For the first time in fifteen years, I have slept peacefully through an earthquake. Snoring contentedly, if I might add, while the ground rumbled and shook beneath me, sending people into a tizzy. And I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. So relieved that I feel like celebrating with a vodka martini, NOT shaken or stirred! It’s almost as if I’ve cheated fear itself, fear that I’ve been living with, ever since the very first earthquake I felt in Gurgaon.
Chamoli: March 29, 1999: Having moved to Gurgaon from Kolkata, we rented a quaint apartment on the tenth floor of one of the oldest condominiums in Gurgaon, Silver Oaks. Life was all about work and hectic after-work partying. After a particularly bohemian night of friends, alchohol and loud music, we collapsed into bed a little before midnight. Just as I was floating into dreamless slumber, I was rudely poked by my husband from his side of the bed. “Stop shaking the bed,” he growled menacingly, speech still blurry from all the spirits in his bloodstream. “Stop shaking the what?” I got up angrily, ready with a stream of cuss words to hurl at him for disturbing my sleep, “I’m not shaking the …. “ but before I could finish my sentence, I noticed our flimsy cane bed shaking rather violently. I looked up, the fan was swaying this way and that. My heart skipped several beats. From the next room, I heard my brother shout out “Earthquake, run for your life!”
Easier said than done.
Getting dressed in a hurry and running down ten flights of stairs is no easy task. Especially when you have gallons of alcohol inside you and your vision is sleep blurred. But we made it, and heaving for breath in the open parking spaces next to the building, I wondered why we had bothered to race downstairs at all. If the building did fall, we would be buried right under it. Meanwhile, I made a mental note to stay properly dressed at all times, even at night.
Kutchh: January 26, 2001: After the first earthquake, I grew restless. I would look at the ceiling fan a lot, just to make sure that it was not swaying. The after shocks ceased in a few days but I often felt my head do a little spin randomly. I would get hot flashes at the thought of another earthquake. Nightmares of being trapped under rubble. I started looking for excuses to get closer to the ground.
Then, Kutchh happened, and breakfast was never the same again. From getting ready to tuck into a nice, hot breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and bacon to running down (you guessed it), ten flights of stairs again! I had to get out of the damned 10th floor flat, and fast!
In the years that followed, I moved house. A two-storeyed house, facing a park. Life was peaceful, earthquake-free. There were pests of another kind – the simian variety! But isn’t that the irony about life? The grass is never greener! My daughter was born, we got burgled, held to ransom inside a house by a gang of marauding monkeys and, it was time to move again!
Only this time I insisted that I would not move higher than the third floor if I had to live in a flat again. It’s no joke running down ten or twelve flights with a baby in your arms. With Gurgaon being a seismic zone, I was NOT taking any chances this time. We moved into a fourth floor flat in another condominium and I started getting my earthquake kit ready. Just in case. Packets of formula, water, odomos, flashlight, wallets, credit cards. Strangely, the list kept increasing and the bag, heavier. How on earth would I lift it if we had to leave in a hurry? We started going to bed fully dressed at night. Our shoes, bags and earthquake kit neatly stored next to the bed. We were all set. Just in case …..
Days passed, months even. The milk powder started smelling rancid, I started digging into the earthquake kit and using up the supplies when I felt lazy to shop. Soon the (empty) bag disappeared under the bed. We started getting into bed in our disreputable night wear, tired of being poshly turned out all the time. Our wallets and bags went back to being scattered all over the house, in places you would never find in a hurry.
And then it happened. In the dead of night, in winter. After a New Year’s party at a neighbour’s house. As we raced down the stairs, with our five-year-old, desperately trying to avoid being trampled by neighbours, we couldn’t stop cursing ourselves. Huddled in our car, near a open field, a little distance away from our block of flats, we sat in silence, angry and fearful while our little toddler kept lisping cheerfully at regular intervals “Is this an earthquake? Are we going to die?”
No, we didn’t die but all three of us caught a dreadful cold. From sitting out in the freezing cold for over an hour. We were laid up for nearly ten days and let me tell you, it wasn’t fun. My earthquake kit reappeared again with fresh supplies and I made a vow NEVER to touch it again.
I kept my promise, and the kit is still there under the bed, intact with bottles of musty water, sour milk and expired medicines. In all the earthquakes that followed over the years, whether at night or in the afternoon, I have never been prepared or remembered to grab the kit before leaving the house. In the most recent one, in summer last year I think, I have rushed down only to realise that my t-shirt (which I threw over my camisole in a hurry) was inside out! Nonchalantly, I walked up and down the park as I waited, pretending as though this was the latest style, ignoring curious stares and sniggers. Gurgaon women are always well-dressed even in times of calamity. Though I once saw a women wrapped in a towel trying to hide behind a pillar. Poor soul!
The moral of my story? Don’t know if there is one. It’s hard to be prepared for an earthquake and after years of fearing them and trying to stay alive when it happens, I slept through it all.
Oh well, until next time I guess. Till then, I guess I should go check on that earthquake kit. Something has been smelling really foul under the bed!