Only If I Listened to Her

There was a time when I used to make faces, and jump up and down seeing a dead cockroach. How disgusting it looks when a body, which was once full of life, is distorted and broken. And now, I am standing amidst of a sea of distorted bodies, looking for something familiar, maybe something I would recognise. After such a long wait, and such an extensive search, I just wish it all ends here. I cannot keep looking around anymore. I am tired. I hope that I find bits of my mother in this pile.

It was like any other day of my life. Mom wakes me up when I want to sleep for a little longer, hugging my warm quilt in the cold winter mornings. Then the normal routine starts: brush teeth, shower, get dressed, and eat breakfast. Before it’s too late, I rush to grab my bag and leave the house. Five minutes of walk down the road, and here I am standing at the gate of my destination, wondering what I am doing here. My body mechanically entered the premises of the building, and reached the room which was occupied with people I hated the most in my life. And as the bell rings, my struggle to bear them starts. School, everything about it was good, except for those bullies who made it a sad and difficult part of the day. But the Republic Day was coming, and the preparations for the function were going to begin. I was, as usual, going to be the incharge of dance and all. Each year, it is the same thing: welcome song for the chief guests of the event, some patriotic song and dance, and a folk dance. But in the winters, I just felt extremely sleepy and lazy in school. I was impatiently waiting for the evening, as Dad promised to take Mom and I out to the Sunday Park. Sunday Park is the only place that is gonna cheer my soul. People in this city like colours so much, everything around the park used to be colourful, bright, and happy, as if there is no tomorrow, and all we’ve got is this very moment of bliss to celebrate life. I used to feel like a slice of the whole of Gujarati culture was on show infront of the park.

I loved Sunday Park then, since it would be open on all days of the week, and on Sundays. It was one place where I can have the fun of a mini-fair outside the park, and make puppy faces to my Dad to get scarves and cheap jewelry. Mom will make sure that I visit the temples close to the park and sit there for half an hour atleast, listening to the chants and bhajan all the priests sing in a loud and unpleasant manner. But what I loved the most, was to listen to Gita Path, where the chief priest would sing excerpts from a big and thick book, and tell what it means in the vernacular language. Mom would try to imply them into things that take place everyday in my life, and mostly that one should be obedient to their parents, and also should study well and excel in their academics. I would look at Dad for confirmation, and he would nod his head in agreement to everything that Mom said.

When I was a child, this is how my days were, pretty messed up in school, where I felt like an alien, and pretty beautiful in the evenings, where my parents make sure that I am at the best of all comfort, and learn everything valuable from everything that happens around me. Things were unchanged until high schoo. My Mom, who believed that a child should abide by whatever their parents teach them, and on the other hand, my Dad would partially believe in that, but also would ask me to learn from all that I experience everyday, and learn to rise and thrive after every fall.

Today, I have fallen in a pit, where I am going through things which would teach me nothing good, nothing valuable, and lessons I was not prepared to learn the lessons that life has for me. Right now, everything around me is blurring, confusing, hurtful, and destructive. This is one lesson that no person looks forward to learn in life. The pain that it stirs in the heart, the helplessness, it adds to the urge of killing yourself and ending everything then and there.

The D-day was arriving next morning, and all I needed was a good night sleep. I was excited for all the programs that were going to happen in the school, and the sweets that we were going to get from the school that we get on all the special occasions. I was doing my homework, and was looking at some theories from my Physics textbook which I had to understand before the next class. It was around 8 o’clock in the evening, when I heard something unusual which shattered the silence of the evening. It was a loud howl somewhere outside, which, in few seconds, multiplied. I thought that some dog in the street might have died, but then it was joined with what sounded like some cats crying in the street, and donkeys braying. For a moment, I thought there is a carnival of animals passing by, and I leaped to window to see the exact matter. When I moved the curtains aside, I saw five dogs, three cats, and two donkeys gathered in the street. What it looked like to me was an opera performance by them. I was excited, and I ran inside to my Mom to tell her about it. But Mom was nowhere to be found. I looked around everywhere in the house, but failed to find her. I thought she was in the neighbour’s house, and decided to resume my studies.

Suddenly, I heard the bell ringing in the pooja room. There is only one person who does pooja in our house, but the question that hit me, at this time? I rushed to see if everything was okay, and found Mom sitting infront of the Krishna idol chanting something. I could sense that something was just not right; hence I sat next to her. She was trembling, and was in tears. I got scared, and stopped her to tell me what was bothering her. Fear was clearly seen on her face as she was sweating in a cold winter evening. She slowly revealed that she was scared because of the animals crying in the street. I chuckled, and assured her that everything was going to be fine, but she held my hand, and asked me not to go to school next day. I got irritated, and left the room telling her that all her fears are nonsensical, and I wouldn’t let them affect my life. I came back to my desk to continue where I left with the theory, and all I could think of was her eyes full of tears and fear. Outside, the animal orchestra continued, and I decided to close my books and hop into my bed. I could not take the image of Mom out of my head; I had never seen her like that. But soon, I fell asleep.

