Victos Fernando had been missing for four days when his body washed up, bruised and salt-soaked, off Sri Lanka’s northern coast. He’d disembarked with three other fishermen on April 2, 2011, from the crowded harbor of Rameswaram, a small island off India’s southeastern coast, to sail for the fertile breeding shoals on the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Strait, the narrow body of water that separates the two nations. The day before, the governments of India and Sri Lanka had both issued warnings against going out to sea. The two countries were slated to play a cricket match that day and tensions would be high.
It’s only mid-February, but winter is already starting to retreat into the hills, leaving South India’s fertile plains to bake under the pre-summer sun. After a year of weak rains, the landscape here in the Palani Hills — where the flat expanse of Tamil Nadu rises to the spice and tea estates of the lush Western Ghats — is dry.
Just above the coconut fields, Isla Van Damme (call her Loulou) walks onto the veranda of the home she’s spent the last year building in this remote, largely unknown corner of India. She glances down at the table she’s just finished setting — the colonnade of candles, the offhand flourish of bougainvillea set out for her first dinner party in the new house — then up at the sky. “There aren’t going to be many stars tonight, but you never know,” she says. “We make our own stars.” (more…)