As he struggled to find a foothold on the narrow and overcrowded steps of the over-bridge at the Kalupur railway station, Mayank glanced at his wrist-watch.
He cursed under his breath. The train, Ashram express, had been running late by about 40 minutes. It was not a large duration of time by any measure, specially in India, where trains have been reported to reach their destination a day later. But he was in a foul mood. His ticket from Ajmer to Ahmedabad had not been confirmed and he had spent half of the night sitting in the corner near the bathroom, in bitter cold, trying to stay warm by wrapping his shawl around him.
Intermittently, he had to repeatedly hide in the bathroom from the sharp eyes of the roaming ticket collector(T.C.). Finally, he had given up and had himself approached the ticket collector and had paid him three hundred rupees. In return, the T.C. had given him the side-lower berth in the sleeper compartment, to be shared with another man, who was another suffering soul like him, only too tall.
So, he had spent the latter half of night adjusting himself on the berth with that man, on one side then on the other side, then again the previous side and so on.
His legs poking that man at all the wrong places and the legs of that man creeping near his face so that Mayank could see the dirt in the nails and corns over the toes in all their glory; and the smell – oh the smell!- the nauseating, anesthetizing, revolting smell of those feet.
Thus they travelled in that narrow and confined space, two drops in the vast ocean of humanity, who got accidentally hitched together for a short period of time – uncomfortable and irritable- only to be disassociated in the morning and be lost to each other forever.
On top of it all, it was bone freezing cold. The window pane near the berth was not functioning, it was not coming down. It was stuck at the upper end of the window, as if it had a will of its own and was determined to torture him – peeping from up there, sneering and rattling at his acute discomfort. Throughout the night icy gusts of wind had tormented him – slicing him through the narrow gaps that appeared in the covering of the shawl, no matter how hard he tried to wrap himself.
He had had a fitful, fretful, sleepless, dreamless and awful night, and he rose with a sprain in his neck and back.
Mayank sighed as he reached the top of the bridge. All over the stairs going down to the pavement he could see only heads of the people. There was not even an iota of space available which was not occupied by a human body. All around him men and women were rushing down and jostling with each other in their hurry to get down. With their bulky luggage, people were constantly running into each other; bumping the person in front with the suitcase or evading the big holdall that the coolie was carrying; and at the end of the stairs was a wall of men in khaki, not policemen, but autorickshaw drivers.
They were competing with each other to get the fares, so much so, that they were almost bullying the passengers to ride with them. They snatched the luggage from the hands of the passengers and started walking briskly towards their autos speaking only two words – ‘aa baju’, before the passengers could argue or haggle for the fare.
As he hurriedly sat in the auto and said, ‘ Devkutir flats, Meghaninagar,’ to the driver, he suddenly realised that he had not seen whether the driver was a muslim fellow or a hindu. He had vaguely seen the face- a middle-aged person with greying hair and beard which had been dyed in mehandi, and wearing an old-looking round-rimmed glasses – he could be anyone!
He became even more alarmed as the auto came out of station and started it’s journey towards the destination. The roads were empty!
Why was it so? This was the most crowded and bustling area of the city at any given time of the day – had there been rioting again? Kalupur and nearby areas were infamous for frequent riots, which had plagued the city so often in the last few years.
His pulse quickened and he thought – but there was nothing in the news, and nobody had talked about it.
Suddenly he realised that it was 26th of january. The republic day. It was a national holiday.
He relaxed and wondered why he was in such a hurry to reach his home. He didn’t have to go to the office today. And there was only his mother at his home. He had taken along his wife, Bharti, and their four year old son, Kartik, to Ajmer with him six days ago, and had left them at his in-laws at Kishangarh, a small town near Ajmer. Then he had gone on to do his official work – to see the sales of medicines of his company – Elite pharmaceuticals – and meet the prominent doctors in that region.
He was the area manager of this region, covering five districts around Ajmer. He frequently visited the region and has been specially given this area as he hailed from here and claimed that he had ‘good relations’ with a lot of doctors, along with good english speaking and marketing skills.
This is where everything falls apart of course, he thought bitterly. If he had lied on his resume, his company had lied too about the quality of the medicines, and also about the gifts and perks to the doctors. He had not been able to make the doctors ‘happy’, as the management had retracted on it’s promise of ‘rewarding’ the doctors with exotic gifts and tours. The doctors had stopped writing his medicines and even some had stopped meeting him.
Had there been some efficacy in the medicines, some doctors would still have prescribed them. But he knew that that they were bogus. And so, the sales had gone down massively. He dreaded the upcoming meeting where he would have to disclose the sale report of this quarter. Already, he was hanging by a thread and this could prove to be the last straw.
This was the underlying reason of his foul mood, he understood.
