I recall covering the 1977 cyclone tin Andhra with my friend, Willian Coutto, the Photographer. We reached there post-cyclone, to cover the aftermath, taking an Avro to Hyderabad, then another Avro to Vijaywada, a lunch of Nellore rice and a dahi packed with little red chilies, then a taxi to the Krishna delta, where the cyclone had struck and done its maximum damage.
Actually, it was not a cyclone, it was a tidal wave. Just one big tidal wave, several Himalayas high, sweeping into land and over runing the countryside, towns, villages, rice fields, forests.
Large trees lay alongside the road, laid to rest dead warriors, and trails of anapped electricity and telegraph wires. Such a sight strikes terror in the heart of a reporter - how will be send his cable tonight?
We spent three days in the affected area. Sometimes driving a jeep precariously along the embankments of the irrigation canals, mostly walking and wading through salt water. I could have managed salt water. I could have managed without all the wading, sitting in the town and writing my reports (I could have done is sitting in Bombay also), but the photographer cannot take pictures sitting in town, so I accompanied him.
And I am not sorry I accompanied him, because the scenes have remained, implanted in the mind, long after the reports I have writing have been sold to the waste-paper-walla and recycled and resold recycled.
Most of the villages were empty, except for stray, starving dogs, mucking in the debris. They would howl as we would approach the village, then slink away. One dog had blood on his face, he seemed to be eating what looked like a baby. William Coutto took a picture of it. (The news-editor finally decided not to use it, but the photographer sent it to some international news photo contest and won a prize.)
In another village, there was only a single person. An old woman sitting among the ruins of her house and her family.
By the third day, the villagers had started returning. On the horizon, there were lines of people walking along the embankments, little bundles balanced on their heads, like a scence from a Satyajit Ray film of famine and drought.
There was talk of Mother Teresa coming. She did not come, at least not while we were there, ready with camera and notebook, but Billy Graham, the American evangelist, came. Perhaps not an adequate substitute, but he came with piles of money to rehabilitate the people.
The tidal wave had turned the village he visited into an island. We waded to it, he flew in in a large helicopter, accompanied by the chief minister of Andhra and other officials.
I know I am being uncharitable when I say this, but the villagers seemed to have been tutored. As he came out of the helicopter, they all rushed to him, fell at his feet, grabbed his legs, his white gaberdine coat-tails, and begged and wept like orphans. That is another scene I will never forget.