Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 52, Tuesday August 15, 2006



Reader’s Chit

Earthquake & where we stand

The evidence suggests its inevitability but the question is when. Having numerous fault lines running through Bangladesh the acknowledged risk factor is bound to turn into a fear factor since history suggests that a massive earthquake that hits this region every century or so is now overdue. The last big earthquake was in 1897 which caused widespread destruction in Dhaka and this is 2006. Wonder how long nature is willing to be merciful when all around facts suggest that Dhaka is the most vulnerable city at risk of earthquake damage, mainly due to its poor building infrastructure (lacking earthquake resistant features), high population density, and poor emergency response and recovery capability. And experts suggest that after the recent earthquakes in Pakistan and India that have caused widespread destruction, Bangladesh is likely to be the next in line.

One doesn't have to be an expert to estimate the extent of damage that might be caused if there is an earthquake in the country's capital. A 2004 study concentrated on some eight wards of Dhaka revealed that most of the city's 8 12 storey buildings, which are over 24,000 in number, could collapse in the event of an earthquake that is smaller in magnitude to the one that hit Pakistan. Another study warns that the risk of fire hazards from Dhaka's household electrical and gas lines is so great that the death toll from secondary causes in the aftermath of the earthquake could be even greater.

There is in fact a handful of reasons for Dhaka city being a high risk subject. The reasons are high population densities, construction lacking earthquake resistant design, absence of legal enforcement of building codes and their seismic design provisions, possibility of fire outbreaks due to rupture of gas pipelines or electric short-circuit during an earthquake and inadequate fire fighting facilities, inadequate road width and space between buildings preventing rescue operations and fire-fighting vehicles to reach certain areas and so on.

The bottom-line is the less precautions there are to fight this certain disaster the more are the casualties and damages. During an earthquake people are generally killed or injured by collapsing roofs, walls, falling plaster or heavy objects alongside fire that is the evident impact of this natural disaster. Many of the damages are also instigated by panic and confusion. So the first step to safeguard is to stay calm. If someone is on the ground floor and can get out very quickly (5-10 seconds), it is advisable to rush outside to an open space away from buildings or electric posts. If there isn't enough time to go outside, one must take shelter at selected places inside buildings which are relatively stronger against earthquakes such as strong columns or closely spaced walls in both directions. Getting under a table so that one is not hurt by falling objects from above, staying away from outer verandahs, balconies, cantilever projections, outer walls, mirrors, doors and windows and not rushing towards broken or jammed doors or staircases are also very important
steps to avoid any instant casualty.

By Obaidur Rahman

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

One of those crossroads in life where she runs pitifully low on inspiration, so much so that the sense of lacking is felt like a physical absence. High and low, she's searched everywhere for sympathy-in people, in music, in literature-but unfortunately we have walked too far down the path of mechanisation to allow such unprofitable emotions to exist. No, there is none to lift her out of her plight and carry her to the other side where the grass seems spitefully greener these days.

And so she realises that she has looked in the worst of places. What is needed rather is something less corrupt, more pristine. What is needed is nature. And by that not heading off into the woods and making a jolly life of it, but small beginnings, like waking up early and allowing herself to be whisked away by all things and more that are so romantically illustrated in books. So she rises, perhaps for the first time in years, at hours fit to embrace dawn and saunters onto the sprawling roof. Baited breath. Any minute now. Something, who knows what, will happen to make her appreciate the status early mornings have been given by millions before her.

It doesn't. No wonder at the changing colour of the sky, no sense of peace restored, no cleansing by the intake of fresh air and the birds? Well she wants to crush them with her feet for all their chirping. If ever the euphonic sounds of a new day were meant to be soothing, it was not on this day. For soon enough she hears the creak, familiar and recurring. She turns around in a spur of irritation and there she sees them- a man, a woman and a baby.

She finds herself recalling, for the lack of anything better to do, this man's story. A born introvert, he's grown up on this street like both of her parents, her uncles, aunts and scores of neighbours and never being the friendly kind, he makes his way through his educational career completely unnoticed and insignificant. He works in a top notch financial organisation, but fails to draw the attention of those around him nonetheless. She chuckles as she remembers associating him with Scrooge when she had first read an abridged version of The Christmas Carol. And then all of a sudden, he becomes the object of attention. Brought up, discussed and dissected at every kitty party.

He elopes and this coming from a person who speaks not unless spoken to, is breaking news. The other wing of the marriage is a woman more delicate than a flower-frail, petite and breath-stoppingly beautiful. It is learned, courtesy of the not so meddlesome aunties, that he is summoned by his in-laws (to be) and told that although they approve of him wholly, they will not consent to their daughter's marriage because she has an incurable heart disease and hoping that she'll live long is but a fool's paradise. Their revelations however fail to make an impact and he maintains that any time he has with her, however long (or short sadly) is going to be worth his while. They marry and although they can never have children, live in their world where everyone else ceases to exist.

Two years gone and one overcast morning, he is confronted with the inevitable. His wife slips away quietly to a world beyond this after consecutive stays at the hospital. He brings her home and expectedly maintains his robot-like exterior, being betrayed by an outburst only when he fiercely refuses to look at her one last time. All the final rituals being performed and the guests leaving after the condolence period, he throws himself into seclusion, much more than ever before. He does not socialise, but he never did anyways, only added to that, he disapproves of visitors to the extent that they are asked to leave by his security staff whenever anyone dares to visit. With his parents passed away, he lives alone practicing painful devotion to life size pictures. Remarriage has been mentioned more often than necessary, what with him being young and successful, but this is probably one of the only opinions he communicates,' O khub raag korbe'.

His only companion seems to be his swing. So many a night, silence has been wrecked by the sound of his home-made swing that creaks with his weight. Back and forth, the drone becomes rhythmic, almost lullaby-like. He spends hours on it, alone and desolate. After eight long and excruciating years, he is literally emotionally blackmailed into a second marriage by his dead wife's dying father. He agrees, although bitterly, with a sincere intention of never being attached to his new bride, of keeping himself in mourning.

She cuts short her trip down memory lane, and finds to her surprise she is smiling once again. But inspiration was right next to her all this time! Physical proof that there is hope, that even after the bleakest of phases, there comes joy. As much as one thinks they cannot or will not move on, it is inevitable. Even though feelings and memories continue to persist, getting involved with something or someone different is the best way to lock away the past. Happiness is a state of mind, a way of life and the only way to achieve it is do it physically. Here lies real life proof that life goes on and should, because every joy is followed by grief and every grief followed by joy. She can only hope the latter of the circumstances is more frequent in her life. She turns back for one last look-same man(this time not maudlin), same roof, same swing…only a happy wife and bubbly baby added to the picture. A happy family.

By Subhi Shama Reehu



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