The First Twin Temblors and After - 2
PART 1 contd…
Well before nightfall, we knew that we were having history that repeats every eighth decade in shakings and vibrations at the surface of the earth resulting from underground tectonic plates’ movements along fault planes or lines in and around the Himalaya. What we were having in Nepal this time was the successor to what happened in 1934. This common comprehension had already settled in the makeshift camp compound of our tole in Kupondole as news after news started filtering in: the Dharahara had crumpled down to just a hefty stub, the principal mandir of Tripureshwor was a heap of bricks and rubble, Hanuman Dhoka was a mass of mess, the Bhaktapur Durbar Square had become history, and on and so on. Therefore, righteous anger among adults, innocent surprise among the young, existential befuddlement in mature and professional citizens, and generally uncanny shocks and other unexplainable and inexplicable sense of fatefulness on this earth were some of the themes taking roots. Deities of deliverance were nowhere to be seen, felt or even contemplated. People stopped saying ‘Harey Shiva!’ and praying. A series of major disasters were already upon us and death and destruction had taken place in and around many epicenters, and those still living and surviving had nowhere to turn to for explanations – much less for comfort, relief, hope and faith – in this new century’s fresh natural calamities. What happened and were still happening were beyond human control. ‘We didn’t ask for it,’ was one unspoken lament, which meant ‘We have enough troubles and problems as it is.’ But neighbors vented their own opinions and interpretations.
More neighbors and their shelter-seeking relatives arrived and milled around our ‘kyampa’.
‘Oh, I was walking along the New Road when the trembles started,’ one said. ‘Pandemonium broke out in no time and shrieks and screams spread along the whole place. I knew what was happening. Then I saw the tops of two tall buildings almost touching each other in the seesaw that was happening. I ran and stood at the Juddha Shalik and waited. Thank God, it’s Saturday today and just a few shops were open and there were very few people in New Road.’
Nepalese take shelter in makeshift tents in open ground from fears of earthquake tremors in Kathmandu, Nepal on Sunday, April 26, 2015. (AP / Niranjan Shrestha)
That was a great fact to consider on this particular Saturday. That the earth moved during daylight. That all students and office-goers were having their weekend. Business would open only in the late afternoon on Saturdays. What if today was a workday? What if the tremors had stricken in the dark? What is the number of civil servants in the Valley? How many work in the private sector? How many students are there in the Valley? Well, almost all of them were spared in the many temblors that had rocked the Kathmandu Valley by now.
‘Nepal is cursed, that’s why all these apad-bipat keep on happening in our land.’
‘Yes, true. The Maobadi jana yuddha of ten years, the massacre of Birendra Raja and the raj pariwar, the many governments coming and going and doing nothing but mischiefs….’
‘It’s the Bahuns who must be blamed. Look at all the majority Bahuns controlling all the five biggest political parties, the bureaucracy, the sansthan-s, and what not! There’s no proportionate representation in Nepal now.’
‘There’s so much paap in the land. Atyachar, vrashtachar, ghuskhori and other dushkarma have turned such a tapobhumi and punyabhumi Nepal into a narak now. Look at Bagmati turning into dhalmati of disa-pisab and all kinds of fohor maila!’
‘Nepal needs a series of chhama puja at all the most important mandir and gumba. Ours gods and goddesses must be worshipped for pardon and forgiveness for all the sins committed here for so long.’
‘In the old days, our kings made godan at Pashupati in times of such tragedies. Now they are gone and in place are atheist governments of godless Kangresi, Leftists and Maoists. Ke garne, yastai chha!’
There was yet another jolt, and people were startled again to this unprecedented reality of historic earthquakes in Nepal. They stopped complaining and venting their generic opinions.
More people arrived in our area, mostly relatives of our neighbors who wanted to be together for the night. Our vehicles would welcome many of them. There were four night shelters in our area by late evening, and ours was the most sizeable one. By what we did at Kupondole, all of us knew that the entire Kathmandu Valley had, in our manner, become an instant outdoor bowl, from Thankot in the west to Bhaktapur to the east and from Dakchhin Kali from the south to Budanilkantha up north.
A plate of light dinner was brought to me at our tented camp. Bathroom (read toilet) was already becoming a serious personal issue for everyone.
