Wednesday, October 12, 2005

6.8 on the Richter Scale

It was a particularly harrowing week. A massive presentation to a Client – 3 campaigns, 14 scripts in Hindi with translation in English (for our Canadian client), reviews and re-reviews, copiers failing at the last minute, frayed tempers, another attack of low blood pressure etc.

Was really looking forward to the weekend to vegetate. And not only because Durga Puja was just around the corner. My first pujas in Delhi.

A and I were just getting into the proper mood Saturday morning. Newspapers strewn all around, morning tea, TV blaring out full volume…none of the frenetic weekend-get-house-in-shape plans.

Suddenly, I felt the floor beneath me sway alarmingly. God, I must be blacking out, I thought. I looked up at A and before I could say a word, he said, yes the floor, infact the apartment was swaying. Earthquake?? I ran barefoot to the door and opened it. Through the banging covers of the meter boxes, I saw our neighbour run out with his three-month baby in his arms, his wife behind him.

RUN, I shouted to A. We joined other residents streaming onto the alarmingly swaying staircase. God will these stairs never end? (We are on the 11th floor). Low Blood pressure and weakness forgotten, I ran for my life and picked up so much speed that I left A atleast three flights behind me. Normally he being much bigger than me outpaces me easily even at his most relaxed pace.

Finally, thank dear god, we reached the ground floor and found a huge crowd from all the 8 buildings out in the open. Along with the sheer relief of having made it, I found that I was dressed in a faded, worn out horrible nightie, which last night I had worn inside out. Everyone seemed to be dressed for a Sunday brunch. I hid behind a pillar (all fear of the pillar descending on my head forgotten) and hissed at A, “Give me your T-shirt. NOW”. I hastily put on his T-shirt, A poor thing was left bare chested in his boxer short which he wore with great aplomb. I lurked behind parked cars till everyone felt it was safe to get back.

Back we found the papers flapping in the fan, the cups of tea where we left them, cold and the TV blaring surrealistically some Hindi-remix with gyrating nymphets. As if to confirm what we had just felt, we switched on the news to find it was 7.5 on the Richter scale.

The panic just wouldn’t go away. What about the aftershocks? Was it just my low BP or panic or both which made me think that everything was shaking?

Why did we take an apartment so high up? Why? I asked A.
Put on some descent clothes and give me back my T-shirt, was A’s curt response.

We left after couple of hours to my in-laws’. Their bungalow seemed infinitely safer.

Now, I can sit back and think (not without a sense of rising panic), about Saturday morning. And how in those crucial moments, all I thought of was me, me, me. I was impatient with other slow runners on the stairs and horrors, I raced ahead of A. And even after making it safely, what I wore seemed more important. Some one (I don’t know who) said that it’s the hour which reveals the man / or woman. Revealed quite a bit about me - selfish, self centred and idiotic and terribly relieved that till next time (Gurgaon is a seismologically active area), despite that half an hour of terror, it was just an interesting tale to tell and re-tell; The embarrassment of being seen in horrible nightclothes, the mission-impossible feel of racing down the stairs.

Just a few weeks ago, my boss was talking about impossible choices. If one was faced with a situation where one had to save one’s spouse or child, what would one do and then live with it? We had a heated conversation, with the women all saying, the child, obviously. It was easy to say such things when our future seemed secure. Faced with ones mortality, I found that the over-riding thought was me, me and me. As reports keep coming in, of children buried under the debris of their schools, villages wiped out, homeless and helpless people waiting for relief, days after the quake, in freezing temperatures, I realize how lucky we’ve been. Gurgaon is one of the three seismologically dangerous spots in India. It could have easily been us. Dear God.

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