By Ryan Lengerich
Clovis doctor Rajan Mirchandini spoke to his son on Christmas eve. Arjune was vacationing near the southern tip of Sri Lanka, where he’s lived for two months, and all was well in the breathtaking seaside community of Tangalle.
Hours later, a powerful earthquake beneath the sea spawned massive waves and devastated the country, leaving more than 80,000 dead. Mirchandini feared for his son’s life.
“We were on the phone constantly all day Sunday and Monday; we still
hadn’t heard anything,” Rajan said. Rajan and his wife Kazue began making plans for her to fly to Sri Lanka and find their son.
“I thought we were going to have to go and pick him out of a row of corpses. That was going through my mind,” Rajan said.
Then a phone call came from the father of Arjune Mirchandini’s girlfriend.
He had received an e-mail from Arjune. The couple was fine.
“Well, I happened to get caught up in the tsunami that you’ve probably seen on T.V.,” Arjune wrote in his e-mail. “Last I heard, over 22,000 people died. I really should have been one of them…”
Rajan Mirchandini, 48, was born in Kobe, Japan, but his grandfather was a legal citizen of Sri Lanka, a small country south of India. By international law, sons take on the citizenship of their father making he and Arjune citizens of Sri Lanka.
About five years ago, Rajan moved to Clovis from Boulder, Colo., where he and his two sons and wife lived since 1980. Arjune stayed behind to earn his computer science degree in 2003 from the University of Colorado.
While Arjune, 26, has visited, but never lived in Clovis, his Green Card lists it as his hometown, his father said.
About two months ago, Arjune moved to Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, a city of about 1 million on the country’s southwest coast. He had always wanted to live abroad, Rajan said, and there was little hassle in Sri Lanka because he was a citizen.
For Christmas, Arjune and his girlfriend Kimberly McRae made their trip to Tangalle.
The tsunami crushed Tangalle about 9 a.m. Sunday — Christmas night in Clovis, as Rajan watched holiday movies, and heard no news reports.
The next day, Rajan drove his other son Kush to the Albuquerque airport for a flight to California. It was in the car on that trip Rajan first heard news of the disaster.
Arjune and Kimberly were having breakfast on Sunday morning in Tangalle
when the water hit them with little warning.
By Arjune’s account, it was a miracle the two survived.
He estimated more than half the residents in the hotel where they were staying were not as lucky. As he and Kimberly were washed into a nearby lagoon, Arjune climbed a pile of debris into a tree as bodies washed away beneath him.
Kimberly never made it into a tree. Arjune credits her swim-team skills for her survival.
Hours later, the couple jumped in a local’s truck for a ride to the hospital in Tangalle.
“There were dead bodies everywhere, on the beds, on the ground, and lined
up in the back,” he wrote in his e-mail. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget that smell.”
A local invited the couple to his home, fed them and gave them clothes.
There was no power or phones.
On Monday, the two rode a taxi six hours to Colombo where Rajan said they have been staying with his uncle who lives in the city.
Arjune lost everything he had with him when the storm hit, including his cell phone. He called his father Wednesday morning (Clovis time) from Colombo.
Rajan Mirchandini is a doctor in the urgent care facility at Clovis’ Plains Regional Medical Center. He has a few family members — all safe — in Sri Lanka. But he feels like he should do something.
“I am even thinking I should go over there and help sew people up,” he said. “Maybe I can be of some use.”
Rajan said Kimberly has a cough, possibly pneumonia. Arjune reported that he suffered a few bruises, a smashed lip and a separated shoulder. He said he was one of the “lucky ones.”
Rajan believes there is a larger meaning to his son’s story.
“He said, ‘Yeah we survived miraculously and I can’t even believe I am still alive,’” Rajan said. “I told him he was spared, and he must have a mission to fulfill. He has got some tremendous mission ahead of him — so to look for that mission and fulfill it.”