The First Twin Temblors and After-3
Though it was the first workday of the new week in Nepal, it was understood that nobody would go to their workplace. Offices and schools and colleges would be closed, the government was still confused and indecisive, and corporations, banks and business houses would be understaffed at best. Why, the very buildings where they worked and studied and conducted their business and services were most likely to have been already cracked and damaged, if not totaled, by the many temblors and their aftershocks in those past twenty hours. In general, too, it would simply be unsafe and unwise to leave home and desert one’s family. So a long and undeclared vacation was unofficially forecast when the number of new epicenters from all directions, save the south, had been recorded; their repercussions and aftershocks alone would rock Kathmandu hourly for many days into the future. By nine o’clock, when most working people would be out of their houses, there was an air of a rude and unwanted picnic in the Valley. Our neighborhood young, who should have been in their school and college classrooms by eight o’clock, were milling around, cellphones in their hands and clasped to the ears, sharing information and selfies. They disseminated the latest news and visuals to our various camps.
I found my legs and toes swollen this morning when I woke up and slid out of my shelter. Perhaps it was the cold, or my naked feet were out of the blanket and exposed most of the night. Or fleas and mosquitoes had bitten me. I rubbed Iodex and soaked my feet in a bowl of hot water and salt. In a couple of days, the swelling subsided enough to enable me to stand on my feet and walk around. (It was weeks later when my doctor told me that it was due to the blood pressure pills I was taking, and he changed the prescription.)
I sat on a chair by the campsite and listened to my portable radio. News of more disasters were broadcast. Some news frequencies would be half-an-hourly and some frequently as breaking news items. One FM station informed that its emergency news broadcasting unit had moved down to the ground level from the sixth floor of the building. It was ominous all around, with more menaces to be expected. My neighborhood managed this morning without TV, electricity, Internet and Wi-Fi and other daily habitual givens. But news of international cooperation arrived at our camp, many countries had extended their aid in supplies, experts, and hardware and necessary materials. Many jet planes had already landed at the Tribhuvan International Airport with professional rescue workers, firefighters, doctors with medical supplies, social workers with foodstuffs, tents and such resources that would be needed in a quake-ravaged Nepal. Rescue helicopters and evacuation aircraft were already jostling for airspace and parking tarmacs at the airport with those landing with essential logistics, emergency paraphernalia and veteran volunteers. It was war situation in Nepal as far as the country’s foreign friends were concerned.
Nursing and resting my leaden feet, I posed myself as our camp’s custodian. A group of lads left the area on a sightseeing tour. Hours later, they returned with sensational citing and sightings. My grandson Prashanna and his gang returned with reports of what they had seen, and showed me their mobile-phone images of the Dharahara reduced to a heap of debris. One shocking image was that of the rubble of what once was the principal mandir of Tripureshwor. I walked by the Tripura Sundari Temple on my way to and back from office every workday. I sometimes stopped and watched movie shootings, mostly dance sequences, on the stone-paved space in and around the temple. It was now gone. Only hashish-high sadhus and local drunks, accompanied by mangy mongrels and the nearby Kal Mochan’s notorious pilfering monkeys, those red-bottomed macaques, would remain. I hoped the nearby Chess Park, by the Tripureshwor-Thapathali bridgehead, where leisured and retired aficionados gathered for smoke and tea and gossip and checkmating, was undisturbed.
In such national pandemonium, the uniformed forces of the nation – the rescue operation personnel deputized by Nepal Police, the Armed Police Force, the Nepal Army – the doctors and staffs at the teeming hospitals where increasing numbers of dead and injured were brought for care and attention, those social workers and volunteers who visited the displaced persons’ camps crowded and occupied by majority Valley residents who were forced to vacate and abandon their homes and seek safety of open spaces showed up for duty or to lend helping hands, abandoning their shaken and scared families and irrespective of their own worries and concerns. What about these serving hands? What about their own families back home? What about government civil servants pressed into emergency service and worried at the same time about the safety and wellbeing of their own families and homes and hearths? The Olympian and Herculean magnitudes of the perils and the present and continuous dangers were ominous, and these vicissitudes had already visited us, and more vagaries would be upon us. Hence the international involvement was looked forward to in such colossal tragedies.
The past two weeks had been a period of hiatus for me.
