- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

MADRAS, India — Workers at a hospital mortuary in the Indian pilgrim town of Velankanni received a chilling shock when a boy they had thought dead abruptly opened his eyes and sat up.

Eight-year-old Anthony Praveen was being prepared for mass burial along with 35 other victims of last week’s tsunami in the country’s hardest-hit district of Nagappattinam. More than 5,500 have lost their lives in the district, about 150 miles south of Madras, the capital of Tamil Nadu state.

With the mortuary of the district hospital already packed with lifeless bodies, volunteers and hospital workers were forced to remove bodies recovered from the wave-ravaged shore for burial in huge pits without time for the usual rituals.

According to the Daily Tanthi, a popular Tamil-language newspaper, a team of volunteers was preparing to truck away a pile of corpses when the boy suddenly came to life. His body bore bruises from the waves, and he was in a stupor, with no apparent understanding of what had happened to him.

Startled gravediggers lifted him out of the pile of corpses and took him to the emergency ward of the hospital. When he returned to his senses, the boy gave his name to the doctors as Anthony Praveen, but went speechless minutes later.

The doctors sent Anthony for urgent psychiatric treatment at the Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital in Madras, where he remained speechless over the weekend.

“He is totally mute, apparently being a victim of a severe trauma. Time is needed to treat him,” said Hemlatha, the dean of the hospital, who uses only one name.

Another doctor conjectured that Anthony had lost his senses upon being overcome by fear, probably at the memory of the giant waves lifting him off the ground and carrying him away.

“Flashing memories of lying amidst a bundle of corpses might have given him the gravest fright and depression, which had turned him mute,” the doctor said.

“It seems to be a classic case of [post-traumatic stress disorder]. It will take time, but he will slowly respond to antidepressants and other therapies,” added the doctor, who did not want to be identified.

Anthony, who has been joined at the hospital by his 70-year-old grandmother, does not yet know that the Dec. 26 tsunami killed his parents and his sister.

His father, a daily-wage laborer from Madras, had taken his wife and two children on a pilgrimage to the Church of Our Lady of Health in Velankanni, a shrine famed for its healing powers, the grandmother explained.

Having made a traditional offering of their hair at the church, the family went to the sea to bathe. Minutes later, the tsunami struck, sweeping away all four.

“They went to offer their hair to [Mother] Velankanni,” said the grandmother. “In return, they lost their lives to the sea.

“I don’t know why [Mother] gave this rude blow to us. How can I take care of this boy and his education now?”

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