Tuesday, April 14, 2015

THE DAY THE EARTH SHOOK

It was a day every Gujarati will remember for the rest of his life. On 26th January, 2001, when people were still asleep relishing their holiday, when students were at their respective schools saluting the tricolor, the earth shook like never before. Within a matter of few minutes, mother nature unleashed her fury on Gujarat.

Belonging to the city of Vadodara, I was 13 years old when this happened. I still recall the events as if it happened just yesterday. Our class of 7th standard had gone on a trip to Kutch. A five day trip, we had resided in tents on the outskirts of the city of Bhuj in a small village called Madhapur.

That morning of 26th january was a queer one. The entire night, the incessant barking of dogs around our campsite had troubled our sleep.

We woke up early to go to a place called "Kalo Dungar" situated on the outskirts of Bhuj.

At 8.25 am, we were in the bus passing through the city outskirts when suddenly the atmosphere became cyclonic. I stared out of the window as I watched the roofs two huts suddenly collapse. I was stunned, not understanding what was happening. At 13 years of age, you neither have the maturity nor the understanding to gulp down the jarring truth that you are actually witnessing a natural disaster, rather actually passing through it.


I watched buildings come down in front of my eyes, the road behind us splitting into two. And then all of a sudden, it was over. 


We quickly drove back to our camp site. The entire village was in a pandemonium. Shrill shrieks & cries filled the dusty air. Trees were scattered across the road. We reached our campsite where our teachers made us pack our luggage, explaining us what had happened.


"It was an earthquake", said our sir to us, as many of us broke into tears. It was 2001, when mobile phones were a rarity. None of us had one, nor were the telephones working. We hadn’t a clue whether our families were safe or not.


Quickly, we gathered our luggage. The chilly air and the impending fear made us shiver. I tried to remain as strong as I could, trying to think my family would be safe. As we all were sitting in the bus, I suddenly realized that one of my bags containing snacks was missing. 

Hurriedly I rushed back to my tent. Food was something precious in such times. I found the bag lying in my tent. As I was about to leave, I heard some noise behind me. To my surprise, I saw a small girl standing behind me.

"Bhaiya, aap ne meri mummy ko dekha?" She asked me innocently.


I looked at her carefully. She must have been around 7-8 years old. With two lovely ponytails, she wore a school uniform with a small Indian flag clutched in her left hand.
She asked me again, "Have you seen my mother? I can’t find her. She was with me sometime back but then .." She stammered.

I lifted her and she continued, "Then suddenly everything started falling and she disappeared".


I felt moved by her innocence. However troubled and worried I was, she was too small to be on her own. I rushed back to the village carrying her. She held me tightly. It was such a strange thing that she was trusting an unknown person. As I approached the village, I saw my sir looking confused at me. I told him what had happened. We both rushed to the nearby school where all the families had been given shelter. 
Inside, there was chaos everywhere. Dead bodies lay on the floor unceremoniously, surrounded by mourning relatives. And then suddenly the girl I was carrying shouted, "Ma".



I swivelled around to see a lady in her thirties running towards me. I put down the little girl as she ran to her mother. The embrace and subsequent outburst of emotions that followed was heart wrenching. Her mother kissed her all over, hugging her, weeping at the same time. It was a scene which finally broke me. Till now, I had managed to hold myself against the test God had put me through, but I finally gave up. Standing there, I wept like a baby, worried about what would come next.


She saw me crying. Loosening herself from her mother's grip, she ran to me and hugged me.
"Thank you", she said, "Hope you too find your mama very soon".

Her mother came to us and fell into my feet. They looked from a low socioeconomic status. I immediately got down and stopped her from doing so. She thanked me profusely. It was then that it dawned on me that a small kindly and humanitarian gesture had brought so much of happiness to a mother. I felt proud!!

After a gruelling journey of 16 hours, we finally reached to our worried parents. It was an experience which brought out the man in me. But I will never forget that little girl. The funny thing is I couldnt even ask her name. I call her "Dhara" because it means "Earth"- the one that shook everyone and everything that day!




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