He was quite weary – why the life had to be like this?- difficult, stressful, dreary, tasteless- he could think of many adjectives to describe his existence at that moment and none of the adjectives would be complimentary.
He had shifted to this megacity of Gujarat four years ago after finishing M.A. from Ajmer in search of a better life. He had heard that this pulsating financial city provided excellent opportunities to grow. But he had been searching for that elusive breakthrough in career but was yet to find it. He had been drifting from one job to another, one office to another, one yelling boss to another and selling one item to another.
He often thought that he represented the middle class of India truly, exactly and ideally. He hailed from a town which was not very small or a backward village but was also not a modern metro like Ahmedabad, he was educated but not a professional like a doctor, engineer or chartered accountant who were assured of leading a prosperous life, he was not a ‘hand-to-mouth’ poor but not filthy rich; not even decently rich either, he could read and speak English but not in the fluent, accent-laden and stylish manner as belted out by convent educated students, he could dream of owning a flashy car but could in reality afford a small second hand car and actually drove a bajaj scooter, he aspired to send his kid to best schools but managed to enroll them in a poorly managed c.b.s.e. school with a lofty name, he was ambitious of owning a villa or atleast a high-end flat some day but was also resigned to languish indefinitely in small and old -fashioned flats like Dev-kutir.
Yes, I am the line that neatly divides the population into two. On one side, prosperity increasing steadily until it reached the orbits of top one percent of ‘super- richs’ which held ninety percent of the wealth and consequently the whole country in their grips; on the other end of spectrum, poverty increased alarmingly to engulf millions and millions of inconsequential people who sold their daughters for pennies, and then committed suicides.
Mayank came out of his thoughts with a jerk as the auto stopped rather abruptly in front of his residence.
‘170 rupees saheb,’ demanded the driver as Mayank came out and kept his bag on the ground.
‘170! This is too much, no..no I will give only 150, we have covered such a small distance from the station…here, take these two hundred rupees and give me fifty rupees change.’
‘ Kya sahab! I am asking you the right amount. Itna to hota hai,’
As they haggled for the money, standing beneath a massive Peepal tree, that had been standing just across the street from the flats since decades, a beggar approached them. Clad only in a loin cloth he limped towards them, leaning onto a stick. He was quite old and properly wrinkled.
‘Baba, have mercy on an old man…God will shower blessings upon you. You will flourish and will be happy forever,’ he requested Mayank for alms.
‘Arrey baba, move along…this is Kalyug, year 2001, the last God that walked upon the earth was two-thousand years ago…And even that God was an english God…this country has been abandoned for many thousand of years by the Gods..Nobody can be happy here,’ said Mayank irritably.
‘ Why are you getting angry at this old man sahab…there is a lot of power in their blessings,’ said the driver as he removed a crumpled small polythene from his shirt, unfolded it from the crease which had become dirty and opaque by the long usage. Inside was an old and small calender with a picture of Lord Shiva on one side, it had yellowed and was rather blurry, but gave immense satisfaction to Mayank because it confirmed that the driver was a hindu, ‘ here, I will take only 150 rupees, but I am giving 10 rupees to this beggar and 40 rupees to you..Ok?’
‘ Bhagwan bhala karega..God will give both of you a long and happy life,’ blessed the beggar.
‘Baba, I have had a simple and contended life, I can die easily now with a clear conscience…give my life too to this sahab,’ answered the driver.
As the beggar poured out profuse and repetitive blessings, Mayank glanced at his cheap digital watch and thought what drama those two characters were playing out.
He kept the change in his pocket and entered the premises of Dev-kutir flats after crossing the road. The flats were quite old, constructed around 9 years back when this area had first flushes of modernity and had flirted with sky-scrappers for some time. In a rush, several such buildings had mushroomed – poorly built and pathetically maintained – they had quickly gone into neglect as the growth moved onto newer and outer parts of the city.
The complex consisted of eight buildings from A block to H block. All the blocks were in a circular shape and in between was a garden that had no greenery, few benches and a couple of swings for the kids.
He had lived here for the last four years, since he had moved to. Ahmedabad, in a flat till about six weeks ago. Then the increment in rent which the landlord was demanding became untenable. Unable and unwilling to shell that much amount, he had been forced to shift to another apartment. They had shifted to a new flat in the same compound only. Now they lived in the B- block on the third floor. Mayank and Bharti had decided to stay in the same compound as they had developed friendship with a lot of neighbours here and were in a comfort zone.
Originally painted sparkling white, all the blocks had long turned grey and had intermittent streaks of black, which were formed when the water from the roofs over-flowed onto the walls as the drainage pipes got blocked. So they had a curious zebra like appearance and it was not possible to say whether there were white lines on black background or vice versa.
