One Day After The Gujarat Earthquake

As I mentioned in my previous post, the only best thing about the earthquake were the holidays we got. Then after a week, when I went to school, something interesting happened.
On the first day in school after the holidays, during the morning assembly, it was announced that children of all the classes upto 10th should be given some practice to move quickly out of the classroom in an organized manner, as a precautionary measure against possible tremors and earthquakes.
So, during our first period, the class teacher herself said, "I don't think you people need any such practice, do you?"
We replied, "No Ma'am" in unison.
Actually we were a class of only 10 students and we were in 8th class.
Later that day, after lunch break, we played volleyball during our games period. By mistake one of us served the ball in the wrong direction and with great amount of energy that the ball went and hit the roof of one of the classrooms beside the volleyball court. I don't remember who it was but perhaps it was Amit (He was a big fat guy). Since the roof was a thatched roof of asbestos, the roof vibrated and the impact of the ball made rumbling sound. The ball bounced a few times on the roof before moving down the thatched roof and hitting the ground. But the damage was already done.
The students studying in that classroom thought that the vibration and the rumbling sound was an earthquake and so left the room in a haste and not quite the way they were taught to. We could hear the falling of benches and desks and footsteps quickly moving out of the room. Hearing the adjacent class leaving the room, the classes beside them also left their rooms and came outside.
It didn't take the teachers too long to realize what had happened. They did scold us for what we had done, but the incident was really hilarious. I later laughed a lot about the incident.

Earthquake... It happened to me!

I woke up at 9 a.m. on 26th Jan 2001, in my home, on my bed, in front of a switched off T.V.
I realized that I had missed the Republic Day ceremony and celebration at school. My mother taught in the same school I studied in, and she preferred that I sleep well rather than attend the Republic Day ceremony. I leisurely skipped being there, standing in queue among my classmates and schoolmates.
I switched on the T.V. and started surfing the channels. I stopped at star movies which was showing "Muppet Treasure Island". I started watching it from the moment the boy decides to board a ship with some uncle of his (I haven't read the book, so I can't recall the exact details). It becomes more interesting when the boy discovers that the sailors on that ship were pirates.
I almost forgot about my breakfast because I got interested in watching the movie. My sister got me breakfast at around, maybe 9:45 a.m. and asked me what I was watching. Yes she skipped the school as well!
She started watching the movie with me, though she didn't like it much.
There was a mild tremor and we lost the electricity supply. I heard the generator starting, and in a minute we had electricity again!
Suddenly, the whole house started shaking wildly, left and right, then up and down, then randomly. My sister started shouting at the top of her voice. I asked her to relax, but she started pulling my arm and insisted that I come outside the house. She reasoned with me that it was an earthquake. By the way, my sister is 5 years younger to me, but far more sensible. I refused to believe her, so she ran outside the house in panic, without me. I saw the ceiling fan swinging, oscillating like a pendulum, reaching higher amplitude (greater potential energy) with every next oscillation. I couldn't watch T.V. because there was no electricity at cable T.V. channel station. I suspected that it was the generator which was shaking the whole house and it was nothing to worry about!
At that moment, I saw the T.V. slowly shifting to the edge of the setting we had kept it on. Here, setting is a pile of trunks nicely covered with a sheet of cloth. I moved forward to stop the T.V. from falling when the earthquake stopped.
I pushed the T.V. back to the center of the setting, towards the wall. I checked the T.V. which was still disconnected, then went back to my bed and started having breakfast. I looked outside once in a while, saw the sun rays falling on the tall bushes acting as a fence of the garden and the trees in the garden of my house. It was sunny and bright, and the garden looked great.
I was frustrated because I could not see T.V. and the reason I always liked to stay back at home to watch lots of T.V. shows. My mother knew this.
I heard my sister, Ramvir and Tiwari bhaiya walking towards my bedroom. Ramvir and Tiwari bhaiya were Army Jawans (soldier) assigned as helpers to my father who is an Army officer in Indian Army, and my sister and I called them 'bhaiya' as a mark of respect. My sister was still crying! They asked me to immediately come outside and told me that my experience a few minutes ago was of an actual earthquake.
WoW!! I finally experienced an eArthQuaKe!! I was excited and refused to leave the room.