The night was uneventful, save for the many new temblors and their trailing tremors. We had come to expect these jolts and shudders, anyway; we had become by now accustomed to Nature’s cruel follies when God was nowhere to be felt. Tree leaves and branches fanned to and fro, up and down, swayed with their sweeping sighs and then lay calm. Birds, too, were disturbed, darted out of the trees, as if ejected, and returned to their April foliage. People shrieked in their sleep at every shocker and then an uneasy calm settled. I remember four rocking in the night while I lay in the front reclining seat of my wife’s Santro, half asleep and half-awake throughout those uneasy hours. We had reckoned with the situation we were in, and everyone had come to terms with what had happened and what more were to come.
Little did we know then that the series of vibrating epicenters from all unimagined directions had become world news, and the international community had geared up to help Nepal from different time zones of the world. For starters, we had heard that Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi of India had immediately twittered his sadness at Nepal’s misfortunes and had already mobilized four hundred metric tons of medicines and forty doctors to be airlifted to Nepal. More help would be forthcoming. Bhutan’s Prime Minister had personally flown to Kathmandu in the early hours of the disasters to hand over a cheque of one million US Dollars to Nepal Government on behalf of the people of the Druk Yul. While the world woke up early to do everything possible to assist Nepal with human resources and materiel, most of Nepal’s civic and political leaders continued to be paralyzed and confused in their homes that were repeatedly rocked like never before. But to say anything more of this nature at this early juncture of my narrative is to be being previous. Also, this is a personal story and will remain so throughout within its own ambit.
Our part of upper Kupondole woke up by sunup on Sunday, April 26. It was a temperate morning and comfortable. I slid out of Ranjana’s Santro and saw the three neighborhood camps folding their quilts and bedrolls. That the campers had decided that it was plain dangerous to remain inside their houses since the previous afternoon and it was best that they lived outdoors was proof that our world had turned gross in eighteen hours. I saw those night guests emerging from some of Jimmy’s cars, one by one. It was safe sheltering in a vehicle though free movement and standing up was impossible in the interior; but crawling and lying down for rest and sleep could be done inside. It was a new moral improvisation in the Kathmandu Valley, experienced by everyone, from older generations than mine to mine own, our sons and daughters and their children; some four generations in some families.
Death and disasters, it is said, equalize everyone. So it was socialistically fitting to imagine those rich and wealthy feudal and aristocrats and nouveau-riche and upstart arrivistes alike of Kathmandu forced to abandon their luxuriously appointed mansions and erecting tents in the front yards for the night. It would be a pattern, unbeknownst to us at this early stage of the moves and shakes of the unstable earth that would follow for almost two weeks in the Valley. Meanwhile, this leftist thought amused me for some moments on this morning.
I saw a six-months-old baby being taken out of Jimmy’s Hyundai sedan by his mother. That he slept the entire night inside the car made me feel happy that we had been able to be of some help in our neighborhood.
All the refugee families had made each of their provisional kitchens on the ground floor of their homes, and tea and food were prepared in such makeshift corners. Our family kitchen was on the upper level of the land, separate from the main house. It was part of the foothills of Pulchowk, and an altogether different lay of the landscape. The kitchen opened up to a long space in front to the southwest, and it was a sturdy stretch that also looked safe.
It was obvious that our daily routines from dawn to dusk and into the night were thrown out of the usual patterns. Life was no more normal. It was now a hazardous pigheadedness to enter one’s bathroom for toiletry, bath and other private chores. ‘Nature’s calls’ had already become so hard to respond to. Many men hastened out of their toilets and shaved outside in the shade and safety of the front yard of their houses on the ground floor. Inside, it may shake and shudder any second. One man had already told us of his panic on the toilet seat when his commode and house danced yesterday. Such ‘intimate’ and ‘personal’ details are mostly avoided and not written about; but such issues were liable to come to the fore where greater crowds had taken shelter on the common greens and open spaces of the Kathmandu Valley. In Kathmandu, for instance, the toilet needs of such campers in general and the sanitary safety regime of female evacuees in particular were bound to be discoursed; and it did, in the ensuing days of the prolonged and perforce habitats on the Tundikhel, at Singha Durbar, Jawlakhel and such large public places where scared people sought refuge and shelter.
(This is the second article in the series of five. The second in the series will be published on July 15, 2016)
Challenges for reconstruction
One of the major challenges faced in the reconstruction process of Nepal is the absence of elected local government. Lack of government in local level was reflected in the major pre-disaster and post-disaster events, where it took months to reach the affected region and still no widely-accepted data is available. In the absence of an elected local government, top-down approach of governance has its own accountability deficit.
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