Dev-kutir or hut of the God, thought Mayank as he looked at the semi- circular board hanging over the entrance, which had rusted and few letters like ‘v’ and ‘r’ were barely visible, it was an apt name for this place…It was a kutir only i.e. a hut, dwelling of cheap gods.
His phone rang with a shrill tone. As he took out the bulky and old Motorola phone that had been provided by his company few months back in an attempt to entice the employees and impart a good ‘first impression’ to the doctors whom Mayank and his colleagues met, he saw that it was his immediate boss Sanjeev.
With a trepidation he picked it up while walking towards his block.
‘ Good morning Sanjeev bhai,’
‘ Morning Mayank..how was the trip?’
‘ It was quite a good one Sanjeev bhai…I met a lot of doctors. They were quite happy and have promised to write our medicines,’ blurted Mayank as he quickly went up the stairs, deciding not to use the rickety lift. He was sweating and was quite anxious to give a good report.
‘ Hmmm…If you say so Mayank, the sales of last quarter don’t match up with your statement. Let’s see this time. You know na that we have a review meeting on Monday… prepare the sales report,’
‘ Don’t worry Sanjeev bhai, you will get the report fully prepared on Monday. I will take care of everything,’ answered Mayank as he kept the phone sandwiched between his left shoulder and left side of the face which had turned towards the phone, and pressed the doorbell of his flat with left forefinger, while holding his bag in the right hand.
‘Ok..ok, Sanjeev bhai…Have a good day!’ as he pocketed the mobile, he was getting impatient…Where is Ma? Why is she not opening the door?
He double-pressed the doorbell forcefully.
But he could not hear the bell ring…Ting – Tong..Ting- Tong. Suddenly he was jerked and fell on the closed door of the nearby flat.
He could not understand what had happened. There was a loud voice coming from somewhere as if hundreds of lions were roaring simultaneously or thousands of engines had started whining at the same time. He pressed his ears with his hands and tried to get up but was again thrown on the ground, which was shaking uncontrollably. His Motorola was thrown out of his shirt pocket and went skidding on the floor towards the opposite apartment and then on the stairs, bumping hard on each step and getting smashed.
He was dumbfounded. As he lay on the floor, open-mouthed, he watched the bulb which had been hanging down from the ceiling in the foyer. It had gone wild! It was swaying from one side to the other like a mad pendulum. Mayank was hypnotized, he could not fathom what was happening.
Then he heard loud voices above and below, of people rushing out of their homes and shouting – Dhartikamp aayo! Bhago!
Some sort of understanding began to dawn in his confused mind.
He had only heard about this phenomenon but had never experienced it.
He got up tentatively, holding onto the dancing walls and saw the neighbouring blocks swaying maniacally, leaning at unnatural and dangerous angles. He shuddered and shivered at this bizzare scene. His whole understanding of the world, it’s laws, physics and mechanics had taught him that it was not possible for a building to move like that, hell!, a building was not supposed to move at all…but right now in front of his eyes they were like whipping branches of a tree in a strong wind.
It could not be! It should not be!
Then with terror rising in his heart like a billous vomit rising in the throat, trying to burst forth, he saw a neighbouring block develop cracks and then crash on the ground with a booming voice.
It was as if his legs had turned into water. He could not move.
Like in a strange and impossible dream he looked down on the floors below and saw a flurry of saris, pyjamas and dhotis rushing down the stairs.
As if rising from a nightmare, he came into action and ran down the flight of the stairs unsteadily and immediately found himself caught in a raging stampede.
Men and women were in tearing hurry to reach the safety of open ground. There were no rules. Everyone was for himself or herself. It was survival of the fittest and the fastest.
Husbands were pushing down their wives in their compulsion to run. Wives, in turn, were not to be left behind. They pulled at the corners of shirt or dhotis of their husbands with all their might and held on.
From everywhere a huge wave, a tsunami of humans, was rolling along the narrow stairs, which trembled with the furious earth. Mayank found himself caught in a group of rampaging people and desperately tried to find a foothold on the steps. The wave of people had swelled and swelled till it became impossible for it to pass the narrow bottleneck of the turn where steps wound around itself and went down to the ground floor.
Mayank found himself lifted off the ground and in his desperation he pulled himself up on the shoulders of someone, who uttered a shriek, but he did not relent, otherwise he would have gone under and trampled under the feet.
For few tense moments the mob was stuck. Mayank feared that they would all die, stuck in the narrow passageway, ungraciously like a pack of mice running in the corridors of a sinking ship. Any moment now the building could collapse.
But somehow the wave passed the bottleneck and Mayank flowed down still pulling up on the shoulders of unknown humans, his feet hanging in the air, his shoulders rubbing against the shoulders or heads of other men and women in similar situations.
