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           Volume 10 |Issue 37 | September 30, 2011 |


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The bells, they toll for thee


If anything was worse felt in Bangladesh last Sunday evening than the mild distant jolt of the Sikkim earthquake 500km away, it was the flurry of irresponsible comments on social e-networks; some of us, out of fear or ignorance, thought it was fun or funny. In truth, we could have been dead.

With twenty more bodies recovered Wednesday three days into the disaster, the death toll rose to 112 in Sikkim and adjoining areas. These are people who were sitting, travelling, working, talking, cooking... just like many of us here. It could easily have been us. As English poet, satirist, lawyer, and priest John Donne (1572-1631) said: No man is an island, entire of itself; each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

While I find it unnecessary to admonish one Bangladeshi adult for her outrageous inquiry Monday on a public forum whether we 'enjoyed' the earthquake, you may want to jail another who immediately pasted on his status moving (!) songs containing words such as 'dolay, dolay' and 'jhakani'. These were about the time when men, women and children in Sikkim, Bihar, Bengal (in India), and Nepal were being crushed under buildings and landslides.

The dead cannot twit; those who can have expressed their terror and gratitude. From an unknown location one wrote: It was one of the most scary earthquakes I have ever experienced. I pray for the people who have lost their dear ones and those who were injured. Take care, people!!

Another twitted from Gangtok, India: Buildings swayed two and fro like a rocking chair. Very scary!! Thanks to the Lord damage was controlled. Prayers for those who lost lives/homes. Pray no more happens.

Bollywood, seemingly unconcerned of matters beyond the glitter and glamour of their tinsel world, showed its human element. Twitted Karan Johar: Thoughts and prayers to the families of the quake victims... truly saddened by all the news reports. Abhishek Bachchan wrote: Very sad to see the state of the people affected by the earthquake in Sikkim. Thoughts and prayers for all of them. Sophie Choudhury shared: Thoughts and prayers with all those affected by the earthquake in Sikkim and Nepal. We are as always helpless in front of Mother Nature.

After the recent wakeup call, the time is riper than ever before to ask ourselves: if indeed the epicentre of a major earthquake is closer than Sikkim, much closure, what shall we twit, if at all, and what shall we compose for the Facebook, if at all. We have to garner centuries of traditional compassion to emerge as more human and expect that people in Sikkim and elsewhere shall then spare a prayer for us.

In the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake, magnitude 9.0, one of the five most powerful earthquakes in the world since 1900, triggering tsunami waves of over 40m, travelling up to 10 km inland, killing nearly 19000 people, destroying or damaging 125,000 buildings, causing a number of nuclear accidents, primarily at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, leaving around 4.4 million households without electricity and 1.5 million without water, forcing evacuation of residents within a 20 km radius of the Fukushima Plant, and costing over US$300 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster on record, the Japanese have excelled themselves.

One historian mentioned 'the Japanese are a mythical phoenix that arises from its own ashes'. We have to do the same.

One American journalist noted, one old lady selling rice cakes with regular price when questioned replied that she can't regulate the price because there was a natural calamity. We have to do the same.

There were reports that when the power went off in a store after the Tohoku earthquake, people put things back on the shelves and left quietly. We have to do the same.

One blogger listed several things the rest of the world could learn from post-Tohoku Japan.

The calm: Not a single visual of chest-beating or wild grief. Sorrow itself has been elevated.

The dignity: Disciplined queues for water and groceries. Not a rough word or a crude gesture.

The ability: The incredible architects, for instance, buildings swayed but didn't fall.

The grace: People bought only what they needed for the present, so everybody could get something.

The order: No looting in shops. No honking and no overtaking on the roads; just understanding.

The sacrifice: Fifty workers stayed back to pump seawater in the nuclear reactors. How will they ever be repaid?

The tenderness: Restaurants cut prices. An unguarded ATM is left alone. The strong cared for the weak.

The training: The old and the children, everyone knew exactly what to do. And they did just that.

The media: They showed magnificent restraint in the bulletins. No silly reporters. Only calm reportage.

To survive, we have to learn to do the same.

Let us list what we have learnt from the Sikkim quake. The bell there has tolled but we were reminded long before by our poet, 'And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee...'




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