For three hours after hearing about the tsunami in Japan, Delhi resident Dr A.P. Mishra tried to contact his daughter, Surabhi, a student of biology at the Hokkaido University. Unable to get through, he contacted Mr Sandeep Baruah, a Ham radio operator.

Mr Baruah posted the message on an internal e-mailing system used by Ham radio operators. This was picked up and relayed further by Mr Rammohan, Director of Hyderabad's National Institute of Amateur Radio. Since Mr Rammohan was using the amateur radio when the earthquake occurred, he could get across to fellow Ham-radio operator, Ms Kiyoko Miyoshi, in Japan, who called the University officials and relayed to Surabhi, her father's message.

In earthquake- and tsunami-hit Japan, Ham radio operators and social networking sites have helped link families to loved ones in Japan. But connecting to Japanese Ham radio operators is not easy, as they are not on all frequencies. Sometimes messages are relayed from India to Thailand-based operators who, in turn, relay to Japan, Mr Rammohan told Business Line.

Also, since most Indian operators do not know Japanese, communication is difficult and the airwaves are scanned for English-speaking Japanese operators. Nevertheless, Japanese Ham radio operators are using their radio-network and the Internet to relay messages and, “I'm seeing heightened Internet activity on the system used by the Japanese hams,” Mr Baruah said.

Tweeting concern

Expressing relief on Facebook, a message read: “We were on Skype with our son (name deleted) a little while ago. He is in Beijing on a school trip and is fine. He returns to Japan middle of next week..!”

And as television aired the extent of devastation, another concerned message said: “… Kapila, Pam thanks for the update. Pooja write soon Pls.” Some changed travel plans because of tsunami alerts: “Heart goes out to all the folks in Japan....also just cancelled my scheduled LA trip with all the news around the potential repercussions hitting the US west coast.”

But from inside Japan, a message reached out: “I and my whole family are safe….And villages on the north-east coast were devastated.”

Giving hope to worried Indians, the Foreign Secretary, Ms Nirupama Rao, tweeted: “Just spoke with our Ambassador in Tokyo. All Indians safe acc to presently available info. We have about 100 in Sendai.”

And once a Ham radio operator, Mr Amitabh Bachchan, tweeted: “…The belligerence of nature .. unpredictable and unimaginable ..! Thoughts and prayers with all.”

Quoting the Dalai Lama, another tweet urged Japanese Buddhists to recite the “Heart Sutra” for lost lives and to prevent future disasters. “Prayers to recite the Heart Sutra one hundred thousand times were being organised in Dharamsala,” the message said.

Striking a chord with many was a chain-message on Facebook. “For some of you last night was the best night of your life. But for some people in Japan it was the last night of their lives. Re-post this to show your support for all those who lost their loved ones last night..!”

(with inputs from S. Arun and Debabrata Das in New Delhi)

rahulw@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on March 12, 2011)
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