Finally, as the earthquake still raged, as the mother earth growled and grumbled; as if shouting angrily; perhaps recounting the sins which humans had committed against her in the past decades, in her deep sonorous voice; they managed to reach the ground floor and then the open space in between the flats.
For few more torturous seconds the trembler unleashed it’s fury, then it subsided, and everything was silent again, but not the same again.
Mayank had held onto the railing which had been put up to demarcate the unkempt garden, with his back towards the block from which he had come out, to keep himself standing as the bowels of earth had moved for some moments. Now he was standing ashen-faced, panting and with white knuckles, clutching the railing, trying to make sense of it all.
There was a sound behind him, like something trying to give away, like a door which has been jammed for ages was achingly being opened or perhaps a large branch of tree was breaking apart from its origin.
He turned around to see the cracks that had developed in the building from which he had emerged, join each other like tentacles of a giant organism that was bent upon gobbling up the building. The cracks quickly travelled all the way from the top floor to the ground floor and the block started to crash.
Ae padyo !…Ae padyo !
The mass of people that had emerged from the block started shouting and began pushing further away in an attempt to run from the falling debris. Mayank experienced a great force being exerted upon his body which pushed his back over the railing to such an extent that he feared his spine would break and he would become an invalid.
He pushed back at the crowd with his legs, the greatest force that he had ever applied, then as he got some leeway, he climbed upon the railing backwards, all the time watching the building which was on the verge of collapsing. He fell with a thud upon the ground on his back and got his wind knocked out of him. At the same instant a part of railing gave away and he was buried under a heap of bodies as men and women fell over him and each other.
With a deafening crash the block collapsed slowly as if in a slow- motion. As he emerged from under the heap, Mayank saw few people who were nearer to the building being engulfed by the falling beams and he saw a lady who had been trying for help with outstretched hands, crushed upon with unimaginable force by a large part of the block, and he saw her hands protruding out of the collapsed mass -twitching for some moments, then they were dead.
He crawled backwards on all fours, all the time facing the destroyed building, then he got up, turned and vomited copiously.
× × × × × × ×
Cough.. Cough !
Mayank coughed vigorously going down on all fours. He was covered in dust which was everywhere in the atmosphere right now.
After lot of retching, he sat on the ground, tears running down on his face and leaving the marks of their journey on his cheeks as they blazed a trail of whitish salty pathways in the dark and greyish layer of dust that had covered his face. His nose was running profusely and there was phlegm everywhere. From his heaving and panting mouth, grasping for air, dangled drops of saliva, streching from the lower lip, springs of different lengths, yo-yoing up and down as he hyperventilated.
He looked up and through the wall of tears saw the vista of death and destruction. Many towers had collapsed, some leaned on the neighbouring blocks as if for comfort. There were deep gashes in all towers and the situation was quite dangerous even for the ones that had not toppled.
There were shrieks all over the place – shrieks of terror, shrieks of loss, shrieks of life being turned upside down in a minute and destroyed forever.
People were wailing, some were sitting stunned, like him, not able to process this gigantic tragedy that had struck out of nowhere. It had taken them by complete surprise, grabbed them, shook them profusely and tossed them hither-thither; so that a father landed somewhere and his son somewhere else; perhaps living, perhaps dead, perhaps living but worse than being dead; a wife had been separated from her husband and kids, mother from daughter, husband from wife and so on – and all this in about two minutes…Those fateful two minutes!
Mayank stood up weakly and held on to a pole that had been part of a swing which had now been damaged. He could hear voices loud and clear with a buzzing sound accompanied constantly, as if he had suddenly disembarked from a plane and his tympanic membrane had suddenly inflated so that he could hear everything accurately and loudly after a long time.
Suniye! Suniye! Bablu ke papa! Suniye!
All around him people were shouting for their missing loved ones.
It was at this moment that the realisation struck him with brute force –
He had forgotten all about his mother! He had run for his dear life in the ensuing pandemonium and had totally forgotten about his mother.
A wave of nausea and guilt hit him and he reeled forward, his legs gave way and he fell and retched again and again.
Time and again his bowels and stomach contracted, and tried to throw out all vestige of food and fluid, that he had ingested, as if they were so disgusted and incensed by him, that they refused to be connected in any manner with him.
‘I have abandoned my own mother!’
His own conscience shouted at him. He had pressed the doorbell but the door had not opened and now the block lay collapsed and decimated. His mother was buried somewhere in that twisted mass of concrete and steel. Perhaps her neck had been broken or she had been instantaneously crushed under the massive beam of the house.
He wept uncontrollably… convulsions of grief, guilt and self-pity shook him repeatedly.
‘ I am not only a looser but also a monster- a selfish and cowardly monster, who does not care about his own mother.’