"It's all destiny", I said. This escalated their fear and increased their tension. They pleaded. I refused and resumed eating breakfast, but not for long. My sister was still weeping so I had to leave the house.
I sat outside, under the roof of my house, in front of garden. I tell them that it was sunny and I wanted to sit under the shade. Foolish me, I didn't think of the trees.
Finally I was sitting outside my house as everyone wanted.
A few friends met me in garden, after 10 minutes, and asked me to come out in the open space. I refused to do so until my mom came from school.
I don't know what had happened to me. I was behaving like a child, having this notion in my mind that staying inside the house is safe, that nothing bad would happen to me. Someone once told me after looking at lines on my palms that I'd live till the age of 80, so I was not afraid of death! My father later explained to me, after he returned from office, that even though I may not die, I might become a handicap or a 'challenged in some way' person, so it was better to be safe than to indulge in stupid daring which made no sense. Nothing significant happened after the 26th though, just a few mild tremors which I never felt.

I felt sorry for myself after my mother narrated everything that happened at school. Whole school were in the middle of its morning assembly when the earthquake came. Some people, lost balance and fell. Actually many people fell on the first big tremor. Some showed extreme emotions and reactions. Some started crying, which humored me, because being in the open, nothing could fall on them, except raindrops! I felt bad because I wanted to see other people's reactions and their faces, colorless and tensed, scared perhaps. It'd have been fun and a new kind of adventure! But I missed it! Damn!
For lunch, my mommy and other aunties went into their houses, as an act of bravery, and got everyone something to eat. Apparently neighbors shared some of the food.
I hanged out with kids, eldest of whom was three years junior to me! But he was a good company; we shared interests in video games and cartoons. I went to call Prateek, but he lived in another block of apartments, so had other arrangements for himself.
I again cursed myself after lunch when I realized I could have toured around the army cantonment area of the town, to check how people had planned to live outdoors for, at least a couple of days! But I didn't. I still feel I should have at least gone to 'Old Officers Colony' to see what people were doing during immediate post-earthquake period.. I lived in 'New Officers' Colony' and old and new refer to colony and not officers.

Then I thought of the town and the civil area and the only civilian I had acquaintance with came to my mind... never mind, I don't have to discuss anything about her here.

On my first night after the earthquake, I was made to sleep on the co-driver's seat in a car, wagon-R maybe. My feet were cold, but better than being in the open. I thought of the people who might have lost homes because of this mischief of nature, this imbalance in the earth. I was making fun of this whole earthquake thing the whole day, since it was a new experience to me, and now I felt sorry for the trouble and destruction it had caused. I got updates on news through a portable radio which Tiwari Bhaiya had. I felt that I was born lucky and was living lucky. My house was safe, no major crack, a few very minor ones. I had good food and was sleeping warmly (almost) in a car. The roof of the car won't fall even if the tremors came again, I thought and smiled. The car was standing in the open space. The 'open space' was a big playground kind of space which was between two rows of houses in 'New Officers' Colony'.

Days were generally pleasant, not very warm, but nights did get bit chilly.
Next day we spent some time inside the house. We used generator for limited time for electricity, but I could still not see T.V.. Nights were spent outside though. Next plan was to sleep in the garage, but I could see it was equally dangerous, even though running outside would be easier. The night after that we had 'Shamianas' fixed in the open space, to sleep in.

During these days, I started getting bored, so I took my novel (Short Stories of Sherlock Holmes) with me to the shamiana. My mother's friend asked me what I was reading and I had to stop. I showed her the book and when she looked away, I put it inside my blanket with me and slept. I like reading novels in peace, alone!

Till after a few days when some mild tremors could still be felt, some families got "Tents" fixed for themselves in the open space, my family included. My father was a Colonel in the Indian Army, so he could get it done for his family. I didn't like the idea of tents. I wanted to go home and sleep in my bedroom, on my bed, and I was not being childish here. The tents just didn't feel good. We slept in tent for two days after that. During daytime, I could see tents covering the whole open space during daytime and reminded me of those days of Scouts camp in Panchmari when tents were fixed for us and we students didn't get the experience of fixing tents on our own. I also felt disgusted at the waste of resources and the hype this earthquake got by people here. But at least I could read my novel in peace, in the tent!

