The Open Dosa

Consuming the Ordinary Differently

September 18, 2011 and the Himalayan earthquake

It was study-time for my two young children, who had returned home from school. I was shuttling between the kitchen and their study tables. It was around 6 PM. My daughter needed a certain portion of her history chapter explained, so I sat down on the sofa and began explaining the lesson to her. I do not recall what chapter that was. Knowing it would take a while, I had turned off the gas-stove before I sat with her. In the next room was my nephew, the same age as my eleven-year old daughter, doing his homework on his own. 

Ten minutes into the explanation, I heard a deep rumbling sound that came from afar but grew in intensity with every passing second. My first thought was that a heavily loaded pick-up van was coursing its way into our neighbourhood. The rumbling magnified into a terrifying level and before another thought crossed my mind, the house began to rock – gently at first, but it grew faster and stronger. We were on the first floor and the wooden partitions creaked and groaned as if they were trying to wrench out of their places. It wasn’t a pick-up van. It was an earthquake! 

I have lived in the Himalayan zone all my life, where earthquakes are not rare. I have lived through many earthquakes, but this one was simply not any of the kinds I had experienced before. The sound outside had reached deafening proportions. The house rocked with greater speed and force. I started to scream which was very unlike me in tough situations. I held my daughter tightly in my arms. My nephew in the other room was calling out to me. I was paralysed and unable to walk across to his room to bring him. I told him to start crawling towards me. I too got on my fours and crawled towards him. I grabbed him halfway across and crawled back to where my daughter sat curled up and crying violently on the sofa. I put them both on my lap and held them tight and started to pray. As I prayed, I kept looking up at the ceiling expecting it to fall on us anytime. The rocking would simply not stop. The explosive sound of the movement of the earth’s crust outside continued unabated. The only thought, later I recollected, was, “let this end soon; whichever way.” My greatest consolation at that moment was that the three of us were together in this. I anticipated a quick finality because it looked like the earthquake would only stop after it had taken its toll. 

After 40 seconds of what seemed like an eternity, the growling and rumbling began to subside. The rocking of the house became gentler. We were all sobbing and crying, and holding each other tightly. As the house came to a standstill and the noise outside had calmed into an eerie silence, I looked around the room to see what had happened. Strangely, not a thing was out of place. Everything, from books to picture frames and decorative pieces were all in their places. I was confused. The intensity with which the ground had shaken had to have had all the things on the floor, broken and shattered. But nothing had happened. 

Slowly I walked to the window. I wanted to lift the curtain to take a quick peek at the hill opposite my house, which has layers of houses built unplanned, dangerously perched upon the steep slopes. I anticipated the most horrifying sight of destruction and rampage that nature could inflict on the follies of human race. I was afraid to do so, but curiosity got the better of me and I lifted the end of the curtain with great anxiety. The houses stood in their places just like I had seen them half an hour before I had drawn the curtains! I was awestruck. It was such an incredible sight! I was relieved beyond words. This was certainly a miracle of the most wonderful kind. I turned to my children on whose faces was fear and fright largely written. And with a calm voice I told them, “Nothing is damaged.” They scrambled from the sofa to join me at the window as I fully drew the curtains for a better view. I couldn’t have asked for a better sight of that unsightly hill ever. 

Featured image credits to Shradha Mani Pradhan

Edited by Bodhichitta Saiyana

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