It was a Sunday morning; a foggy and chilly start of a winter day. I remember the date well, as it was one of the most important days in India: 26 January, 2001. I got out of the bed, and got ready for school. As a rule in all the Kendriya Vidyalaya in the country, the students have to wear their white uniform. I was getting late for school. I hurriedly put all the important things in my bag, and went to check on Mom in the master bedroom. Dad was awake, sitting on one edge of the bed, watching TV on a low volume, and Mom was fast asleep. He was excited about the first broad gauge inauguration in Bhuj. He asked me to return home as soon as the event wrapped up. I got out of the house and started walking towards my school which is close by. The school was in chaos, where all the teachers and the event participants were getting ready. I had to take care of the makeup and costume of all the dancers. I was helping them in getting ready in one of the classrooms in the ground floor. All the other students were assembled in the prayer ground.

I wanted to go home; I was worried about Mom. I wanted to slide inside the quilt, hug her warm body and sleep. I was getting irritated by the old patriotic songs being played on the loud speaker. I went to the washroom to splash some water on my face. I looked on the mirror on the wall, and see that my image was shaking. I thought my head was spinning. But then, I heard people were shouting and crying. I got out of the washroom, and ran towards the lobby to see what was happening. I saw people running towards the open ground. One of them screamed, “Krishna, run towards the ground, just run!” I realised that the entire surrounding was shaking madly, and the glass from the window panes were shattering. I ran towards the ground, and fell flat on the ground. After five-eight seconds, the earth stopped shaking. There was a moment of silence, which broke with cries and chaos. I had never been in an earthquake before; hence I didn’t know that I had just had my first earthquake experience. I did not know what to do. Everything around me was in mess. A girl passes by, crying, “I want to see my Mom and Dad.”

Those words hit my head like a hammer. I went breathless, thinking about my parents. I wanted to know what has happened to them, if they are okay or not. I wanted to go home, but the school gates were closed. The security guards were not letting anyone go out of the school premises. All the students were asked to gather in the assembly ground. We all rushed to there, to find our school principal standing with his head bowed down. There was no electricity at the moment, and hence he had to literally scream to speak to 800 people. He said that the school is responsible for the safety of the students in the premises, and hence only those students are going to go out whose parents would come to receive them. I was shocked, and angry. I wanted to see my parents. I wanted to see Mom. But there was no point fighting with anyone. I knew that my parents would come to take me with them. I sat in one corner, and started praying for their well-being.

Hours passed by one by one. Many students left the school with their parents now and then. But I was still looking for mine. The students of Bharat Scouts and Guides were distributing water packets to all the people in the school. The armed forces came to deliver food packets, and put some tents for our stay in the night. I was getting scared every minute. I was remembering all the sweet moments that I had spent with my parents. Tears started rolling out down my eyes, but I was not loosing hope. I was sitting silent, all by my own when an Army man had put his hand on my shoulder. I look up at him to find that he was my neighbour. I was relieved to see him. I got up from my chair and asked about my parents. He didn’t speak much, but he told me that the next morning he would for sure take me to my house. I felt a ray of hope touched my heart. I couldn’t sleep the entire night, thinking about my parents, being restless.

Next morning, I was looking for my neighbour amongst all the Armymen gathered in the school with relief food. After an hour of search I found him in one of the tents. He was fixing the tent. I asked him if we are free to go now. He took his walkie-talkie out, spoke something in it, and said, “Beta, do not expect anything good.” I didn’t know what he was saying, and I didn’t want to believe him. Anyway, we left the school premises, and I literally ran towards my house. On my way, I was shocked to see that all the houses had turned into a pile of concrete and dust. I ran to my house, and broke down to find it gone. All that was left of it was broken furniture covered in cement dust, and bricks everywhere. I remember that I saw some blood on the ground, and then there was a blackout. The next thing I remembered was that I was in a tent, lying on a mat, with a small bandage on my forehead.

It has been three months since I had started looking for my Mom and Dad. I had looked in every hospital, every relief tent, but they were nowhere to be found. I have given up, because I have somewhere accepted that I cannot find them in one piece anywhere. In these three months, I have seen unidentified bodies lying on empty grounds, rotting and being eaten by dogs and crows. I have seen people dying out of pain, wounds, and hunger. Today, in the same Sunday Park, where I had once come with Mom and Dad to have a relaxed evening, stand to identify the parts of their bodies scattered amongst many others. I stand here carrying a heart filled with immeasurable pain, and a bag with the wrist watch of Dad, and gold bangles of Mom. I don’t know if I would find any inch of my parents here, but I don’t know what else to do. Dad didn’t tell me what to do in such situations, neither did those Gita paath did. Only if I had listened to Mom that night, and had not gone to school leaving her and Dad alone in the house, I would have been lying in pieces with them, somewhere here in the ground with them. Atleast then, I wouldn’t have to live alone, without them, a life which I never imagined would be written in my fate.

 

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