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Rafiq, Mohammad Hameem and friends
Groom and his wedding party
Pudukuppam, Tamil Nadu

Travelling along Tamil Nadu's tragically shattered coast days after the tsunami, we heard regular stories of how local Muslims helped the victims.

In Pudukuppam one afternoon, we found a dozen exhausted Muslims, all wearing their white caps, resting in a boat. They had just finished distributing cooked food to the villagers. For the eighth day in a row.

How this happened was one of those gorgeous stories that great tragedies invariably throw up. In nearby Parangipettai, Rafiq was going to be married at noon that Sunday, December 26. The food was ready and the festivities were about to begin.

But then, terrified villagers from coastal Pudupettai, Pudukuppam and elsewhere poured into Parangipettai, running from the tsunami.

The men from Rafiq's wedding party quickly brought out their food and distributed it to the dazed victims, then started cooking more. And more.

Eight days cooking, by the time we met them in Pudukuppam. Eight days that they had been quietly and efficiently cooking for the villages of Chinnur, Pudupettai, Samiyarpettai, Velankarayanpettai, Kumarapettai, Panjakuppam, Shanmuganagar, Dalbastaikar and Pudukuppam. Lemon rice on the menu today, that fed 300 people in Pudukuppam.

It is lucky, says Mohammed Hameem (in check shirt, Rafiq is not in the picture) who told me this story as he sat in the boat, that there was that wedding scheduled that day.

Yes, but did Rafiq ever get married? The men looked at each other in surprise. Cooking so steadily, none of them knew.

Text and photograph: Dilip D'Souza

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