Earthquake experience: “It was terrifying, it was inescapable”

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Rumtek resident Shalu Tamang shares her horrifying earthquake experience. Rumtek is situated around 23 kilometers from Gangtok in Sikkim.

“My husband is a workaholic. He is an engineer by profession and a true Sikkimese by heart. I am a freelance editor and a mother of a nine months baby; I happen to go out of my home very rare though my mother-in-law is a very good care taker. So, I force my husband to take me out every weekend. Last black Sunday, ignorant about the forthcoming disaster we had been for an outing. My daughter was dancing to the music and I was accompanying her while my husband was cautiously driving. To enjoy the rain we got fresh fish from Ranipool market. We reached home at about five minutes to six in the evening. My husband wanted to have good dinner so he called up his childhood friend, a professional cook from Singapore, who is on his vacation in Sikkim. After just 10 minutes our roof started moving, lights went off, the ground started moving, it was like a never ending motion. I screamed and my baby cried. I did hold my baby as tight as I could and started running out of the house. Meanwhile, my husband caught us and stood firm as the Ashokan Pillar. I chanted; “Om mane padme hum!”, thinking it was the end. The wet climate was relentlessly attacking with force from every side, cooling down the temperature. It was terrifying, the terror did engulf each and every one of us; it was inescapable.

Personally, I was safe; My family was safe; My house was safe. I live in Rumtek which is a 20 minutes drive from Gangtok, the heart of Sikkim. For me, the memory of a black Sunday is red. The sky gloomed as it was pouring down. The earthquake that had been so black and looming in the distance now rose over our heads showering down over our buildings.

It was apocalyptic; it felt as though nature was angry and did growl from beneath taking back what belonged to her forcibly along with destruction.

All we could do was look to wait for information from our friends and families far and near.

The reality of the situation came crashing down when I happened to visit the Manipal hospital on Tuesday. The cracked building with its patients running in for the emergency shook my soul once again. The damaged Rumtek School building cracks on the doorway of old Rumtek Monastery and the fall of the Pagla Bhir did shake the residence of Rumtek with utmost fear. Rumours of another earthquake terrorize all of us.

It is tough, not knowing what to say, not knowing what to give. We all want to do as much as we can. We try to put ourselves in their shoes; I did look around at all the built up junk I had lying around, pointless little nic-nacs with some story behind them, my baby’s clothing, her toys, greeting cards, books, the things I never thought about, even those stored in my storage room, I couldn’t imagine it all just disappearing. Then the home itself, I had just moved in, my home has always been my home, it is a sanctuary, so safe, so secure filled with memories and love and family just being there made me happy and to think of it all charred and ruined was impossible. It’s impossible to tell how one can feel in that situation. It’s easy to understand ‘what do things really matter, as long as the family survives’ but it isn’t simple to even think of a life without the family.

What else can we do? There is nothing we can say to console. I feel the unavoidable feeling of helplessness and I’m sure many others do experience the same. There isn’t any other way to understand how people who had been directly affected are feeling. It’s even harder for me to simply put into words as an onlooker. It is a difficult time and may even sound like an unobvious thing to say but that’s how I feel. I can say about it; it was really hard and I have no idea how hard it was for others who did suffer directly.

I am just another helpless onlooker, one of thousands from around the country. I saw the affect that the 18 th of September 2011 earthquake had but I will never be able to understand and for someone who is so much family centered like me, that’s the worst thing.”



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