I don’t want to write this post anymore because my mood is ruined due to some work issues. It is frustrating when things get delayed… specially when I have put in soooo much effort to ensure there is no delay at my end. Hell, I flew to Kolkata and back in a day so things were not hanging while I am on vacation.
There are two things people know Gujarat for – earthquake and riots. The latter more than the former. I had the misfortune of being in the state during both these events.
I was studying for my 12th boards in a’bad. I have always been an early riser because we had to wake up by 6 am in the boarding and my parents have always been early risers. I prefer studying early mornings instead of late nights. I was staying at the government hostel since home is 75 kms away in a small town. My parents have a row house in a’bad and mom came down few times in a month. On that fateful day, mom was up and pottering around the kitchen. My brother was sleeping on the bed next to me. He had broken his hand at boarding school and was home for winter vacations. I was studying (biology? my favourite) on the bed. Suddenly, the huge wooden bed started shaking…. I was shocked. I had never experienced an earthquake before and couldn’t understand what was happening. The whole house was shaking like it would fall off any minute.
Then I heard mother asking us to come downstairs. I woke up bro and rushed downstairs. He rushed after me. Everyone was outdoors… some men in their boxers. Dad had bought a mobile phone recently and mom called him but could not get through. We needed to check if he was ok because our home was on the 2nd floor. My mom did what she does best- call everyone in the family. Her side of the family (which is the only side we like(d) to keep in touch with) is spread across Gujarat and Mumbai. Everyone was ok. Mom left a message with all the relatives and asked them to keep trying to get in touch with my dad. My masi in Mumbai managed to speak to him and passed on the message that he was fine and had left for A’bad to pick us up. Mom took the scooty and we drove around the city mainly Vastrapur, Satellite and Ambawadi. We went to the hanuman temple at Ambawadi and hoped everything would be alright.
*I hate temples but I didn’t think that was the time to rebel*
By then news had started coming in that the epicentre was somewhere in Bhuj… everyone was talking about Mansi complex at Vastrapur which was completely damaged. We sat outside the door all day waiting for dad. Nobody wanted to take the risk of venturing indoors to eat something. In the evening, dad turned up and mom was pissed off. How could he make us wait all day? Apparently, there was so much traffic on the route that instead of 1.5 hours it had taken him several hours to reach a’bad. We packed up our stuff, had a meal (finally) at Madhuli on SG highway and left for home.
But things didn’t end there. We didn’t know that there are after shocks after an earthquake. Our house is on the 2nd floor and everytime there was a minor vibration we had to rush downstairs. It would have been better if we had stayed put in a’bad itself but dad is a doctor and is never off work. He is on call 24/7… all days of the week. No Sundays off for him. We started sleeping on the ground floor in dad’s hospital. It was extremely uncomfortable and nobody got much sleep. After 2-3 days of this, we (dad, bro, sis) rebelled against mom and refused to sleep in the hospital. We’d all rather die in our own beds. Mom gave in because any torture is more fun when everyone is involved. Then there was a strong rumour that another big earthquake is going to come on a particular day. My mom planned to attend a wedding in another part of Gujarat to be safe while the rest of us refused to accompany her. We’d all rather die in an earthquake than of boredom. The earthquake didn’t come.
Dad went to Bachau which was the epicentre of the quake as part of a delegation of doctors to help with the relief. I still remember that night. He returned late at night and we were all up waiting for him. He didn’t say much but he was devastated by what he had seen. It was too terrible to even talk about.
My boards got delayed by a month or two because of this. All my tuitions were in a’bad and mom and I would go to the city on Sunday, visit all the professors, collect exam papers for the week, handover answer sheets and return home the same day. I didn’t meet my hostel roommates ever again since everyone had gone home and wouldn’t return before exams.
One year later, I was sitting at Honey’s house at Vastrapur and reading the paper. I saw the obituary for Zeel who had passed away in the earthquake and went numb. Zeel was the only kid I loved and who loved me back. I was in the hostel in Mt Abu and Zeel was one of the youngest kids there. Cute. Naughty. Adorable. I can close my eyes and see her. I hated kids even when I was in school. The hostel I stayed in had kids as young as 5 years and being one of the oldest the disciplining did become my responsibility at times. I didn’t like or care about any of the other kids but Zeel had me wrapped around her finger. Incidents where she would cry for me when her parents came to meet her on the weekends and stayed with her in a hotel, were common. K was her cousin and my classmate and she would relate these incidents in school on Monday mornings. I saw Zeel for the last time when I was in 9th std before moving to a different hostel.
Zeel had passed away in the earthquake… and I didn’t find out until a year later. The thought of her tiny body among the rubble is too terrible to think about.
I also saw the obituary of K’s mom whose house was in the infamous Mansi Complex. This was before the times of email, internet, mobile phones and reaching out to someone in USA (K was studying there) was impossible. The less I talk about this, the better.
If you go to Kutch today, you won’t find too much evidence about the devastation. That is because the government worked really hard to rebuild the place and bring it back to normal. That isn’t going to happen in Nepal, for sure. It takes an extraordinary government to give a damn about these things. I am anti Modi BUT I will get credit where it’s due. And they did do a good job.
Of course, all the good work has been overshadowed by the riots and the former cannot even try to make up for the latter in my books.
Next post… Part 2…