Sunday, 21 June 2015

The great earthquake, Mani Dewan and his indomitable spirit

The indomitable spirit – that’s what I call it. It has almost been more than a month and half since the Big one struck on 25 April. And thereafter the subsequent aftershocks kept on hammering our heads. Destabilising the EQ more than ever.

But it couldn’t shake the spirit of Mani Dewan on that day, though his body still shakes at the mention of the disaster.

Mani, short-statured and in his late forties, was alone at his home watching television when the earth started shaking at 11:56 AM. As he felt the temblor, he ran out of the house immediately for safety. Seeing the tall building in front of his house swaying as bamboos swaying in the wind, without any further delay, he ran towards the church in Kapan.

The shaking was continuing and people were scrambling for open spaces. But he was running as fast his legs could carry him. Miffed by a truck stopped in the middle of the road, he scolded the driver taking names. The driver too entered into a fracas. However, seeing no use of brawling, he kept running. Only to see an electric pole blocking the road.  

Within four minutes, he was there, at the church. At dot 12, he stood in front of the seven-storey building that had toppled down like a matchbox. He shuddered at the sight and was emotionless for a moment.

The shouts and cries from the building would tear apart the soul of any passer-by. But nobody had the courage to enter the collapsed building, once a tall landmark, with the earth still shaking.

He knew that the church was on the sixth floor. He rushed inside the ramshackle structure – in search of his six family members. Never had all of them gone to the church together!

Inside, the only things he could see were bodies writhing in pain and rubble. Surrounded by people crying in pain, he screamed from the deep of his heart. And luckily, his wife, buried in the rubble heard him. Buried beneath two people she replied back – with a faint hope of rescue.

Rays of hope flickered. He started digging like a mad man. After taking out two dead bodies, he saw his wife’s head. Had he not found her, she would have suffocated to death. He pulled her out and then began search for the rest five family members.

Till then nobody had dared to enter inside the rubble. As he rescued one of his daughters, nephew and nieces from the rubble, a stranger helped him get the severely injured survivors in the open from the rubble.

He had found his five family members. But his youngest daughter was still missing. He searched and searched and finally found her among the rubble. She was like a dead log – only the blood was running down her veins. He took her out from the rubble to the open space where rest of his family laid. Breathing for life – out on the open road. 

But the truck driver with whom he had had altercation before, came to his help. He helped him take the survivors to a hospital nearby. Now the only thing he was worried about was his youngest daughter.

After two hours she opened her eyes. He says, “That was the moment when my sanity returned.”

“Otherwise, I had been totally senseless after seeing the dead bodies, spurts of blood, rods and concrete piercing the bodies, and innards splattered around amidst the gory scene.”

He doesn’t remember how many more people he rescued while digging out his family members. “Must be around 4-5,” he says.

“The only thing I regret is – I could not save a neighbour who had recently bought a house next to mine few days ago. I was helpless. He was buried to his waist and a rod had pierced through his head. He was dead.”

As he narrated the story, I was imagining the situation. I could see his heart beating faster. And along with him, I was getting a bit nauseous.   

While we (I had tagged along with two of my friends) were listening to his story, we were offered plates of delicious snacks and treated to a trip to his farm nearby. A sprawling greenery amidst the concrete jungle, it was eye-soothing. The 13 ropani (1 ropani = 5476 sq. ft.) area had been a post-quake camp for the people living in the vicinity. With the already installed tents covered with plastic, they only had to bring mattresses, bed-sheets and blankets to spend the nights.

All his tomatoes, ready to bear fruit, were uprooted. When we were there, the tomato saplings that had been transplanted were showing the signs of growing back. We were treated with the organic strawberries straight from the farm. What a delicious species it was!

Apart from the climbers, tomatoes, beans, green vegetables, there was a pond in the middle of the farm. He had raised carps and local rohu variety of fish in his small pond – covered with net so as to stop birds from pecking on them. A kingfisher, looking live though killed by Mani, perched on a bamboo pole nearby.

It was strange to see a kingfisher turning up for a fish hunt in the pond located amidst the concrete jungle called Kathmandu. And stranger was the sharp-shooting ability of Mani – he had killed the poor fellow with help of his catapult.

Being a wildlife lover and conservation enthusiast, I always hate the killers of wild species. But here, in case of Mani, I loved him and his attitude. Not to forget – his indomitable spirit.