Friday, April 8, 2016

One Year After

Monday, 25th April 2016 marks the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal last year causing almost 19,000 fatalities and massive destruction of property. Much has been written on what has happened and what sadly remains to be done. This is a personal perspective, leaving the other aspects to the pseudo-intelligentsia.

Huddled on the third floor with my 10 months old grand-daughter and her nanny, the shaking and the ominous humming, at around noon that Saturday, seemed to last forever. It did last almost a minute. There was no time to be frightened. Pure self-preservation kicked in, there was no question of running down the staircase; we were thrown off our feet, quickly recovered and went into a rugby-like huddle to keep ourselves stable. We rushed down to the house parking lot as soon as the shaking stopped. Little did we know that countless aftershocks would follow. A sizable crowd of neighbours had gathered in our parking lot since apparently it was the only open space in the vicinity. A neighbour was having a Buddhist ceremony performed, so there were about 20 monks also in the compound. The motley crowd, now numbering more than 50, was in shock especially as the aftershocks came fast and not far in between. Cell phones were not very effective while we tried to reach family members away from home. Texting was slightly better. Soon all family members were safely back home. The Internet was down, but only for a couple of hours. Of course, we immediately disconnected the electricity even though there was none.

It was a relief that the house had not crumbled, though we were to discover numerous cracks later on. The monks left in the afternoon. We were left with around 40 neighbours – children, women and men – who did not want to return to their homes as the aftershocks were continuing. At least we had plenty of bottled water for immediate needs. A building nearby which was rented by many expatriates was damaged beyond occupancy. So we had quite a cosmopolitan crowd of French, German, Italian
and even an Ukranian, besides the majority Nepalis.

As night set in, a light bulb was hooked up to the garage from the solar panels and a connection to recharge cell phones was also readied. The cars were removed  and the majority of our guests spread carpets and settled down for the night under the garage shed. We spent the first night in the car, not daring to use even the ground floor of the house; this continued for a few more nights. Gradually a few neighbours set up tents around the grounds. We were lucky it was not winter or the monsoon season.

We moved back into the ground floor of the house around the third or fourth night. We had neighbours in the front lot for the next month; most had returned home after a few days but returned after the second quake a week later. Food was brought from their homes and cooked in the open. Everyone was surprisingly quite self-sufficient. With the Internet back, we were able to know the
magnitude of the earthquake, 7.9 in the Richter scale, and follow the aftershocks on the US Geological Survey web site. A lot of the conversation focused on that web site to find out the epicenter and how strong the aftershocks were. Soon we settled down to the increasingly less frequent aftershocks. We became impervious to anything less than 5.0M!

We really did not know any of our neighbours before the earthquake. The biggest bonus from the disaster was the sense of community which developed in our neighbourhood. Now we know all our neighbours and how supportive and warm they are. They shared often the delicious Manangi momos (dumplings) they made for dinner. No more looking at surrounding houses with Buddhist banners and thinking how different people are because they come from another part of the country. I had an additional bonus. I did not have to watch the Indian Premier League cricket games alone anymore! We had our morning tea together while looking at the USGS reports Often we had our round of pre-dinner Ruslan (vodka) too to brace ourselves against  any nocturnal  aftershocks!

Another significant result of the quake was the number of queries from friends all over the world who sent emails, messaged on FaceBook or called to check on our safety. It was simply heart-warming. I reconnected with some  friends from college in the US with whom I had lost touch for about 40 years!

Now things are relatively normal. Sleeping late is still not possible because of the drilling and hammering in houses being reconstructed. We have yet to demolish and reconstruct a small portion of our house, that portion being about 150 years old and irrevocably damaged. The seismic energy in the moving fault lines under us has apparently not been spent. So another earthquake, perhaps a stronger one, is expected. When? Nobody can predict earthquakes. They say anything close to a 9.0M will pulverize the city. Meanwhile we feel blessed to be safe and sound. Life goes on as it must.

Let me attempt to sign off with a Haiku:

We huddled in shock
As the earth danced wantonly
Peace now till next time.

Birat K. Simha


Deep Lamichhane said...

What a coincidence. I just finished reading One Year After and your open letter to the US. Kudos dude!

Birat Simha said...

Thank you, Deep.

Akash Bhairab said...

Great writing Birat. No wonder you always got "Excellent" comment ( I can still remember Fr Watrin's handwriting) after your essay correction. Yes indeed the earthquake did bring neighbors and long forgotten friends together.

Birat Simha said...

Thanks, Akash Bhairab. We really do owe our English to that Jesuit education, and especially Frs. Watrin and Donnelly, may their souls RIP.

Tev said...

Good to learn that you are very much a committed writer/blogger, and a joke-forwarder as well. I've trolled much of your recent blogs, recalling the earthquake a year ago, and other issues.P

Birat Simha said...

We had a 4.5M jolt around 7 pm last night. Epicenter was 15 km south of Kathmandu and the depth was only 10 km. I must have developed a thick skin to these tremors; didn't feel a thing. I hope the "shaky season" has not started again.

Govind said...

Best wishes on your restarting the I blog-something to look forward to! Last evening's after shock which epicenter was in Bhaisepati reminded us of the big quake a year ago.
At that time we ran out to the front yard and luckily nothing happened to the house except for the water tank which fell off its platform and one side of the compound wall collapsed..Oue LED tv fell off the table and was damaged.We slept in the car for a few days and our neighbors camped out in our compound.

Lulu Rana said...

Dai please continue chiya pasal ko Ganthan , we love it

Birat Simha said...

Thanks, Govind, for your feedback, especially your reminiscence of that fateful day. I urge others to place comments here with their personal recollections and thoughts of that day. It is personal anecdotes that bring out the essence of the human condition.

Shaunak said...

Enjoyed reading your blog and reliving (in my mind) that terrible day last year. I'd forgotten how scary it was till that jolt yesterday evening!

"And a Psychiatrist too" said...

You have a wonderful writing style,with which you have described the external reality of the
'Shakes', the inner emergence of coping inspite of all and the resilience of the human spirit, so to say.
Keep writing!!!