The earthquake didn't really affect us, we were all safe and sound. Hardly any damage to the houses, at least not in the 'New Officers' Colony'. Four days had passed since the quake and people still were not willing to go back to their homes! I thought about the people who suffered in "Bhuj" and "Rann of Kachch" and felt sorry for them and disgusted about the 'tents'. I talked to my father about this and he said that it was for our own safety.

The good thing that happened was 'No School' for one week after the quake.
Then after we went to school, something more interesting happened!

Deaths in the Family

When I was studying in 12th standard, I only thing that was expected of me was to study hard and get good marks, so that I could get into a good institute and have a better future.
In those days, my daadi ( paternal grandmother ) used to live with me and my parents. Earlier I slept with her, but later I was shifted to a different room, lest I should not be disturbed while I was studying. I can't say that I was close to my daadi, but I still liked her a lot. It was interesting to talk to her, and play "rummy" with her and listen to the stories she told me. Due to extra coaching classes and attending school, I was out of my house most of the day, so I hardly interacted with my daadi.
It was during the second month of the session of my 12th standard and one morning, I was riding on my bicycle to school, when I met my classmate on my way and she told me that the principal of our school had expired. It was a shocking news. I could not believe what I had heard. My mind was disturbed the whole day, and was filled with those thoughts about the principle, the day he gave me a 'cup' for my good academic performance, the day me and my friend came late to school and he let us in, his jolly smile, his firm attitude... and lot more things. The whole school mourned. This was a new experience for me. The cause of the death of my Principal, that was told to me, was Heart Attack. I genuinely sympathised the family members of my late principal sir. But I never knew that this sympathy was going to turn into empathy in a few months time.

A few months later, one morning my mother got a call that her brother, my maternal uncle (maama) had expired. At that time, I was getting ready for going to school. I didn't know what had happened until later that day, when my father was preparing to leave for my maama's house (we lived in Jalandhar and maama lived in Ujjain (M.P.)) to help with the preparation and managing of death ceremony because only my naani ( maternal grandmother ) was there with my maama when he died. I didn't see any traces of grief or tears on my mother's face, but I realised that she was sad because she loved him a lot. And i'd agree that he was a extremely good person at heart. He didn't have good financial conditions but when me and my parents visited him, he always welcomed us and happily took us around Ujjain.
My maama had been bitten by a mosquito and got malaria. Situation got complicated and he got extremely sick. He was on complete bedrest. Doctors said that either he'd die(which he did) or remain paralysed for the rest of his life. Perhaps God helped him escape that miserable life! He was only 40 and have two small daughters.

A few months later, while I was having my lunch during recess time, with my friend Arjun, my old English teacher (a good family friend) came to me and broke the sad news of my daadi's death to me. I was again not able to believe what she had said. She said she was sorry.
My daadi was sick since the last 2 months and was partially in coma. She was permanently on bedrest and couldn't even speak. She was 86 years and nearing her death. Everyone knew that she'd die any day now. My father, during those days, had gone to my maama's house in Ujjain to help in death ceremony of my maama. We feared her dying before my father comes back from Ujjain. We wanted her to die in my father's presence. Then a miracle happened. My daadi expired the morning following the evening my father returned from Ujjain. And that morning my old English teacher told me about the death of my daadi.

As if this was not enough, after two months, I came to know about the death of my naana (maternal grandfather). He was well above 80 years and lived alone in a small flat in New Delhi.
Though he was close to me and the news came as a shock, the first thought that came in my mind was that of my mother, and later my naani. It was a great loss for them, more than anyone else. And I was the one who lost 4 people I knew, I loved, I admired and it was totally unexpected thing to happen.
Well, death has its own ways... and is the ultimate truth of life! Never before had I witnessed death so close. With this series of heartbreaking incidents, I have started believing that "death is the ultimate truth and final destination of life".