It is not every afternoon that you hear a mention of the Richter scale and your country’s name in the same breath. Unfamiliar it being, you do what seems natural – seek answers. So a call goes to the friend in the capital (New Delhi), who appears to not have felt the tremors that were otherwise shaking headlines. As two people who spent half of each day in the newsroom and well understood the adage of bad news being good news (talk about occupational hazards), we got to the heart of the matter: tremors in India result of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the bordering country of Nepal. For comparison, take the 2010 Haiti earthquake recorded at 7.0; both countries share similar economic conditions and the latter continues on the path to recovery, with international aid. We knew the counters had started ticking, headlines were already screaming numbers.
And social media stepped up its game. “Pray for Nepal” flyers and hashtags became the norm; RIPs, too. Distances narrowed in the virtual space as people clamored to show their support for the landlocked country, the gateway to Mount Everest. Google launched Person Finder and Facebook ‘marked’ people safe. Photographs of the missing continue to fill feeds, as days pass and chances of survival fade. The earthquake and its several aftershocks swayed the global conscience beyond reason: people wanting to head to Nepal when the country’s only airport is in repair and needs the space for relief material, those wanting to volunteer when the last requirement is for unskilled hands. Not to forget the ones crying hoarse over how prayers are not going to cut it but monetary and material help will. For the very existence of the need to help, one ought to be grateful.
So why address the quake almost a week later? Because now there are lucid answers to be found, over estimates and exaggerations. Over the toll of the dead and the injured multiplying – not merely rising – each day, there are facts. For starters, this is not the Big One that seismologists predicted. So, along with having to come to terms with what’s happened, the country faces the uphill task of rebuilding while anticipating larger and deadlier temblors. Also, now that the dust is beginning to settle, there are stories. Of hope and resilience.
Sonies Awal is probably the pluckiest five-month-old alive and is the miracle the mountain country was in need of. Then there’s 15-year-old Pemba Tamang, who emerged from the rubble five days after the quake, surviving on ghee. Rishi Khanal survived on his urine. Then, stories from the ground: about CNN’s chief medical correspondent performing a craniotomy with a saw and how Google executive Dan Fredinburg was killed in an avalanche, while working to bring Everest’s ways to Google Maps’ Street View. Stories emerge – of survivors, warriors and people remembered.
Ah, didn’t we talk about hope? That’s what’ll get Nepal back on its feet. Here is a country that has not been colonised or conquered in its 2,000 years of history. A nation and people who have seen worse; a 8.0 earthquake in 1934 that flattened much of the country. Political turmoil, too, with monarchy, parliament and rebels being various forms of governance. Not to forget poverty. Several of the country’s cultural icons – including Durbar Square and the Dharahara Tower (reconstructed after the 1934 quake) – are a pile of debris. But over the destruction and the large feeling of helplessness, the sun rises and sets on the people of the world’s highest mountain. It stands today, not as a challenge, but as a testament to a people who’ve come through a lot. Resilient their middle name, they’ll get through this, too.