In such moments the defence mechanism of the mind kicks in, so as to preserve the sanity of the person –
‘ But if you would have tried to save her then you would be dead by now! What purpose would that have served? Think about Kartik..he needs his father, think about Bharti..she needs you. You are young, working ! The sole bread earner of your family. You had to live! Your mother had lived her life – She would have wanted you to survive!’ told his ego defense mechanism to him, ‘ besides, these are paranormal moments, nobody knows how to react to such rare and life-threatening situations. What you did was natural…Instinct!…Nothing to be ashamed of..’
But he knew inside his heart that his mother would not have abandoned him like that, Bharti would not have left Kartik to die and his father, had he lived, would not even begin to imagine a thought like that, whatever the extraordinary circumstances.
He was devastated, not only by the death of his mother but also by his glaring inaction to save her.
I should have atleast tried!
Now he knew he would have to bear this massive guilt throughout his life and bear it alone. He could not unburden his heart to another human being, not even to his wife, specially to his wife.
He felt someone shaking him on his right shoulder.
‘Bittu…Bittu…Is that you?’
He heard the familiar voice. Could it be so? Or was he hallucinating?
He looked up and through his brimming eyes he saw that a woman was standing in front of him. She was covered in grime and her hair were all astray, but she looked vaguely familiar.
‘Mother? Is that you?’
‘Yes..It’s me Bittu…You don’t know how glad I am to see you,’
It was as if a high voltage of current had passed through his body. He was electrified.
He got up and hugged her tightly. Both of them wept tears of joy.
‘Oh..Thank God! You are alive..I thought I had lost you forever,’
‘ But …How?’ asked Mayank,’ our block has collapsed..How did you get out of there?’
‘ No Bittu, our block has not collapsed, look its still standing, it has some cracks but it’s standing. When the earthquake struck I got out of the house and ran down the stairs and safely reached here. I have been looking for you since then. Because I knew you would be reaching here soon,’
Mayank whirled on hearing this and saw that indeed B-block was still standing, where they now lived on the 3rd floor.
How was it possible and where had he been? His mind raced…then it struck him with a mighty force, after looking at the fallen remains of the neighbouring C-block, what actually had happened – he had entered C-block mistakenly.
They had lived for four years in that block on the second floor and had only recently moved to B-block.
As he had entered the premises of the apartments, in his foul mood and thinking bitterly about the upcoming meeting and then talking to Sanjeev – he had unknowingly retraced his old steps. He had picked up the phone and while talking animatedly, and concentrating only on the conversation, he had entered the nearby block, where he had lived for so long that his sub-conscience was accustomed to tracing the way to his old home.
Neuronal circuits or something like that in his mind had been set to fall back to trace that route by countless entries and exits of all those years. They were programmed to seamlessly and flawlessly take him to the exact flat when he was not thinking consciously about going there. They still had not got accustomed to the new path that lead to his recent residence.
It was like the occasions which had occurred so many times – when, while driving his scooter back from work, he had exited his office building and had pondered over the day and the future, and had reached Dev- kutir flats as if in a trance. He tried to remember how had he reached there, where had he turned, what sort of traffic had he encountered; but could not remember it. His sub-conscience had lead him there without applying his mind.
So, caught in his train of thought, and later engaged in the phone call, he had climbed the steps of C-block and had rung the bell of his erstwhile home.
He had not abandoned his mother! This thought thrilled him. He did not know who lived now in that flat… even, whether anyone lived there at all or not. But certainly it was not his mother who was there behind that door. He could not have saved her, even if he would have tried to.
Mayank found his heart getting lighter and the guilt receding away in the light of changed circumstances.
‘But Bittu, when did you come? Did you enter our block and ran ahead of me?’, his mother enquired.
‘I…,’ he abruptly faltered,’ he could not tell her the truth. It was embarrassing and foolish, and could portray him in a negative light, ‘ I just got down from the auto about a minute before the earthquake started. I would have been inside the block had it not been for the driver and a beggar. They delayed me for vital few moments and as I just started to cross the road- all hell broke loose. At first I could not understand what was happening, then when I got my bearings, I ran towards you but kept on falling and when I entered the premises it was quite again. I thought I had lost you.’ he hugged his mother once again.
Later, after few hours when the society was being evacuated. As Mayank and his mother came out of the premises, they saw that the massive Peepal tree on the other side of the road had got uprooted and had fallen on the road. Crushed under the tree were seen parts of an auto rickshaw. Nearby just a little farther from a big branch of the tree was a stick and through the gaps, were seen parts of a body that had been clad only in a loin cloth.
Mayank was shocked to the core. His legs buckled and he sat on the ground with a thump.
‘ There is a lot of power in their blessings,’
‘ I have had a simple and contended life, I can die easily now…Give my life too to this sahab,’ that driver had said…his words echoed in his mind.
