| Anthony David |
Colombo (dpa) – Abilash Jeyaraj, a 10-year-old boy living in an eastern village in Sri Lanka, says his only ambition is to become an engineer when he grows up.
He was lucky enough to survive the deadly tsunami waves that hit Kalmunai, a coastal village 306 kilometres east of the capital, when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit on December 26, 2004. He was 67 days old at the time.
“I have been told by my parents that my name was famous during the tsunami, not only in Sri Lanka, during that period,” says Abilash, sitting in his three-roomed, partially built house.
Abilash attracted worldwide attention not because of his miraculous escape, but because his parents were involved in a 52-day legal battle to regain custody of their son.
Nine couples came forward claiming the child was theirs after he was washed away and found in a banana plantation, so a DNA test was used.
Abilash became known as Baby 81 after he happened to be the 81st victim admitted to the hospital in his hometown Kalmunai.
“I have been told about my miraculous escape from the tsunami,” says Abilash, sitting with his parents at home in Kurukkulmadam, 265 kilometres east of the capital.
“I have been shown the pictures and the articles about me.”
“I have always been interested in finding out more about landslides, floods and natural disasters. Whenever they show pictures of floods and landslides, I take an interest,” Abilash says.
The boy is keen on his studies and was successful at the first public examination he sat in August.
“I want to study hard and become an engineer,” says Abilash, who goes to the nearby state-run school.
“My friends know that I was one of them who escaped from the tsunami. They talk to me about floods and their weekend visits to the beach. But I do not like the sea,” Abilash says.
He likes cricket and playing with his three-year-old sister Abisha in their small compound.
Their father, Murugapillai Jayararja, 40, a barber, decided to move from Kalmunai to Kurukkalmadam, and they now live about a kilometre from the coast.
Abilash’s friends are from the surrounding houses in the village that are mostly occupied by public sector employees.
“He is a very quiet boy in school and very keen in his studies. He is very friendly,” says Mithil Kumar, a classmate.
When Abilash’s story hit the headlines of local and international media, domestic and foreign organisations offered gifts, donations, foreign trips and scholarships for the child’s education.
“Our child happened to be the most popular child in Sri Lanka,” says his father. “The child was known not just within the country, but in many foreign countries.”
“Less than six months later, we realised that most of the promises were false or made on the spur of the moment,” Murugapillai adds.