The First Twin Temblors and After-4

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Nepal Rock ‘n’ Roll 2015

The fourth outdoors day began, as usual. The rain fell and stopped and began again. My swollen leg was near normal today, the swelling had much subsided.

There were some activities in the camp next to our house. Much cooking and other festive preparations were afoot from the morning. The visit of the family’s Bahun priest indicated something auspicious and solemn. Soon a puja ceremony, quite elaborated under the circumstances, began and continued for an hour or so. All the puja fragrances of ghiu, dhup batti and chandan wafted in the air. A bell was tinkled many times.

In the afternoon, a baby was taken out of the house. It was the very infant I had seen on Sunday morning, being taken out of one of our vehicles. It was his sixth-month bhat khuwai or annaprasan day, so his rice-feeding ceremony was being held. He was the child of the couple who had been married last year in the neighbors’ house. Now they had a child, and the occasion, the second in importance, after his naming ceremony, was held for him.

Bedecked in silken red from head to toe and in full regalia, the baby was taken on a jatra to the Kumari Thhan near Hanuman Thhan. I paid my respects by placing my head under the child’s feet and made a token gift of one thousand rupees. Unaware of all the pomp and ceremony held for him, he nevertheless clutched the money I had offered him. In two hours, the procession returned, all with tika on their foreheads. The celebrated infant will surely be known as a Baby Born in the Earthquake Year of 2072 BS. ‘I was all of six months when the Great Earthquakes shook Kathmandu in the year …..’ he would surely begin his tale in this way.

I think it was on this day I got very angry. In the deserted camp, I started cursing, using cusswords in English, obscene slangs in Hindi, Newari invectives, Nepali expletives, a little bit of brothel French, satyr-infected Italian and Spanish and Portuguese and whatever vulgar expressions that came to my maddened mind. I felt lightened and buoyant in a while, my accumulated tensions, triggered by the hundreds of the earth’s rocking and rolling these past days and nights, felt purged. I experienced a sort of purgation, somewhat purified to some levels of deliverance.

But that was all, by whatever yardsticks.

For my writing project had come to a halt, including the volume for Himal Books on Nepali Musicmakers (my tentative title). My cataract treatment hung in suspense, I saw bleak scenarios all around me. No one worked, most stayed home, the few who worked did so under duress. My usually engaged and busy neighborhood looked lackadaisical and lethargic these past days. Among this confused and helpless lot, which we had become for no fault of ours, my sense of proportion had derailed; and forced to be directionless, I seethed. But at what? At the continuing earthquakes and the shuddering each tremor brought? My fate? My misfortunes?

 
A child peeks out of a hole in a temporary tent in an open ground in Kathmandu after a powerful earthquake followed by strong aftershocks struck Nepal, in Kathmandu on April 27. Rescue workers in Nepal scoured through mounds of rubble for earthquake survivors as the country's official death toll climbed past 4,000 and new tremors sent shocked survivors scurrying outdoors. (NARENDRA SHRESTHA/EPA)

Very soon I realized that Nepal by now had mammoth problems in its hands. Its many mostly hilly districts had been punctuated by destroyed houses and hovels. Roads were blocked by landslides. Imminent scarcities of all kinds were being seen and experienced. There was a rapid deterioration of self-esteem and confidence. With mental and psychological breakdowns already evident in human psyches and equilibriums, the adversely affected populace had become limpid, impotent and clueless.

From mass and multitudes, it finally led to the single self. Here, on the final count, each individual stood on his own. The crowd was already rendered lonely, and each member, left to his own devices, was puzzled and confused. It was in my powerless individuality, rendered as such, that I had become so angry. But angry at what, again? At whom? The targets were so many, but not a single cause of or reason for these multiple miseries was found worthy of my vitriol. All said and done, it finally dawned on the lonely and bereft individual, his shaken house, his scared family, its bewildered members, the loss of their peace of mind, the old state of tranquility and the wholesomeness of whatever happiness and contentment they had enjoyed now vanished. All these taken for granted human values were now greatly damaged and nearly demolished, if not totaled. The disasters were inexplicable, and not one single agency answered for it. Oldsters at our camps sighed ‘Hey Parameshwor!’ and the gods were silent. I felt so undermined, like never before, in my seventy two years of life. I worried for the three generations of human beings in my family. But angst was the only lot I had come to possess. ‘It’s not fair!’ would be the general cry, but who or what agency would listen to the outcry?

Then I remembered an old apocryphal story heard of a genetically litigious community in a hardcore Hindu region of west Nepal. This village’s entire rice fields were once swept by a massive landslide and inundated by flood during a worst rainy season. The villagers assembled for a gaon panchayat powwow and unanimously decided to sue the flood and landslide, read Mother Nature, at the district court for justice and damages. Nothing came out of it, as was reported, but a vital point was made in this court case against the wrongs wrought by the elements. One version of the public litigation story is that the raja of the region paid for the damages caused by the acts of God.

Could we do the same here, too? Could we shout ‘It isn’t fair!’ and press charges and expect redress? But who should be named the culprit? God? And who would come to our deliverance, anyway? The government with material relief and reconstruction and rehabilitation policies and projects? World philanthropists and international donors with charity purses? Some Swamis and Rimpoches and Bishops and Pundits and Mahasthavirs to spiritually ease our troubled minds?

There were no such inklings whatsoever of any sorts, although various government inspectors had checked our houses inside out day by day, and news were already broadcast on hourly basis of hundreds of jet planes with thousands of experts and volunteers with hundreds of thousands of metric tons of relief materials and food and medicines landing at the airport in Kathmandu.

I reentered my house seven days and seven hours after I had left it. But I never reentered my old room and study on the top floor for any spell. I let the strewn books and papers and jolted bookcases and closets and fallen picture frames be in their state of disarray. I began living on the ground floor, getting my clothes and essentials by darting into my old room and quickly evacuating it. There developed a morbid disappointment with my old sanctuary on the top floor, and no solace of safety and security ever germinated in my new bunk life on the ground floor, either. There was only a fatalistic sense of resignation and desperation.

(This is the fourth article in the series of five. The last in the series will be published on July 29, 2016)

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