Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Thank God it wasn’t me...

Last Saturday(17th Sept,2011), some crude bombs went off in Agra, and on Sunday Sikkim and parts of North Bengal were rocked by an earthquake which measured 6.8 on the Richter Scale. A little more than a week ago it was Delhi which got rocked by an earthquake and a terrorist attack and two months ago it was Mumbai's turn. When the blasts occurred in Mumbai last July, I was there with my son at my brother's house. We received calls from friends and relatives who knew that we were there to see if we were safe. Mumbai is like a hot spot for terrorist attacks these days and every time an attack happens, I call up my brother and a close friend who stays there to check if they are fine.

I have personally closely escaped two such calamities – one a natural calamity and the other man-made and escaped unhurt.

When the terrorists attacked IISc in 2005, I was a speaker at the conference, the venue of which was attacked, as well as helping out the organizers. I got saved by walking out of the auditorium just about 2 minutes ahead of the others. In fact, one lady who was injured by a shrapnel hitting just below her eye walked out with me but then stood back to talk to her guide, Prof. Puri, who was the only slain victim in that attack. Although I had met Prof. Puri only the day before, I always remember him as a kind, extremely knowledgeable and very humble person who was almost a father-figure for his students. When I heard the shots, I thought that someone was bursting crackers and felt irritated that someone could burst such loud crackers within the institute campus and didn't quite comprehend the gravity of the situation even when a colleague came and said that there was a shootout at the auditorium. That day still stays in my memory as the most memorable and yet the most unbelievable day of my life.

Four years before this, on 26th January 2001, when I was working in Jamnagar, Gujarat was struck by an intense earthquake. At that time, my friend and I were vacationing in Mt. Abu and although we did feel the tremors over there, we didn’t realize the devastation till we reached Jamnagar two days later. We spent a couple of days outside our home in tents for fear of after-shocks and then later stayed temporarily at a hostel set-up since one of the pillars of our building had cracked and had to be repaired.

After both these incidents, I got frantic calls from my close family and friends enquiring about my safety. They were relieved to know that I am safe as I feel relief every time a natural calamity or a terrorist attack strikes the city where I have some family members or friends and I get news that they are safe. The other day as I was reading Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran where, while writing about the bombings on Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war in the 80s, she writes, “This had also become a ritual, to call friends and family to make sure that they were safe, knowing that your own relief implied someone else’s death”, it struck me that how true this was for us too. It also brought to my mind Arthur Ashe’s famous quote “If I were to say, "God, why me?" about the bad things, then I should have said, "God, why me?" about the good things that happened in my life”. I guess it takes a lot of courage and some level of spirituality to be able to do that. But I am me, selfish and petty if you may call me so, and still feel relieved at the safety of my near and dear ones though I feel saddened when innocent lives are lost, especially by senseless acts of terror.

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