Monday, April 27, 2015

Shaken, not Stirred !!

It was shocking to hear about the earthquake in Nepal last month. It was a sad sight, seeing the destruction caused in the beautiful city of Kathmandu and surrounding areas. It was commendable of India’s PM Mr. Narendra Modi to send in the Indian Army and Air-Force for rescue missions. Nepal right now needs all the help it can get. My thoughts and prayers go out to Nepali citizens and those in India affected by the quake. I pray to God to give them the strength to overcome the adversity and wish them a speedy recovery.

Hearing about the quake in Nepal brings me memories of an Earthquake I experienced fifteen years back: a quake which was similar in intensity to the Himalayan Quake but caused far more damage. I still remember the day as vividly as if it happened yesterday.

It was the 26th of January 2001. The time on the clock read 8:30 AM (or near around that). The people of the state of Gujarat along with the rest of India were slowly rousing themselves from deep slumber to celebrate the nation’s 51st Republic day, unaware of the cataclysmic chain of events which were to occur. I was in my hometown Vadodara (also known as Baroda) in Gujarat, spending a well-earned break in-between my hectic college schedule with family and friends. My house had small room on the terrace where I was sleeping at that time. I was snoring away blissfully on the bed, wandering in ZZZ land, totally unprepared for what was to come. I must have shifted my position as the bed shook a little. The bed always shook whenever I shifted position during sleep due to shifting of weight: so my conscious mind took no notice and I continued sleeping. But my subconscious mind was active and noticed that the bed was still shaking long after I had shifted position. It must have flashed an alert-signal to my brain which flashed a warning message to me. 
The bed continued shaking and despite the deep sleep was in I instinctively knew that something was wrong. And then in an instant, the mists cleared and I knew that there was only one possible explanation for the continued bed shaking.


My mother’s high pitched shout from below confirmed my suspicions. Needing no further prompting, I shook off all remaining traces of sleep and ran for what I was worth towards the steps. The house was shaking so violently that I seriously doubted whether I would make it in time downstairs before the entire structure collapsed. But then, just as I reached the stairs the tremors subsided and everything became still again. I rushed down to the street where my family members were waiting anxiously. The entire neighborhood was out on the street. There was a lot of confusion and people were chattering animatedly. Many people like me, had experienced a quake for the first time and were still reeling under the effects. Then we all gathered our wits and started joking and laughing about the affair, just to calm our frayed nerves. After spending sometime outside, we all returned to our houses. We were all shaken by the affair despite the face of calm we projected outwards. We switched on our TV sets to catch the early morning news. It was then that the full extent of damage caused by the quake came to light all across Gujarat. Vadodara was among the fortunate cities which was least effected. There were a few cracks in some buildings and some poles and trees had been uprooted here and there, but apart from that there was no major damage to the city.

We were busy the rest of the morning answering calls from concerned relatives and friends and assuring them of our safety. The entire day, news bulletins ran continuously round the clock showing images of buildings torn to dust and rescue workers prying out trapped people from the debris. Death and destruction were everywhere. Bhuj and its surrounding areas in the Kutch district were near the epicentre of the quake and were totally decimated. Other cities in Gujarat too bore the brunt of nature’s fury. But the damage was most widespread in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s commercial capital. A day which was to be a national celebration turned out to be a day of tragedy and mourning. The newspapers were filled with heart-rending stories of tragedy and harrowing survivor accounts. Many people including me had experienced nature’s fury live for the first time and were totally shaken by the experience. It’s one thing to read about such incidents in the paper or hear it in the news. But to experience it first hand is a totally different experience; one that will stay with you for a long time.

But even after the darkest hour comes the dawn. Slowly but steadily, Gujarat limped back to normalcy after the damage and destruction thanks to the never say die spirit of the Gujarati people, though many people still carry psychological scars till date. I myself could not sleep soundly for an entire week. The city of Bhuj was rebuilt. People went about their daily lives and the state of Gujarat once again gained its position as the vibrant economic powerhouse of India.

There are three vital lessons I learnt from the incident.

The first lesson I learnt was that life is unpredictable. There is no telling what fate has in store for you tomorrow; if tomorrow ever comes, that is. J So don’t leave any stone unturned. Achieve whatever you want to achieve before the lights go out for the final time. Live fully with no regrets and worries and don’t take life so seriously. It’s not like you are going to get out alive anyway. J

The second lesson is one which we should all take seriously. There are impromptu fire drills conducted once every 2-3 months in our office premises. These drills emphasize on how we should react whenever there is an emergency, natural or artificial.  It’s a sad fact that many of us take these exercises very lightly. We treat them as a joke and an opportunity to get away from the work station for some time. But God forbid if an emergency really occurs, then many of us will have then wished that we had paid more attention to the lectures. In reality, you do not have more than a fraction of a second to think and your actions make all the difference between life and death.

The third and the most important lesson is this: No matter how much man progresses, no matter how tall and strong he builds his buildings, no matter how powerful he builds his vehicles; all his ingenuity and resourcefulness are no match for the vagaries of nature. After all, it took no more than a single Iceberg to destroy the Titanic, easily one of the biggest and most powerful ships of her time. A few tremors caused unprecedented death and destruction across Gujarat in 2001 and Nepal in 2015. Therefore, whatever man does must always be in harmony with nature. Sometimes, due to greed and oversight, man pushes the limits of her boundaries. But one day she will return with a vengeance and claim what is rightfully hers.
  - -  Srinivas Pavan Addanki

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