Had he really given his life to him! Was this possible? And did the blessings of that beggar protect him? His head was spinning, the events of the day had been too much for him.
He told his mother what had transpired in the morning. His mother proclaimed it a miracle!
She immediately vowed that she would go to Khodha Ganesh temple barefoot and would donate 1000 rupees there.
Then she prayed for the peace of the souls of that driver and the beggar.
Later in the evening when finally call went through to Kishangarh. Mayank told everything to Bharti, who had been half-dead from worry.
‘All is well …It is a wonder that I lived and Ma is alright too. Imagine, me being stranded in between the tree and the flats, here – that driver and the beggar expired and there – in the flats so many people died, it is a miracle!’ he gestured with his hands, as if she could see him through the phone. By now he had told this story to so many people that he almost believed in it himself.
Bharti immediately vowed to go to Salasar ke Balaji temple barefooted and donate 1000 rupees there.
As the night fell and they slept in the makeshift camp. Mayank’s heart had many emotions – sadness for this immense tragedy, happiness to have survived miraculously, minute guilt for his actions and an overwhelming relief which his new story and altered circumstances had provided him.
* * * * * *
But the bigger miracle happened two days later, when they found that lady and her eight month old daughter buried alive under the rubble of C-block.
They were found due to the incessant crying of the infant. They had been in the triangular space which had formed when the beam fell upon the double-bed under which they had taken shelter while earthquake raged.
It was the right thing to do during an earthquake, experts said, to hide under a bed or a table.
But that young lady, barely 25 years old, slim and beautiful , didn’t know this at all. Her version of the events defied all logic, reason, expert opinion and common sense.
There was a loud cheer when they were extracted from under the debris. Finally, there was something to cheer about. So people clapped, whistled and hooted as both of them were taken to the hospital in the ambulance. The lady was very weak and almost comatose.
After a night of ‘touch and go’ she started getting better. Her daughter was fine. In all, they had been buried for about 54 hours.
She opened the eyes in the afternoon and immediately created a furore.
‘ We were saved by the God himself!’ she kept on repeating and kept on praying towards the heaven.
When she narrated her story it spread like wildfire…everyone started talking about the miracle at the camp.
‘ God himself rung the doorbell. We are new here and don’t know anyone here. We have just shifted from Indore in the flat C-22 one week back. Infact my husband had gone to Indore to bring rest of our household items.’ her husband nodded vigoursly by her side.
‘ We had not talked to anyone as yet, all other flats on our floor were empty, two of them were waiting for new tenants, and the owner of the fourth one had gone to their native place. You see, my husband had stocked the fridge with milk, vegetables etc for five days. So I wasn’t expecting anyone,’ she continued her strange story, ‘ that morning I had gone to lie down on the bed to feed my little Divya, who slept on my chest after the feed. I had kept a water bottle near me on a stool. I might have slipped into a deep sleep, as Divya had kept me awake for most of the night, because I was awakened from my slumber by the shrill voice of that doorbell. I woke up with a start and was confused that who could it be?’
‘ Even I was not sure whether the bell had really rung or not. I thought I had heard it in my dream. But I decided to check, and as I got up from the bed after laying down Divya on the bed, I struck the water bottle accidentally with my hand and it fell and rolled under the bed. At the same instant Divya began to cry. So I lifted her in my arms, and bent down to reach for the water bottle under the bed. At that very moment I heard the doorbell ring twice, but suddenly I was jerked forcefully forward and in attempt to save Divya from injury during my fall I rolled a bit on the floor, clutching her tightly in my arms, and found myself under the bed with the water bottle at my side,’
‘Then everything went berserk.. everything was heaving and swinging. I was so afraid! I could not understand what was happening for many precious seconds. Divya was crying loudly and my mind was not working, and before I could think of anything, there was a loud sound and the roof fell upon us, but we were saved! ‘
‘ I survived the horrible days shouting for someone to listen and chanting – Om namah Shivay. I survived on the water in the bottle. Rationing it more and more, and Divya survived on my milk. But I know it was my Lord Shiva who had come and had rung that bell, otherwise I would not have been alive to tell you this story.’
As no body was found near them in the rubble, and as nobody came forward to claim that he or she had rung the bell, the story of the miracle at Dev- kutir flats spread wildly. Of course, it could have been someone who might have died in the quake. But people needed a miracle. In this mind numbing tragedy, amidst all the death and destruction, they wanted to hear and believe a good news. Something supernatural to restore their faith in the Providence. Something out of this world to give them hope and fight the grim situation.
And so, the legend of Dev-kutir became very famous. So much so, that all the blocks were soon razed to the ground and a magnificent temple – Dhartikamp mahadev was born. The builder of the flats himself took personal intrest in the construction of the temple.