For one, I had finished my nine months of early morning schedules of giving the final touches to my novel in English. I would wake up at four o’clock in the morning and work on my novel until 6:30AM, by which time the family commotion of TVs being switched on, cellphones ringing and other dins and clatters would compel me to rest my work and prepare myself for the workday. Thus, I had finished editing, reediting, rewriting, adding and deleting and administrating other literary marinating and garnishing flavors to my ‘double-helix’ novel.
Secondly, I was preparing for the cataract on both my eyes to be removed. Two weeks ago, my ophthalmologist had divined that my eye lenses were clouded by opacification and he expressly advised me to consult Dr. Sanduk Ruit for help. I was trying to get an appointment at the Til Ganga Institute of Ophthalmology. Dr. Ruit was reportedly out of Kathmandu on his seasonal eye camp tours to the remoter parts of Nepal.
Then the unprecedented rounds of the earth’s knockouts started yesterday. The earthquakes of 1934 had repeated in 2015, and new hits from other epicenters and Richter-scale magnitudes were making a mess of our lives. My novel and my eye-care would have to wait for many months. (It would be September 21 when my left eye received laser treatment and December 21 when my right eye was curated. Dr. Ruit was the kind eye caregiver. My novel was contracted for publication by BookHill Publications on Wednesday, March 09, 2016.)
In the late afternoon, a strange series of sight greeted me. As the reluctant and accidental keeper of our camp, I saw many groups of visitors coming from the neighborhoods near and afar. They were mostly inquisitive women and curious kids, perhaps their children. These were self-appointed ‘observers’ who entertained themselves by visiting the camps of their fellow quake sufferers. In fact, their own respective outdoor shelters were certainly visited or would be peeked into by other likeminded minders, including from our own four camps. These quiet and unselfconscious intruders looked at each of our camps with microscopic attention while passing by each temporary habitat as casually as possible. Then on to the other camps to see which ones looked good and which ones were not. Oh, those mobile and itinerant quidnuncs would be full of their own stories!
By four o’clock, twenty-eight hours after the first twin tremors of yesterday, I could at last discern that the government was at last up and working. The first horde of investigators was from the Wada Office of Kupondole itself. With the airs of assessors and enumerators, they asked each of us about the state and condition of our houses. They walked up and down the two lengths of my family house on both sides, opened every door to every room on each floor, the assistants noting the cracks and other damages in ostensible details. They advised us to remain outdoors indefinitely and left.
The next were three inspectors from some government ministry of physical planning or something like that. Architects and building engineers that they were, they were equipped with long ‘inch tapes’ and such much paraphernalia and asked us some authoritative questions, duly noted them in addition to their own observed findings. They declared our humble homes unsafe for the time being, as long as the seism and their aftershocks would continue. Then they left.
The general mood changed, this time for the better. The government cared, for a change! It was, after all, concerned for our wellbeing, safety, happiness, security – the composite phrase in Nepal being ‘aman chain’ of the ‘nagarik’. Three cheers for Nepal Sarkar! Hip-hip-hip! Hurray! One more time! Once more! Thank you!
There was some commotion of another kind. It was from the third camp at the farthest end of our area. The temporary residents were changing their campsite for tonight. The reason being a large glass window breaking into pieces and shards and falling down from the seventh floor of the adjacent high-rise building that was a seismic-proof edifice presently housing a college.
The evening deepened and night gradually fell on this upper part of Kupondole. Our second camp night began. All the neighbors gathered, with more guests for the night. Soon our cars would be safe, albeit cramped, havens for the second night. Tremors continued rocking us and we did not know whether they were caused by fresh epicenters or old aftershocks. We did not care anymore.
The third day began with a cool and temperate dawn. Blacker humor hovered over the camps. Hasty maneuvers, quick retreats, reflexed scurrying in and around had become the refugees’ collective habits. People improvised and modulated their movements when using their toilet, doing toiletry and grabbing clothes and essentials from their deserted rooms.
Then it rained. The way it began, it would be a heavy downpour for hours. Our tent had holes. So we avoided the leaks by parking the vehicles strategically and rearranging what basic belongings we had. The ground became soggy and we removed the carpets. My swollen right leg was a deep concern to me and I kept it as dry as possible.
The unexpected rain was just slightly worse than the ensuing tremors and their repercussions. The refugee tents all over the Kathmandu Valley would have a new enemy as their grassy and sandy shelter floors would be sickly wet, uncomfortably muddy and plain irksome.
(This is the third article in the series of five. The fourth in the series will be published on July 22, 2016)
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