When the ground beneath slipped, death comes uninvited

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By Dr. Ksh. Imokanta Singh

Often death, like earthquake, comes without invitation from the host. The host becomes hostage in the hands of death. When the ground beneath, which we humans call ours, for which we fight against each other, which is the repository of our culture and tradition, polity and economy and above all our lives and living, jilts us without any parting letter, what we humans can say and do but to bear the wrath of the split and in the extreme case sacrifice our lives for the sake of the tormented love. The quake becomes a game changer. It snatches lives from the dear and near ones, flattens the palaces, makes straight curved, makes riches paupers materially, resurrects the paupers, changes the courses of rivers, redraws the geographical boundaries, makes ours theirs and theirs ours, brings down temples, churches, mosques to dust … but it cannot stamp the human spirit to fight back, to crawl back and stand on the very ground which jilted us, to keep on worshiping the same ‘smeared’ gods and goddesses and above all to live and celebrate the life itself with all its triumphs and frivolities. Life becomes earthquake with all its unpredictability.

When the building started shaking so violently, the predawn sweet sleep was disrupted brutally. Never before, shaking of such a high intensity was felt in my life that no hope was visible, the mind became numb and the body became stagnant as if possessed by some evil spirit. (Some brave-hearts even tried their best to run down stairs and be out of the multi-storeyed buildings) Death became imminent not just for me but for the whole family. Those few seconds awoke the sleeping desire to live and protect the whole of my family in the midst of dire circumstances. The idea of death makes me love my family, all of the human beings and other creatures more and more. Death becomes a great spiritual teacher, at least for me.

Thankfully we were spared to be able to tell that experience to others who might have felt the same during those seconds. It has occupied a large page in the personal history that it will be told and retold so that the experience is revived time and again to caution the present. Alas! It is not the same for some whose lives were ended suddenly. This is the only time, truly and sincerely speaking, when I feel that those who died could have been me and my family. The struggle and desire to survive by those gone and the way they died so helplessly in the rubbles are etched in my imagination and might come again and again as day and nightmare whenever I face such similar situation.

The following few days and nights were spent with fear of a looming aftershocks. Nights were spent half sleeping and half waking. It was like sleeping with an enemy. Some even thought that another big one would strike at night, assuming that it does so only at night. But the monotony of thought and human habit of complacency and forgetfulness overcame the fear and today there is very little consciousness that quake will strike again. It looks like normalcy has dawned on those who did not face much hardship. Today they might be having a lighter time narrating those moments to each other as if they had a well-tuned shaking, but those few seconds were not lighter time by any measure.

It is a difficult time for some, let me not say many, whose dear and near ones have died, whose houses and walls have been brought down and who have to bear the brutal cold of the night in the open space. Earthquake, per say, does not kill but crumbling buildings do. It is not just the buildings which were built by government agencies but the private ones too which cracked or were grounded. Quake is an enforcer of egalitarianism. It does not discriminate between the government and private properties and rich and poor. But quake serves as a laboratory for testing if a building was built with all its required criteria or not. This throws up the hidden and is a warning to the builders that they cannot dupe the owners and the masses in this land of earthquakes. They cannot just run away saying that even earthquake laden Japan suffers thousands of casualties in the event of quakes of higher magnitude even if that country is so advanced technologically. But the fact is all boastful humans have not been able to outwit the nature, if not why should many perish even in this 21st century of ultimate technological advancement. Or is it that scientists deliberately do not want to conquer the nature for it serves as controller of surging human population when it opens its jaws to devour the less prepared and unfit. Is it some kind of Darwinian thesis of survival of the fittest and most careful?

This brings me to a philosophical understanding of the death, which may sound little digressing. It may not be a great deal when the death finally arrives, what is really worth cherishing is the struggle to survive, the utmost care given to the dying and the endeavour to save lives. In normal circumstances, people feel helpless when the death comes, despite the efforts to save. That is the dead end of a journey which any living being cannot deter. It is little puzzling why people, often, are in hurry to cremate or burry the body the moment he/she dies. May be the body becomes just a thing without ‘soul’, an extremely bio-degradable thing which cannot connect to the living people, emotionally and intellectually anymore. However, memories (durability depends on the kind of acts he/she did) of what he/she did remain amongst the living.

It has always been a desire for me to see what people do to my body after I die, like – how my body is treated, who cries the most, how many people attend my funeral, who praise me, who curse me saying it is good that I died, how my body is cremated etc. This will remain as just a desire which cannot be fulfilled at any cost since I am not somebody who can defy death and wake up on some Good Monday or Friday to know the unknowable from those who saw my body. Such desire might have been the one for those who died in the quake. But the surviving people know of what they are doing to those who are suffering – the comforts extended by relatives, the relief efforts being delivered by the government, non-governmental organisations and people whom the survivors never had met at all but are connected by the eternal string of humanity, defying the narrow boundaries of race, ethnicity and community.

A civilisation may perish with an earthquake. Or a civilisation may need an earthquake to introspect and re-unite, brushing aside all the ill feelings existing on the lines of groups and the sordid politics of ‘I, me and myself’. Let humanity prevail all over in this testing time. Let short term memory not rule and ruin us. Who knows another bigger one might strike sometime here.

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