Just adjacent to Dhartikamp Mahadev, another small temple was built dedicated to Goddess Durga. It denoted the strength of both the girls – the mother and little Divya, who had fought death and had defeated it, against all odds. This temple was built by the donation of Gharonda furniture, who had built that bed under which both of them had survived, and upon which Mayank and his wife had slept with Kartik for so many years.
The owner, Mr Kanti Patel, was a God-fearing man and recognised the divine indication when he saw one. That his showroom had been involved in the miracle was a sign from the God and an order to built the temple.
Ofcourse, it was another matter that Mr. Patel’s business tripled after the incident.
All the while, when the news of miracle was discussed in the camp and later in their new society, Mayank never spoke a word. Though he was infuriated by it.
The thunder of his ‘miracle’ had been stolen by the temple.
And he knew the secret behind the Dhartikamp Mahadev, it was so commonplace…there was nothing divine about it.
When people glorified the incident and went to pray at the temple, he wanted to shout loudly that it was not a supernatural power that had rung the doorbell, but it was him, old, idiotic him, that had mistakenly pressed the switch of the bell.
But he could not say anything. After having narrated a spectacular story about his survival, he could not backtrack upon it. He had to stick to his version and he silently saw the fame of the temple take off and grow.
Slowly, he drifted out of that area and went to join a new job at the other end of the city. He was quite relieved to be out of influence of that temple, which reminded him of his cowardly error.
‘Good riddance’, he thought, ‘people of this country are so stupid that they would believe anything and would built a temple anywhere. ‘
He was the real miracle, who had been saved by the prophetic words of that auto rickshaw driver.
But they would never understand….
Almost Four years later..
It was a beautiful November evening in 2004 when a group of cars entered the gates of The Paradise club, the most prestigious club of the city on S.G. highway, the upcoming and throbbing hub of Ahmedabad. All the cars were swanky and high-end but one of them was extraordinarily beautiful. It was a Bentley and it belonged to Mr. Suresh Jani, owner and chief of Dharmaraj builders, that had built the Dev-kutir flats and the Dhartikamp Mahadev.
Mr. jani was around 45, strongly built, tall and masculine. He was sporting a thick moustache and was wearing a well-knit safari suit. He looked like a politician and had the expression and attitude to match. Infact, he secretly harboured a desire to run in the upcoming assembly elections scheduled around two and a half years later.
In the past few years he had acquired a great name, fame, wealth and political traction. He prided himself on being a – ‘self-made man’.
As he sprawled on the soft and beautiful bed in one of the spacious rooms at the club, other men took their seats, some sat near him on the bed, others pulled up chairs near the bed. All men were his close friends or associates. Some were fellow builders, not competitors but partners, and others were his old friends.
‘ Kya Suresh bhai..Kem cho?’ asked one of them.
‘ Bas jalsa yaar, ‘ he replied languidly.
‘ That I can see very well suresh bhai,’ it was Kamlesh, one of his closest friends and quite a rich man himself, ‘ you have grown a lot in the last couple of years, specially after the earthquake. Now you are in the big league!’
‘ Thanks Kamlesh…everything is due to my hard work, you see I am a self-made man. I have climbed the stairs of success slowly but steadily.’ answered Sureshbhai.
‘Ghanta!’ said Kamlesh loudly as he poured the scotch in his glass, ‘ you have been benefitted immensely by that earthquake. You were down and out, on the verge of collapsing. That tragedy was a blessing in disguise for you. You encashed it. It was a Godsend opportunity to you, so don’t give me this self-made man shit,’
Nobody spoke for few seconds. Everyone was stunned. Only Kamlesh bhai could speak in this manner with Suresh bhai. They were tense.
Suresh glared at Kamlesh for few nail-biting moments, then he burst out laughing, simultaneously Kamlesh started laughing and held his right hand out, palm up for Suresh to smack it. All others relaxed and joined in the fun.
‘ You know me inside out Kamlesh, we have been friends for so long…I can’t get angry at you, and all others here are my associates and friends too. I don’t need to hide anything from you all, anyway it would not change anything,’
‘ Yes, it’s true that I was saved by that earthquake. Before that I was fighting for survival, my reputation had been sinking in the market and I was not getting money and loans from any where. Some people had filed complaints against me for the poor quality of the construction. Indeed most of the cases filed had been from Dev-kutir flats,’
‘ But that miracle of Dhartikamp Mahadev saved me. You see, I had constructed the two initial blocks well- A and B; they were earthquake resistant too and that’s why only both of them were left standing; so that after seeing the quality people would buy them. But in the later blocks the quality had not been the same. I was fighting for funds and could not built them in a similar manner.’
