It was a hot summer day. I was only too happy to acknowledge the approach of a storm. The wind picked up. First a breeze, then, surely, a storm. All the windows that could possibly be opened were, well, open. It felt so good to have the cool wind brush across my face.
That’s all of the surroundings that I ever registered. My mind was more preoccupied with moles, laws, and vapours. You get it, chemistry. Right at the very critical moment of a numerical, it suddenly felt like the sofa decided to move. Surely, it cannot move.
I looked back, I looked over the back. No animal, or any other process whatsoever, was exerting any force on the sofa. I checked the windows at the back. As you’d expect, they were open, and the wind was blowing in hard. But it wasn’t fast enough to move a dozen kilogrammes of wood and fibre.
Who’s pushing the sofa then? Surely, it must have turned into the planchette of a Ouija Board. Except there were no symbols, numbers or words on the floor, it was pure black granite.
I started to feel dizzy. I’ve lived through distant tremors of at least four earthquakes, so says my conscious memory. And in my fifteen years on Earth, I haven’t ever felt dizzy, except when there’s an earthquake.
This had to be an earthquake. I looked up at the fan. I looked at the door. They weren’t shaking, but surely, this was an earthquake. Stations of the National Seismological Network across the country would by then have picked up several observations. You wouldn’t expect doors and fans to rattle when you’re on the ground floor. Merely the fact that we were on the ground floor did not set off the evacuation process.
So far, I wasn’t at home. By the time I did pack up and get into the car (to come back home(, the storm was seriously picking up. Frantic calls were being received. I picked up every one of them, I guess there was about a handful of them. But I wasn’t able to either pick up or transmit a single word at any first attempt.
You see, this isn’t Japan. People in this country are far from being used to the ground beneath their feet shaking. So, naturally, in the excitement that prevailed, everyone was calling up everyone they are acquainted with. And I seriously wouldn’t be inclined to believe that the communication systems of this country are prepared to handle about a million people trying to call up another million people, all at the same time, simultaneously.
So, networks blocked. I wish I was an amateur radio operator, civilian amateur radio frequencies rarely get any takers in India, leave alone getting blocked.
By the time we were well on our way, we had chosen to give up all hope with the telephone calls. As the car picked up speed, the elongated drops of water falling from the faucet upstairs was hitting the metal roof. In the back of my mind, I had suppressed the thought why, where and how this happened. What I didn’t realize then was that it wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg.
Good Lord, what the hell!
The clouds were still grumbling when we pushed open the thick wooden front door. The first instinct of the other people was to get the television on. Hold on a second, the television? Well, so far as I’m concerned, watching news in there shows how much of an “idiot box” it really is, although I’m inclined to call it otherwise in a different situation.
To hell with others’ first instincts. My first instinct should have been, and was, to take a shower. Come on, mate, you’re just in from someplace outside. Your house is intact, your food is, you are. Then why not take a shower first, and then worry about the rest of the world? I always feel like there’s nothing like a hot shower after going through all that dust and stuff on the street.
Nevertheless, my first instinct (after the shower, obviously) was to go online. I was going to check out the news on my phone. I could have sat at the desktop PC, but I was feelin’ lazy. The benefit of going through the news online, in text, rather than on the television, is that you get to skip the (very often, extremely) idiotic melodrama of people on the likes of our dear Mr. Arnab Goswami.
What I saw was Nepal. Devastated.
“When the lives of thousands are threatened, the spirits of humanity join forces.”
By the time I was over with lunch, North Block had already been abuzz for a couple of hours. I guess the officers and ministers had barely managed to go through their lunch before returning to their respective offices.
Within a few hours of first news, the Office of the Prime Minister had already announced humanitarian assistance for Nepal. As I went through my News Feed, it was full of pictures of relief and personnel being stacked into huge military transport aircrafts. That metallic, matte green finish: the Indian Air Force. And NDRF. Activated in a couple of hours, ready to depart for the cause of humanity.
It was only in the evening that I decided to check out the details of the entire incident. What in the world? There had already been eighteen aftershocks! Eighteen? Within 6 hours? Something was seriously wrong.
I punched in the latitude and longitude of the epicentre into that white bar on Google Maps. The location turned out to be very close to the path dad had taken for trekking to Annapurna Base Camp quite some time back. I could only think of falling snow.
“In mountains, you can cause an avalanche merely by walking. Think of what a 7.8 magnitude earthquake can do.”
No News is Good News
Surely, the next morning’s paper was like, “every word in it a gaping wound”. Ok, I accept that newspaper editors in India are rarely ever able to quote Shakespeare, although they would love too. It’s often implied.
News of people buried under snow and killed while scaling Everest. Miraculously, a handful of teams managed to survive. Much like what happened during the Uttarakhand flood in 2013, an Indian Army team looking to scale the highest mountain in the world suddenly found themselves in the middle of a humanitarian mission and crisis.
Everyone alive, everyone who managed to defy death in its face, found themselves volunteers. Meanwhile, several structures had collapsed in north Bengal, and districts of states along the Indo-Nepal Border reported human casualties. North Block was still on earthquakes, coordinating rescue efforts, managing helplines, and so on.
Facebook on with “report safe”, Google.org on with Person Finder. Facebook filled with helpline numbers, and people sending in messages online to the Indian Army and Embassies in Nepal. This had become a crisis which attracted the attention of the whole world.
We Escape, Barely
Meanwhile, residents of Kolkata can heave a sigh of relief that the tremors felt here yesterday, as an expert seismologist points out, were just below the critical level when structures would start getting damaged.
She’s Still Shakin’
As if a 7.8 magnitude earthquake followed by 18 aftershocks wasn’t enough, there was another major aftershock barely 24 hours after the main disaster. We, people living in highrises, found ourselves running down the emergency staircase at full speed to the ground. The people in the lower floors, meanwhile, were absolutely content with a warm shower in the washroom, never feeling the tremors that shook the foundations of their building.
At the same time, most of us couldn’t resist the opportunity of having a pass with our friends.
Once I came back home, upstairs, it was my turn to check out the Earthquake Report. I was stunned to see three previous aftershocks within the past couple of hours, in addition to the major one then.
When you have an earthquake followed by 23 aftershocks (causing quite upheaval at the epicentre) in a day, you know something’s seriously wrong.
Why does this subcontinent have to move north at a breakneck speed of 4 cm every year?