Fourteen years ago, the Indian subcontinent was ravaged by a gigantic tsunami that claimed thousands of lives and left behind a massive scale of destruction.
In times like these, it is often the quick actions and disaster management skills of civil servants that help keep up the morale of people who have lost everything—loved ones to entire homes.
One such bureaucrat, whose relentless efforts and commitment would never be forgotten by the affected, is Dr J Radhakrishnan.
So much so that he earned the moniker of “People’s Collector”.
An IAS officer from the 1992 cadre, he held the post of Thanjavur district collector, when the unfortunate calamity struck.
Because the officer had already earned a name for his efficient leadership in heading relief efforts after a fire at a school in Kumbakonam killed 94 students, he was immediately deployed to Nagapattinam on the morning of December 26.
This was one of the coastal towns that witnessed maximum casualties.
Remembering the impact of the tsunami, Radhakrishnan had said to the Business Standard in 2014, “We did not even get time to think; we just stepped into action. Once in Akkaraipettai, assuring those affected was important. We had been with them, worked with them and had to be a part of them. That was the confidence we built in people’s minds.”
According to the local communities, it was Radhakrishnan who went the extra mile to make sure help reached them, while most government vehicles steered right away from their village.
Because of this, the officer is held in high esteem even years after the catastrophe.
“Radhakrishnan ensured we got proper aid. God sent him as an angel to this place,” said Parameshwar, who lost ten relatives to the tsunami.
But one person who’d never forget the benevolence of this extraordinary human being is Meenu.
Among the countless people whom Radhakrishnan and his team had rescued in Nagapattinam, Meenu today, is 16-years-old.
And their bonding is unlike any other.
One could say it was destiny that brought them together when she was found alone under a run-down bridge near Keechankuppam during rescue operations. She was two-years-old.
Over a hundred children were orphaned during the calamity, whose care and responsibility was to be shouldered by the state government.
Interestingly, Meenu was under the care of Radhakrishnan and his wife initially, before she could be rehabilitated along with other affected kids. It was during this time that she became the apple of their eye.
Later, she was moved to Annai Sathya Illam, a shelter home for orphaned children under the Tsunami Rehabilitation Project. It was established by Radhakrishnan, under the directions of former CM late J Jayalalithaa.
What is endearing about the bond Radhakrishnan shared with Meenu is that despite moving to an orphanage, they kept in touch. The couple always made it a point to visit the little one and spend time with her, as and when they could.
As time passed by, this proved to be difficult for Radhakrishnan because of his professional commitments.
However, Meenu got the surprise visit of a lifetime when Dr Radhakrishnan decided to visit her after more than three years.
Currently holding the post of state Health Secretary, he was visiting Sithathur, when he realised how long it had been since he last met Meenu. He called her school to inform them about his visit.
It was a reminiscing moment for the duo, who had many things to share, including Meenu’s future plans. A rather touching instance had been when Meenu called Radhakrishnan, Appa (father), and the health secretary couldn’t quite hold his emotions together.
Presently, studying in class 11, Meenu was the last of the original 99 children who were rehabilitated after the tsunami at the hostel. While many kids found new homes after their extended family members came for them, no one came for Meenu, who was the youngest of the lot. She plans to pursue commerce after her high school education.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)