Awesome Nature


It is difficult to rationalise tragedy, but it must be said that the earthquake in Nepal measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, does have plenty of lessons for everybody. While our hearts go out to the people of Nepal, and are overwhelmed with sorrow by the images of suffering and loss continually coming in, there is one thing positive only human tragedy of the magnitude can bring. Even if temporarily, Nepal`™s time of great sorrow has brought the world together. Nature`™s fury has no particular target, and can befall on anybody anywhere on the planet. At such times, the frailty and commonality of the human predicament becomes stark, making everybody, including the mightiest, meek and vulnerable. Against the magnitude of the cosmos, and its reserve of energy, humans are practically nothing. The inherent paradox of nature`™s destructive energy is precisely this, and in the word of Irish Poet, W.B. Yeats, it is a `terrible beauty`. The same can be said of tragedy itself. Terrifying as it may be, there is in a metaphysical way, a beauty in it too. It opens up a window for man to see and realise his limits and littleness. This is why, in literature, tragedy as a genre still stands tall. Indeed, the most memorable literary characters ever, are tragic ones `“ Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Anna Karenina, Khamba and Thoibi etc. All religions also address this insignificance of man in the cosmos, teaching him therefore he can find permanence only in god. In the Gita, this is done most dramatically. When Arjuna refuses to fight, saying he would rather be a beggar or a hermit, Krishna shows him the frightening visage of himself as the churning universe, and that regardless of what he does, Arjuna cannot escape his insignificance, and that the only meaning he can give his own life is to know and do his duty. May the Nepal tragedy, which has already claimed 2,200 lives be this lesson in humility for the world. It is however doubtful if this moral unity of mankind will remain much longer than the memory of Nepal tragedy lasts, and until another nature`™s catastrophe visits, it will be back to square one of rat races, cutthroat competitions, treacheries and wars.

Scientists now explain to us that earthquakes are caused by landmasses in the earth`™s crust crashing into each other. The Indian landmass thus crashed into the Asian mass about 25 million years ago, and the impact is still continuing, so that the Indian landmass continues its northward shift at the rate of 1 to 1.5 inches a year. Sometimes the impact tension builds up for years, and then it is suddenly released so that the landmasses slip against each other, or over each other, by as much as 10 feet. In the case of the Indian plate (landmass) these big slips have been regularly occurring at an interval of about 70 years, which was how scientist had been expecting the latest Nepal earthquake for quite some time now. The Northeast fall within the same fault line as Nepal, this is all the more reason for people here to be also prepared. Sensible and scientific construction of homes and public buildings is the best way to do this.

Plates movements in the earth`™s crust is a reality, though it is hardly a phenomenon which can be demonstrated. The most ready common sense proof of this is the existence of mountains, as Bill Bryson points out in `A Short History of Nearly Everything`. Bryson is not any scientist of repute, but is a universally acknowledged excellent chronicler of the history of science. He said when the theory of the plates movements and crashes was first proposed, scientists were amazed they did not think of this much earlier, for it this was not so, and there were no internal pressures within the earth`™s crust that continually pushed mountains up, in the four billion or so years of the earth`™s existence, gravity and erosion would have ensured the earth`™s surface a smooth sphere. Bryson also humorously notes that scientist again gasped in disbelief that they did not think of the Big Bang Theory when Newton discovered gravity after an apple fell on his head. If everything attracted each other, the universe should have long ago converged and collapsed, unless there was a counterforce pulling everything away from each other. Edwin Hubble paved the way for the Big Bang Theory, when he observed in 1929 that all stars seemed to be travelling away from each other. Nature is mysterious and awesome indeed.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam


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