Rise of the phoenix

Rise of the phoenix


Rise of the phoenix

Once upon a time, not too long ago, there lived a lovely girl in a city of unparalleled beauty. It faced a sea with mountains in the background. Cherry blossoms in spring, skiing in winter, beautiful shrines and stunning landscape — the residents enjoyed them all. The city was Hiroshima and the girl, Sadako Sasaki.

One morning, even as the residents of the town were going about their chores, there occurred a catastrophe. At first people assumed it to be yet another volcanic eruption, but as an unbearable heat spread across the town, they knew this was not just another volcanic eruption. An atomic bomb had been dropped amidst them. Within minutes the enormous fireball had razed all buildings within two-kilometres range.  The blast hurled people through the air, iron shutters melted and parched throats screamed for water as the temperature rose to more than a million degrees Celsius. All watches stopped at 8.15 am on August 6, 1945.

Hiroshima, a flourishing castle town dating back to the Edo period, was flattened in a matter of minutes when the three-metres-long bomb known as ‘Little Boy’ was dropped on it. It carried about 50 kg of Uranium. The atomic bomb exploded above Shima Hospital, a two-storey brick building constructed in 1933.

Those who lived told stories of unprecedented horror. Sadako Sasaki, just 2 years old, was a mute spectator to the devastation around her. Ten years later, like many who had been exposed to radiation, she was diagnosed with leukemia.

In the hospital, a friend told her about the Japanese belief. Crafting a thousand paper cranes could lead to fulfillment of a wish. Sadako began making origami cranes. She folded any paper that she could lay her hands on. The girl, just 12, wished to live. That was not to be. She died on October 25, 1955.

The story came alive as I stood before the statue of Sadako holding a golden crane, in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. ‘This is our cry. This is our prayer. For building peace in the world.’ These words stared at me from a plaque at the foot of the statue. Brightly coloured paper cranes fluttered in the breeze, all around me. Long chains of paper cranes sent by children from schools all over the world arrive every day symbolising their prayer for peace.

“The monument was constructed with money collected by children from all over the world,” said Tashi San, our guide, who had lost an uncle in the holocaust. Nearby, the Flame of Peace has been burning since August 1, 1964. A symbol of protest against nuclear weapons, it will continue to burn till all nuclear weapons are eliminated from the universe, promises the city.

There was not a single dry eye as I walked, in a daze, around the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum that documented the catastrophe and its aftermath. The Museum, which showcases the history of the city before and after the bombing, is filled with reminders of the horrors that the people of Hiroshima faced due to the bomb.

Ugly reminders

There were photographs of people, buildings and environment affected by the blast and radiation. It was impossible not to be moved by the plight of innocent human beings who had been struck by the first Atom Bomb in the world. There were remnants of belongings of the stricken, pathetic and heart wrenching. A lunch box of a student, with its content charred beyond recognition; the uniform of a student, torn and tattered; glass bottles bent out of shape; idols deformed; iron shutters bent by the impact of the bomb, each narrating the story of devastation of unseen and unheard magnitude.

The placard below each of the exhibit tells a tragic story.
The burnt tricycle with a metal helmet belonged to Shinichi Tetsutaani, a three-year-old boy. He was riding his tricycle in front of his house when the bomb hit the city. Shinichi died that night. The grief-stricken father, fearing the loneliness of his child, buried the tricycle along with the son in the backyard of his house. Forty years later, the remains of the child were given a proper burial and the tricycle along with the helmet found its way to the museum.

Three beautiful ceramic cups fused together tell the story of Ichiji Nakata, a 36-year-old man who was shaving in his bathroom when the bomb struck Hiroshima. Nakata and his two children died instantly. His wife, Fumiko, who survived for a few months, discovered the fused cups amidst the ruins of her house. Also exhibited are a few origami cranes made by Sadako.

Iconic memorial

Less than 500 metres from the Peace Park, across the Motoyasu river, stands the Atomic Bomb Dome, a World Heritage Site. It is the only structure that remained standing in the area. Just a few metres away from Ground Zero, this building that served as the Industrial Promotion Hall serves as a reminder of what happened on that fateful day. Dark, twisted and deformed, it stands staring at the serenely flowing river.

Each year on August 6, denizens of the city float paper lanterns down the city’s rivers, praying for the souls of those who died that day.

As I signed in the peace register appealing for a halt to the violence of bombs, I ruminated over the beautiful city that has risen from the ashes. My heart, heavy with the experience, I began exploring the other attractions of the city. The Hiroshima Castle, once a glorious structure, was flattened during the bombing but has been reconstructed to its former glory. The five-storied wooden structure could be covered in just about half an hour. As a car aficionado, it was impossible for me to leave the city without a visit to the famous Mazda Museum, which showcases the history, designs and production details of cars.

Today, Hiroshima has been restored to its former glory. Stunning and serene, it leaves an indelible memory both of the horror and the resilience of the human spirit that saw its reconstruction.

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