as well, which is not true and causes a lot of painful. If we have got enough money, we will be leading a luxury life without any problem. I am unable to effort to send my son to a famous school in Batticaloa town or admit him at an institute where he can study in English medium. The media followed and flocked us wherever we went earlier, now nobody cares. Many promises and pledges were made by various people to help us in the future. But nothing materialized so far, except my own younger sister gave her empty land to me, and a Non-Governmental Organisation built a three roomed house on that land. But that particular organisation could not finish the house, therefore it is incomplete, and I do not have money to do plastering for the house and buy the necessary household items. No other organization or individuals want to help me to complete the house, because it was built by another organisation. My priority is to educate my son, and I want to see him as a doctor. I work hard at my roadside barber saloon and earn Rs.15,000/= monthly. I managed to pay-off the debt, I got from many people while going through the hard time in 2004 and 2005” explains Murugupillai Jeyaraj while keeping his son Abhilash on his lap.

Murugupillai Jeyaraj (35) and his wife Junita Jeyaraj (30) lived in Kalmunai after they married, and till the Tsunami shook the coastal line. Later, they have abandoned their destroyed house in Kalmunai as they do not want to be reminded of bad memories of Tsunami. They currently live in half completed house in Kurukkalmadam, and looking forward to a better future for their son Abhilash. It is their biggest dream!

From Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai in Kurukkalmadam