In her book published in 2013, Sri Lanka born academic and writer Deraniyagala describes her experiences as a flood victim in the Tsunami of 2004 in the Indian Ocean, refered to in English speaking countries as “Boxing Day Tsunami”. Much of the book is devoted to her struggles dealing with the loss of several family members, particularly her two sons and her husband. In one of the final chapters, the narator comes back to the coast of Sri Lanka. While being on a whale watching tour on a small boat out at sea, she eventually finds peace and comfort. The year is 2011: seven years after the events and just some days after the second major tsunami event in the 21. Century, the Tsunami off the Tohoku coast in Japan on March 11. This is an excerpt from the book:
“The men working on the boat tell us they haven’t sighted whales in this sea for some days now. Not since the tsunami in Japan, they say, and they wonder if these creatures were disturbed by it. It is five days now since the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. And I’ve not been able to keep away from those television images. As much as they horrify me, I want to see the meanness of that black water as it crumples whole cities in its path. So this is what got us, I thought, when I saw waves leaping over seawalls in Japan. This is what I was churning in. I never saw the scale of it then. This same ocean. Staring at me now all blue and innocent. How it turned.”
“Where were these whales when the sea came for us? I wonder. Were they in this same ocean? Did they feel a strangeness then? Another whale who was in the distance has come closer now. I hear a loud, low bellow as it exhales. Now the whale inhales. Resounding in this vastness I hear a doleful sigh.”
“These blue whales are unreal and baffling, yet surrounded by them I settle awhile. Somehow on this boat I can rest with my disbelief about what happened, and with the impossible truth of my loss, which I have to compress often and misshape, just so I can bear it—so I can cook or teach or floss my teeth. Maybe the majesty of these creatures loosens my heart so I can hold it whole.”
In this passage, the whales take on the role of ambassadors or links between the two distant coasts and the two distant events, the tsunamis of 2004 and 2011, but also between the ocean and the Woman on the boat. Without any false placation, she is even more aware of the dangers of the sea, she is reconciled with the sea and her own impaired identity.
The whole book is available for free online.