Tuesday, October 11, 2005

My House Speaks To Me

It seems my last post was pre-emptive. Ramzan started with the right, positive spirit as far as I was concerned. Struggled to wake up Saturday morning, 4 am, munched an apple, drank a litre of water and smoked a Montecristo. I even managed to finish the last chapter of Maya Jassanof's "Edge of Empire" and then rolled over and returned to slumber. I was awoken again just before 9. I had the distinct feeling that somebody was going through my cupboards. I looked over my shoulder to see all three wardrobe doors flailing open. Then it all broke loose. The bed shook, the fans swayed. The paintings started to shudder. The old brain went into auto pilot mode. Earthquake. I charged down the stairs remembering only to pick up the mobile and the Beast. On reaching the garden I looked up to see scores of crows cawing manically. I could still feel the ground beneath my feet moving. Minutes passed. Not many but it seemed like an eternity. Eventually the crows stopped cawing and settled into the trees. The rumbling stopped. It seemed to be over. Five minutes later the entire scenario repeated itself. This time round I heard the house groan. Houses have voices, I thought all the way.
The true enormity of what had happened struck me a little later. For the unitiated, Islamabad is in an earthquake zone, so the odd tremor is not an unusual occurrence. In hindsight Saturday's tremors were much worse than those previously experienced. I think I was trying to normalise them all along. Instant television (especially the amazing Geo network in Pakistan) started to relay the news and the true enormity of the quake began to filter into our consciousnesses. A block of flats- a self-styled "tower"- had come crashing down and provided the world's television with a ready image to zoom in on. The Tower was part of an apartment block that had been permitted to be constucted in the mid 90s. The consensus of opinion is that the construction work was shoddy. After all Government housing (which by definition equates with bad construction) survived. I spoke with two friends in the immediate neighbourhood. Both told the same story: they had charged downstairs in their pyjamas within the first few minutes of the first few tremors. By the time they arrived in their car parks, the Tower had crumbled into a series of ugly concrete slabs. The house-of-cards analogy was scaringly accurate.
Every tragedy has a positive side. Some heroes perhaps. This one was no different. I spent Saturday afternoon with a Designer Person from Karachi. As the image of the collapsed Tower played itself out repeatedly I decided I couldn't take it any longer. I marched Designer Person into a car, drove to the supermarket, picked up as many cartons of water and biscuits as we could fit in and drove off to the site. ("Our own Ground Zero" said our very predictable press.) On getting there (no mean feat) I was amazed to see civilians in control of the okace. University students were diverting traffic and residents were physically carrying away rubble. The rudimentary equipment there belonged to the private sector. The police and the khakis were there, but apart from establishing a "presence" for the benefit of television cameras or scratching their balls, they seemed to do little else. ("Hey. It took the Americans ages to get their act together for Katrina- give us a chance" they reacted outrageously.) The other set of heroes are the truly amazing British rescue teams that have managed to drag no less than 26 people out of the wreckage days after the event.
Every tragedy has its jokers. It is amazing how seemingly intelligent people can panic in these circumstances. After my Ground Zero expedition I went to have a much needed coffee with a friend. I could hear his wife talking to friends on her cellphone: "Yes. The Met Office has predicted two more earthquakes at 12 a.m and then again at 3 a.m." I froze. Met Offices the world over have no control over tectonic plate movement. Yes, they have a better idea of hurricanes. But to the best of my knowledge nobody has accurately predicted an earthquake. Another fashionista-cum-bad-taste-event-manager called Designer Person at 9pm. She had no idea that an earthquake had even happened and wanted to discuss a fashion show. Hmmm. I usually con myself into believing that I may be a little more intelligent than some people around me. Now I think I am normal and some people are just incredibly stupid.
ps: Thank you to all of those who messaged, replied and emailed asking about me. I apologise for not replying earlier.


Blogger Wild Reeds said...

Wonder how the situation is now. Hope the earthquake affected people managed to survive the harsh winter well.

2:51 pm  

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