‘ There had been three cases filed in the court from Dev-kutir flats by the residents that had claimed that the flats were not safe, specially in a natural calamity like an earthquake. The decision was on the verge of being pronounced and would have ruined me,’
‘ But that fateful morning changed everything…As soon as I came to know about the “miracle” I knew it was an opportunity for me. I reached there in a hurry and and announced that a big temple would be built inside the premises to commemorate the incident. With that gesture I turned many aggrieved people towards me. Anyway, two of the complainants had died in the quake and their kins were not keen to pursue the case, and retracted it from the court. I bought the third person who had filed the case later with a lot of money.’
‘ In the great destruction of that day, many offices and files had been destroyed too and many officials either expired or went on long leaves, and some got transferred eventually. I bought all the land behind Dhartikamp Mahadev, which was a big dump actually, after bribing a chain of clerks at a dirt cheap price, much less than actual price, ‘
‘Anyway it was lying vacant, it did not have much value at that time. But as the prestige of the temple grew, the price of the land also grew with it, and I was waiting precisely for this. I had secured loans from many bigwigs, including some politicians, after promising them that I will change the map of the area and they will reap rich dividends. Then I went on a spree of building very high-end apartments, fully earthquake resistant and following all norms. No cost was spared, no compromise done. The apartments were of best quality and launched me in the big league. And now Dharmaraj builders only construct very high-end and much sought after flats.’
‘ That earthquake might have been a Godsend opportunity, but it was me who grabbed at it, it was me who bribed the officials, it was me who got the documents forged, it was me who befriended powerful men. So perhaps it was a miracle that saved me, but I used it fully and it was not an easy job. Not easy at all. Thus I am a self-made man.’
As the sound of the loud laughter floated in the corridor, a man – one of the many junior managers of the club, who had been passing through the corridor heard it and stopped in front of the closed door of the room.
He thought- what a great life these men lead. Opulent, extravagant, grandiose, luxurious. He pined to live such a life. He desperately wanted to be one of them. But had been languishing on the sidelines as the high and mighty of the society sped away on the road of life in their costly cars.
He had come to this city so many years ago with a burning ambition to succeed, but till date things had not looked rosy. Had rather taken a turn for the worse after the earthquake. He had lost his job as the company folded up. He had shifted to Bopal, a suburb near the growing areas of S.G. highway and Bodakdev. The jobs were to be found in this region. And he had had jumped from one employment to another, never settling down. He did not know where the problem lay – in him, he was over qualified somewhere and under qualified at other places; or with the bosses who demanded so much for him and he tried, he tried his level best, but it was never sufficient, and he always ended up leaving the job in the end.
And now he had become a junior manager in this club, but he knew his position was just above the waiters. As he stood there in his ill-fiting blazer, with his boyish face, angular and gangly arms and thin moustache, he looked 28 but was 34 actually.
Few paces ahead in the thick- carpeted corridor stood a big statue of Lord Ganesha. It was well adorned.
He went and prayed in front of the statue. With folded hands and bowed head he stood silent, only his lips moved quietly as he prayed for success and wealth. Then he looked up and saw the marvellous statue of Buddha that was lying a few steps ahead in a corner. He was hesitant for a few doubtful moments that whether he should or should not bow down to this God of Buddhists.
But then he made up his mind and Mr. Mayank ‘miracle’ Saini paid his respects to Buddha, and then went on his way.
Both the statues had a playful smile on their faces, as if they knew what the actual and true miracle was – that this country was still functioning somehow.
Amongst all the chaos, engulfed in new controversies and scandal each day, drowned in ‘over-the-top’ chest beating and divisive politics, marred by inter- religious and inter- state fights and draped in superstitions and age-old notions; the country was still progressing forward!
This country with all its inconsistencies, contradictions, differences, corruption, ignorance and poverty was still chugging along. Where hindus and muslims helped each other in the times of need, like after the earthquake as family members; only to butcher each other mercilessly the very next year.
A country where people were so religious that they prayed throughout the day and around the year, and built magnificent temples and mosques to praise the God; but went on living absolutely irreligiously whole life- without imbibing any religious values in their lives – they went on with black-marketing, bribing, killing females foetuses, raping, plundering, evading taxes and laws, breaking rules, eyeing people of other religions with suspicion and murdering them brutally as the part of a mob on the pretext of extracting revenge of wrong actions done by ‘others’ on ‘others’ and laughing upon those who claimed to be atheists but lived in a much better way than them.
A country where even a tragedy of colossal scale could be turned into a fortune. Where millions could die and a whole city could be decimated by an earthquake; but the lost souls were quickly replaced by others who were eager to replace them, and a new shiny metropolis was constructed in a blink to mesmerize one and all, so that the destruction was quickly forgotten.
That was the true miracle…...