Saturday, 1 October 2011

Every holiday has a story

A torn backpack even before I boarded the connecting flight was the extent of my worries when on holiday to Sikkim. Then the earthquake hit.

Yes, I felt it and yes, things shook.

Shopping in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, that Sunday evening, I later learnt that I was just 64 km from the epicentre of the earthquake that measured 6.8 on the Richter scale. A day later and we might have been at the very same spot.

Someone said later that it went on for about 35s. It felt like a minute.

It was loud. A-cement-mixer-outside-your-window loud. Even if you ignored the screaming.

I wasn't screaming. I was being dragged out of a souvenir store by an alert friend - the best person I could have shared a quake experience with, thanks B! - while saying something about not having paid for the pretty coin purses that I seemed to have run out with.

Mobile phone networks died before the world even stopped shaking, but data services stayed reliable, tweets, IMs and emails were dispatched. "All fine."

People ask me if I was afraid. After the fraction of a second it took to realise that I wasn't going to be buried in rubble (yet), I really wasn't. Adrenalin, a boringly practical instinct, the remarkable - if misguided - conviction of one's invincibility, and a pocketful of cash are perfect for situations like this.

Expunge oneself of the souvenirs that never were: check.
Call Dad, ping friends, email editor with an offer to be available for information: check.
Stock up on water, a torch, biscuits and chocolate: check.
Get ready to spend the night out on the road: sure, can do.

Running through this mental checklist, all I could think of was how when I got home, I should blog about the pressing need for universal mobile phone charging stations and public telephone booths. With time to readjust my personal lines of right and wrong, I was convinced I would be justified in breaking into an electronics store if the situation got any worse.

It didn't, and I met too many nice people in Gangtok to be guilty of misdemeanor or have to to live on the street.

A couple of hours later, safe inside a new friend's home that was warm in so many ways, I realised just how shaken we all were. (I blame two aftershocks, a dying phone and the sight of broken photo frames.) I felt I ought to be reporting this, but wasn't sure I wanted to. I found my legs unusually unsteady, clutching onto a water bottle was stupidly comforting, and I wasn't sure I wanted to take off my shoes and jacket just yet. What if we had to run out again? Even two days later at the airport, the sound of every plane taking off made me jump.  

Surprisingly, maybe because I was watching much of it unfolding with a sense of distance, I ate and slept very well that night. It was as if I hadn't a concern in the world.

The day after
M.G. Marg, Gangtok, the morning after. 

Maybe I didn't. Things could have been so much worse.

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